As we did last year, the Oikonomia Network held a curricular integration workshop at the 2014 Acton University conference. Over 100 theological educators divided into tables by discipline and discussed ideas for including work and the economy in every area of the seminary curriculum. From New Testament and Old Testament classes to systematic theology, ethics, history, missions, spiritual formation, and more, we left no discipline unexplored. This year, to accommodate widespread interest and involvement in the topic, we added a table where participants could discuss “church and entrepreneurship!”
After the workshop, the group heard a brief talk by P.J. Hill, emeritus professor of economics at Wheaton College and a major national thought leader on the topic of connecting Christianity to economics. Hill spoke about the historically unique phenomenon of economic growth in the modern world, describing its origin in equal recognition of human dignity, and the benefits it creates. He then identified three significant challenges the church faces in the context of growth:
- The “thinning” of important institutions (family, church, etc.)
- Distorted views of work that lead to either sloth or workaholism
- Inequality and continuing poverty
A lively time of questions and discussion followed the presentation. The slides from Hill’s presentations can be viewed here.
Here are links to all the notes produced by the table discussions during the workshop, with some selected highlights:
- The discovery of the economic background of the New Testament world is not necessarily an endorsement of practices therein, or of a particular system of economics. It is more fruitful to emphasize what is said/taught (e.g. by Jesus in the Gospels) that would provide a critique of economic practices.
- We compiled list of all of our email addresses and plan to stay in contact with each other this year better than we did last year. We want to let each other know about research/presentations that we are doing, good books and articles that we come across, etc. View complete notes here.
- For most of us, a course module is the easiest, most economical format for teaching theology of work/econ in the Old Testament.
- The group discussed plans for a possible symposium on work and economics in the Old Testament, including intellectual design, format, how to keep it relevant to pastors, and desired outcomes. View complete notes here.
- The conversation focused on the under-developed verbs central to human anthropology in the opening chapters of Genesis (especially 2:15, to “till and keep” the earth)….Colin Gunton’s work was mentioned, which argues that many of the West’s problems today stem from theology’s “failed doctrine of creation” (and the corresponding, and highly problematic, bifurcation between creation and redemption).
- While there were some general statements like, “If we’re redeemed, we have an opportunity to behave better,” the conversation primarily focused on a “tension” between economics and the gospel, physical and spiritual. Everyone wanted to affirm both, most recognized a “tension,” and several wanted to affirm a “priority.” The nature of conjunction itself, however, was less than clear (and thus the nature of the unity, tension, or priority)….The point of a “failed doctrine of creation” was again mentioned in this context. The question was also raised whether the church as the community of the redeemed is better positioned than any politico-economic system for the promotion of human flourishing. View complete notes here.
- Historical topics of importance include:
- Commercialization of salvation in historical expressions of Christianity, from the New Testament to the high/late middle ages to American decisionism.
- Monasticism deserves special attention, especially in light of misrepresentations about asceticism (Cf. Willard, Weber).
- History of the current conservative/liberal, free-market/statist dichotomies.
- Work and Sabbath in historical-theological perspective.
- Naming the economics of Christian “traditions” is important at various intervals. (Cf. Keller, Foster). Is there a Baptist “tradition” with economics? View complete notes here.
- Both tables in this discipline generated long lists of recommended books.
- We need to urge preachers not to “proof text” bad counsel, such as they did in Britain, where they used the “had all things in common” text to support the rise of the welfare state; and today, where they use admonitions to care for the “stranger and sojourner” to dismiss the rule of law regarding immigration. View complete notes for tables one and two.
- One of the major tasks of spiritual formation work is to help people address the compartmentalization of “sacred” and “secular.” Perhaps using formation, without the “spiritual” modifier would better communicate the holistic nature of this endeavor. View complete notes here.
- There is often an entitlement mentality in our culture. This is one of the reasons missionaries from the West are in decline.
- Students in seminaries seem interested in entrepreneurship. This spills over from interests in business to interests in church planting.
- For ethnic minority church leadership, many cannot afford the traditional bachelor/seminary level training. This is important since much church growth/church planting in the U.S. is among these groups. Other options for training need to be considered. View complete notes here.
- We could be more intentional about the applied learning component – interaction with the workplace to prepare them to go beyond the classroom. Grace College has 160 employers that welcome students (pre-internship). Is there an opportunity to interact with employers around these issues? View complete notes here.
- Lawndale Community Church in Chicago is an example of a church modeling this well. The church sees loving neighbors as its mission and community development flows out of that.
- Christian Community Development Association – one of their tenets is that efforts should be church based. Can we partner with organizations that are already doing this work, connecting our students to these partners? View complete notes here.