Sean McDonough, professor of New Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
The “Theology of Work Bible Commentary” explores what the Bible contributes to non-church work. The entire commentary website is available for free and it will be published in print this autumn. It is published by the Theology of Work Project (TOW), for whom I serve as biblical studies editor and a steering committee member.
As a professor of New Testament, I appreciate that you might feel skeptical when presented with yet another commentary you can employ in classes. However, this commentary is a one-of-a kind resource, focusing on a single topic: people’s work. It tackles the theological underpinnings of work-related subjects that many people question. For example:
- Does God care about non-church work? Does he call people to ordinary jobs?
- What does the Bible say about the tensions between making a profit and contributing to society, competition and compassion, honesty and confidentiality, evangelism and freedom of religion, leadership and service?
- How could it be possible, or desirable, to pursue career goals while at the same time loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself?
In my classes, I find it essential to give students a biblically sound basis for speaking into the work their future congregants will do every day – a total of 2,000 hours per person outside the church every year. Grounded in the biblical text, the commentary compels students to take work as seriously as Scripture does – and Scripture takes work very seriously. Professors can supplement more technical commentaries with the “Theology of Work Bible Commentary.” More importantly, we can assign it to students as a way of bridging the gap between biblical exegesis and everyday life.
TOW is an independent, international organization dedicated to researching and writing materials that provide a biblical perspective on non-church workplaces. A team of 138 scholars, pastors, executives, and workers from 16 countries contributed to the commentary, including:
- Haddon Robinson, president (ret.), Denver Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Katherine Leary Alsdorf, founder, Redeemer Presbyterian Church Center for Faith & Work
- Bruce Waltke, professor emeritus of biblical studies, Regent College
- Bill Hendricks, author, “Your Work Matters to God.”
Here are three key aspects of the commentary that theological educators and others will want to know:
The first is quality. On the biblical side of things, we have gathered a team of scholars with extensive experience in original language exegesis. The vast majority of these scholars hold their doctorates in biblical studies from top universities and teach at some of our finest theological schools. What distinguishes the TOW commentary is that we have given equal consideration to quality in the application portions. Each part of the commentary was exhaustively discussed by a worldwide group of business leaders, marketplace ministers, and theologians. This is a powerful combination. As a professor, you can be assured that the TOW commentary represents a well-rounded contribution to our understanding of the Bible.
The second is efficiency. While we have endeavored to give readers an appropriate orientation to the literary and historical contexts of the biblical texts, we do not go on at length about things with which you are already familiar. Instead, the focus is on what the Bible says about work. Because traditional commentaries rarely touch on matters of the workplace, you will continually be invited to look at the Bible from a fresh angle. The TOW commentary will thus serve as a complement to the commentaries you currently use rather than as competition. If you are teaching a class on Exodus, for instance, you will know of the book’s theological and historical richness. But it may help to be reminded that the Exodus is, among other things, a deliverance from an intolerable work situation. Seeing the text in this light provides a natural opening for discussion about the broader implications of the text for the modern world.
This leads naturally to the third point: applicability. As professors training pastors, it is easy for us to huddle in small, self-referential circles of discourse that focus only on the life of the mind. This tends to produce ministers who can speak eloquently about what the Bible meant, but who have very little idea about what it means for the everyday lives of their parishioners. The TOW commentary provides ready access to exegetically sound applications. This should prove useful to your students as they go out into pastoral ministry. It is essential to know that Jesus’ call for integrity in Matthew stems from his revision of the Mosaic law for the first-century messianic community. It is equally essential to think through how integrity should manifest itself in the countless hours the members of the present messianic community spend in the workplace.
I am confident that you and your students will richly benefit from the “Theology of Work Bible Commentary.” The entire commentary is available for free online. The print version will be released in October and is currently available for pre-order at the TOW Project’s online bookstore or the usual theological booksellers. In addition, the TOW Project is a partner of the Faith and Work Channel of the religion website Patheos, where the TOW Project blog features practical applications of the commentary for pastors and workplace Christians.