Grand Rapids Theological Seminary
By Darrell Yoder, Adjunct Professor
At Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (GRTS), we seek to contribute to the mission of the Oikonomia Network within our spheres of influence. Since 2008, we have used a variety of venues to explore the integration of faith, work, and economics (FWE) with students, faculty, pastors, and congregants. Our efforts to pursue whole-life discipleship, biblical worldview, and the value of work, however, go back much farther. In fact, they are a vital part of our DNA as a seminary.Integrating economics into our faith-work discussion has taken several forms. In 2008, we launched the Urban Cohort Program, which provides graduate theological education to urban ministry leaders in western Michigan. One of the program’s core courses is Christian Social Ethics, designed and taught by Stephen Grabill of the Acton Institute in conjunction with a qualified urban pastor. Through the use of lectures and case studies, Grabill fosters an understanding of the intersection of faith, work, and economics and its implications for human flourishing at the individual and community level.
In 2010, we engaged FWE concepts in Talking Points, our one-day conference for pastors. The title of the conference was “Doing Ministry During an Economic Downturn,” and the program included three speakers: Craig Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and author of “Neither Poverty Nor Riches”; Bing Goei, President and CEO of Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Founder of the International Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence; and Rudy Carrasco, U.S regional facilitator of Partners Worldwide and a lecturer for the Acton Institute. Several of our faculty engaged in conversation with Blomberg to explore his work on wealth and poverty in greater depth.
During that same semester, students engaged the topic directly and substantively. We dedicated a series of chapel services to these themes beginning with a survey titled “Attitudes About Work,” which GRTS students completed prior to the chapel series. During those services, we discussed the results of the survey and empowered several students to help lead the discussion. One master of theology student researched and wrote a paper under the direction of Michael Wittmer, a professor of systematic theology at GRTS, titled “Moral Proximity and Globalization: Reconciling the Catholic Principle of Subsidiarity with the Global Neighbor.” The student presented his research-in-progress in chapel. In addition, four other students completed critical reviews of several leading books on faith, work, and economics and led roundtable discussions.
In 2011-12, Wittmer and Jeremy Grinnell, an assistant professor of systematic theology at GRTS, developed a small group/Sunday School curriculum for churches. It included audio lectures and study guides focused on the “goodness of work and vocation.” During that year, six churches in West Michigan, suburban and urban, delivered the curriculum within their educational programs. Participants characterized the material as “thought-provoking” and “transformational.” Wittmer and Grinnell are now videotaping the lectures for broader distribution to the church and other interested groups.
In this past year, we have begun to develop an embedded FWE enhancement program to equip students in our Kern Scholars Program as well as others. This extracurricular opportunity has three facets:
- Readings and Discussion: Beginning in the fall of 2013, all GRTS Kern Scholars will participate in a four-year curriculum of readings and conversations to engage them in the core concepts of the Economic Wisdom Project. Wittmer will lead these discussions and serve as the theological voice. He has also invited experienced individuals to contribute from other key disciplines, including an economics professor and a local pastor with extensive experience in the banking industry.
- Acton University: Each Kern Scholar, as well as selected other students, will attend Acton University at least once during their studies at GRTS. We will provide guided debrief sessions along the way to further engage them in critical thought in this important area.
- Capstone Projects: The faith, work, and economics enhancement will culminate for each Kern Scholar in their final year of enrollment at GRTS. Students will work in teams on a capstone project in which they will design ways to enact the core faith, work, and economics concepts in local church ministry and elsewhere. For example, they might work with the leadership of a church to review its compassion programs and identify ways to make them more effective. Students will craft proposals for their projects in order to receive funding to cover expenses. We will vet the proposals and approve those that properly align with the concepts and values of the initiative.
We look forward to building on these successes over the coming years to equip graduates of GRTS to understand and cultivate a biblical approach to work and economics.