A helpful model of curricular integration: The curricular integration program profiled in this article was selected by the ON Advisory Committee as a “helpful model” for network faculty to consider. See the reports for participating New Testament and systematic theology classes, and the Old Testament class video module.
One of the most important challenges of the Oikonomia Network is to help theological educators address work and the economy in every type of seminary class. If work is an important part of the Old and New Testaments, it should be an important part of Old and New Testament classes; if it is centrally connected to such systematic concerns as the image of God, creation, ecclesiology and eschatology, those connections should be part of systematic theology classes; if work and its economic context are important themes in Christian history, they should be important themes in Christian history classes. Every discipline of the seminary must take account of this critical aspect of human life.
This is a long-term need and it will not happen overnight. Our network is empowering leaders like the Work with Purpose initiative at Bethel Seminary to take the first steps in the right direction. In the past year, Bethel’s “faculty idea grants” program has helped integrate work and the economy in Old Testament, New Testament, and systematic theology classes, among others. Interested faculty can apply for small grants that help them develop methods of curricular integration.
Professor of Old Testament Paul Ferris created a 37-minute video module on work. Titled “Toward a Theology of Living Biblically,” the module raises key contemporary questions such as relating our work to our identity in Christ, differences in the way people are treated based on the kind of work they do, and the secular/sacred divide. “Is the person who works as a neurosurgeon more valuable to God than the person who does yard work?” Ferris asks provocatively. He then unfolds a theology of work from Genesis, relating it to our purpose in life, good stewardship, and economic exchange. Ferris also relates this Old Testament theology to New Testament realities, and shares insightful quotes from sources as diverse as Gamaliel and Carl Henry.
Professor of New Testament Jeannine Brown created a unit for a senior integrative seminar. Collaborating with a co-author outside Bethel, she developed “a case dilemma on the topic of ministry, work, and vocation” that requires students to reflect on these topics in light of passages from Ephesians and Philippians. She offers three observations on the insights students gained:
- Students picked up on the “sacred/secular” divide implicit in the case dilemma.
- Students were quick to pick up on the lack of realistic expectations for lay leaders who have rich, full-time jobs and busy lives exhibited by some of the pastors in the case.
- Some students offered the insight that lay leaders seasoned in life and work/vocation, family, and community experiences offer something more valuable than quantifiable hours “put in.” They offer maturity and wisdom that is of great value to the church.
Associate professor of Systematic Theology Kyle Roberts created a two-hour class module on eschatology and work. Roberts began by asking students to consider two specific products created by human work: a hand-made pulpit and the statues carved into Mt. Rushmore. Students discussed whether either or both of these products would last into the new creation, Roberts reports, “which opened up avenues of reflection on the meaningfulness of work. What makes the ‘fruit of our labors’ significant?” Roberts then led the class to consider views drawn from Darrell Cosden (“The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work”) and David Jensen (“Responsive Labor”) on the importance of work in eschatology. While students had a variety of responses when it came to specific eschatological issues, “many students (in each section) reported that the topic of ‘theology of work’ that we discussed is much needed for them.”
These projects and many others going on throughout our network are greatly encouraging to me. Slowly but surely, we are empowering theological educators to integrate this topic throughout the seminary curriculum in a responsible way. We are blessed with much good work to do and have miles to go before we sleep, but the Lord is already blessing our efforts with fruit.