Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Commonweal Project at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is dedicated to bringing the unchanging truth of God’s word to bear on matters of work and changing economic conditions, and to promote discipleship in all areas of life. To that end, we seek to engage, equip and encourage our faculty and students to pursue a greater understanding of work and economics, and how we can bring God’s word to bear on those realities.
Student Reading Groups
In our third year as an ON partner school, we have expanded our student reading groups, due to previous success and ongoing interest. Groups have about ten students each, and they meet five to six times during the semester, guided by a professor through books, newspapers, podcasts or other material on work and economics – seeking to understand and evaluate the material from a biblical perspective. We started this initiative with 20 students in two groups, and now have 45 students in four groups. In addition to receiving the reading material, students who attend all sessions are given a gift card to the campus bookstore. This initiative has been significant in shaping students’ understanding of the connection between faithful work and economic wisdom.
Here are a few comments from participants:
- “Prior to coming to seminary, I knew little-to-nothing about the nature of economics and how it interfaced with Christian theology and the public good.”
- “This is my first time interacting with the topic of economics. I found the time with the group helpful because others had insights that I have never considered before.”
- “The books we read and discussions we had greatly shaped the way I think about business. The concept that had the most impact on me was that business gives people, as images of God, a way to engage in meaningful and creative work.”
- “I was a social work major in college, and I operated under the assumption that was very common in our department (and I think encouraged by our professors), that business is about greed and is bad. Our reading in this group and our discussions have completely changed my way of thinking. I now see business as an opportunity to serve others and glorify God by providing good and necessary things for life.”
Among the initiatives designed for faculty in 2016, we hosted a colloquium in the spring and fall. We gathered 20-25 faculty, pastors and other leaders to hear and discuss presentations on human flourishing. In the past two years, we have examined such topics as a theology of work and vocation, poverty and community transformation. The goal is to stimulate thinking so that participants will consider doing research, writing or develop lectures and sermons on the topic. This year we have focused on understanding human flourishing. For the spring colloquium, we considered human flourishing from various perspectives: the Old Testament, on the dignity and purpose of work in a biblical theology of human flourishing, dimensions of human flourishing in church history, the relationship between economics and flourishing and how pastoral ministry can promote human flourishing. Each of these presentations engaged aspects of human flourishing that could be pursued further by participants.
The fall colloquium focused on human flourishing in urban environments, with the unique opportunities and problems associated with city life. The migration to cities is a trend that is projected to continue, so that over 65% of the population will live in cities by 2050. It is critical that pastors and churches understand how to minister and serve people in urban settings. Specific topics included: economics and the city, culture and the city, a theology of cities, how to flourish in cities, reaching the city and pastoral ministry in cities.
In addition to our student reading groups, we have formed a faculty reading group. Each semester we choose a text to read, and meet three to four times during the semester over lunch to discuss the book. One faculty member leads the discussion. We have consistently had about ten faculty involved in this.
The Commonweal Project has also sponsored a day and a half faculty retreat. In 2015, Victor Claar spoke on economic issues. In 2016, Tom Nelson led the retreat, speaking about connecting Sunday to Monday. We have had about 25 attendees, including faculty plus a few staff and administration. Our faculty has greatly enjoyed and benefitted from the speakers and the discussion time. At the end of the retreat, we hold a 90-minute brainstorming session, to discuss how the topic might impact our teaching in our specific disciplines, and to discuss possible topics for doing further research and writing.
Lastly, each semester we sponsor two lecture lunches. We invite a faculty member or a guest to speak on some aspect of faith, work and human flourishing. It is open to the seminary community and the 30 to 45-minute lecture is followed by open discussion. In 2016, we have drawn between 40 and 70 people to these lunches.
Equipping Faculty for Teaching and Writing
We have been encouraged by faculty response to The Commonweal Project initiatives. One faculty member has created a course on work and leisure, which is now being developed into an online course. Several of our faculty members have developed lectures on work, vocation, human flourishing and related topics. Two faculty members have written books, and one or two others are in the works. Jim Hamilton has written Work and Our Labor in the Lord (Crossway, forthcoming in 2017), and Jonathan Pennington has written The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing (Baker, forthcoming in 2017).