More than fifty Oikonomia Fellows crowded into a conference room to eat their lunch on their laps with minimal napkins, while hearing a presentation from Theology of Work Project (TOW) about the resources available from TOW’s online Bible commentary. A particular focus was how theological educators might use TOW resources to construct class assignments, exam questions and other curricular tools that prompt students to reflect theologically on work.
TOW Executive Editor Will Messenger and steering committee member Alistair Mackenzie made an entertaining presentation that explained TOW’s purpose and mission. TOW is an independent, international organization dedicated to researching, writing, and distributing materials with a biblical perspective on non-church workplaces. Mainly, as Will and Alistair explained, TOW hosts a complete commentary centering around issues of work in the Bible – a useful “next step” resource for churches, schools and individuals striving to get beyond the six to eight Bible passages that usually inform “faith and work 101” discussions. In addition, topical articles treat issues such as ethics, work-life rhythm, vocation, finance, economics and society, competition, relationships and globalization.
The commentary was produced through an exhaustive peer-reviewed process and includes discussion of 854 Biblical passages which deal with work and vocation; in addition to being available online for free, it is also available in print and through the Logos interface. “When I started this,” Will remarked, “I thought we might find fifty or sixty passages. That’s because I used to think the Bible was a book about religion, with a few applications to work. But it’s not. The Bible is a book about God, and it turns out that God shows up where God’s people spend their time, which is mostly at work.”
Will and Alistair were particularly interested in sharing and collecting possible ways to use TOW material in order to achieve the Oikonomia Network’s goal of integrating the themes of whole-life discipleship, fruitful work, and economic wisdom into seminary curricula. They presented examples of how courses on preaching, hermeneutics, Old Testament, spiritual formation, worship and systematic theology might incorporate TOW’s commentary material on Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and the Pauline and general epistles into assignments. Song of Songs, as Will noted, takes place while the couple is involved in the productive labor of planting a vineyard! You can find the reflections on Ruth (part I and part II) at the ON website now and summaries of some of the other examples at the TOW website. Expanded explanations of the other assignments will be published here in coming months.
Conference attendees chimed in with their own suggestions and examples. Among those mentioned were the use of biblical and theological material to embed a robust theology of work in career counseling coursework, the need for biblical and theological foundations in business ethics courses, and already existing programs and courses attempting this kind of integration at Indiana Wesleyan University and George Fox University, which we hope will be the subject of future profiles.
In addition to the Oikonomia Network presentation, Will and Alistair also made presentations to the Made to Flourish network, focusing on the usefulness of TOW materials in local churches for small groups, Bible study, and worship. The MTF presentation concluded with the rousing singing of “God of Offices and Kitchens,” to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” which is certainly the first time I’ve ever sung about typing and collating as an act of worship. And Alistair, along with Christine Tan, TOW’s director of marketing and social media, spent much of the conference roving the halls with iPads and interviewing pastors and scholars about their use of TOW material.
All in all, a good, if exhausting (and occasionally napkin-insufficient) time was had by all. Watch for us next year, and send us your examples of how TOW material is being used in your educational setting.