Reading Is Fundamental
Ken Magnuson, professor of Christian ethics, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
At Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the things we appreciate about our Oikonomia Network program is the opportunity to try different types of events and programs to see what bears fruit. The Commonweal Project has benefitted greatly from this approach, as we have initiated a broad range of activities. In spring 2015 we piloted both a faculty reading group and student reading groups.
The faculty reading group met three times during the spring semester, with a core group of ten faculty coming together for a meal and discussion. In preparation for each gathering, faculty were assigned a book to read, and one faculty member was responsible for leading the discussion. These meetings went well, and stimulated productive conversations centered on evaluating the books from a biblical perspective and thinking about how they intersected with various theological disciplines. This group has continued in the fall semester. In addition to its success, this activity illustrates some of the challenges for our project; while there remains much interest in the group, we have found it more difficult to arrange meeting times in the fall due to significant conflicts in schedules.
In addition to the faculty reading group, we launched two student reading groups in the spring. There were ten students in each group, led by a faculty member, and each group met five to six times during the semester. These groups read a book on economics (e.g. Gwartney, et. al., Commonsense Economics), listened to economic podcasts (e.g. EconTalk, Planet Money, Freakonomics) and subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, looking for interesting articles to discuss. Faculty conveners guided the discussion, helping students not only learn about economics, but also think critically and evaluate what they were learning from a biblical perspective. The student reading groups were successful, and this fall we have three faculty meeting with a total of 35 students.
Wrapping Around to Engage
Darrell Bock, executive director of cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center
Dallas Theological Seminary is in its third year of participation in the Oikonomia Network. We have found the experience transforming. Our approach to introducing faith, work and economics onto our campus has focused on wrapping the topic around our curriculum in extracurricular activities. This has enabled us to get the topic on the table for our students quickly and smoothly.
How does this work? We have incorporated the topic into our Table podcasts, aimed at students, alumni and the public, as a major focus. We have done six podcasts on this topic, a total of about six hours of material. We also have one faith and work chapel presentation per semester, which reaches all our students. We usually invite experts from outside our campus for these events. Over the years we have had Greg Forster, Scott Rae, Tom Nelson, David Kotter, Steven Garber, Hans Hess and Bill Hendricks speak to issues tied to faith and work. These involve a short presentation/interview then time for students’ questions. Having all students hear the same content at the same time leads to campus-wide discussion. These chapels are also on the web for all to see and hear.
This year, we hope to initiate popcorn nights, during which we will interview someone with students present and participating. Another option will be to show videos on faith and work for student discussion. The result of our wraparound approach has been that faith and work becomes a campus-wide affirmed value that also lacks the “I have checked that box” attitude that a dedicated course (for example) might encourage in students. They dive in and engage more naturally with the topic. Add to this our annual faith and work conference, which we also make available to the public once a year in different locales as a stimulus to graduated pastors, church and business leaders.
We view this approach as quite successful and are seeing professors being drawn into thinking about how these issues can impact their classes and class discussions as a result. So we see the “wraparound” approach as an effective avenue for engaging with faith and work on campus.