Southern Seminary’s Commonweal Project on Faith, Work and Human Flourishing recently completed our fourth year of initiatives designed to engage and equip faculty, students, pastors and ultimately churches with a biblical understanding of work and economic wisdom. It has been a good time to consider what we have done well, what we could do better and what we ought to leave behind. As a result, we have made difficult decisions to eliminate some of our initiatives – such as faculty dinners, which generated rich discussion but never fit comfortably into people’s schedules – in order to continue or expand our most effective efforts.
One of the encouraging takeaways for us this year came out of a survey we sent out to 25 of our faculty who had attended at least one of our events in the past. We asked them to report on any courses in which they taught on any topic related to work and economics, with enrollment for those courses. We received a response from 10 faculty (in part because we needed the information quickly). From those who responded, we found out that 20 of their combined courses covered general topics such as a theology of work, human flourishing, vocation, leisure, social concern for the poor, the Ten Commandments on work and economics, and business and missions. In addition, some particular topics are covered on issues such as tithing, the jubilee and sabbatical year, sloth, and the Bible and economic systems. These topics were covered in a range of courses in ethics, Biblical studies, theology, philosophy, missions and evangelism, and education, with enrollments in relevant classes totaling over 1,000 students.
One of our faculty has served especially as a model of what we are seeking to accomplish. Rob Plummer is professor of New Testament and Greek exegesis. Rob has participated in many Commonweal initiatives. He has been a regular member of our faculty reading group focusing on work, economics and related issues, and each semester he has also led a student reading group with 10 students reading and discussing relevant issues. His reading has led him to develop talks on vocation, which he speaks about regularly in his classes. He has presented talks on vocation campus-wide for our students, and he has preached on vocation at his church. This fall, Rob was a keynote speaker at a missionary retreat with well over 100 people present. He spoke each afternoon for four days on aspects of vocation. His talks were well received. One specific encouragement was from a missionary doctor, who had often received encouragement for the “missions” part of her work, but rarely for the medical part. She walked away invigorated to think that she was encouraged to understand both as a seamless part of her vocation to serve God and others.
ETS Regional Conference
Another encouragement for us came as Southern Seminary hosted the conference for the Evangelical Theological Society’s southeast region. The topic chosen by the committee was “Work, Vocation and Human Flourishing in the Christian Tradition.” This choice was heavily influenced by faculty who had begun thinking more deeply about these topics due to the work of the ON. Gene Veith was the plenary speaker, addressing the topic of vocation. The conference drew 260 participants, which is a little more than double the usual attendance for a regional meeting, including 54 students and faculty from Southern Seminary.
One of our initiatives that we have had very positive response to is our spring and fall colloquia. Each semester we invite 25-30 faculty and pastors to come and engage with speakers on a topic related to vocation, economics and flourishing. We meet for a day and a half, which allows for significant engagement during sessions and over meals.
Spring colloquium. Our first colloquium this year was on human flourishing in the Augustinian tradition. We heard from six scholars who presented original research material on the concept of human flourishing in Augustine (Megan DeVore), Calvin (Herman Selderhuis), Richard Baxter (Tim Cooper), Andrew Fuller (Michael Haykin), Pierre Du Moulin (Marty Klauber) and Jonathan Edwards (Doug Sweeney). One of the things that was particularly interesting here is that the research stretched each of the presenters and participants to think about how human flourishing has been understood historically in the church. The success of this colloquium produced interest in expanding the work with a second colloquium on the same topic next year, and getting papers published eventually in a book on human flourishing in historical perspective.
Fall colloquium. Our second colloquium of the year, connected to the celebration of the Reformation, was on “Vocation as a Doctrine of the Reformation.” We had five scholars, with the following topics: Megan DeVore, “The Labors of our Occupation: Can Augustine Offer and Insight on Vocation?”; David Puckett, “Monks or Maids? Martin Luther on Vocation and the Blessing of God”; Leland Ryken, “Some Kind of Life to Which we are Called of God: The Puritan Doctrine of Vocation”; Michael Haykin: “English Calvinist Baptists and Vocation in the Long Eighteenth Century, with Particular Reference to Anne Dutton’s Vocation as an Author”; and Rob Plummer, “A New Testament Professor’s Rediscovery of the Doctrine of Vocation.” These papers will be published in an upcoming volume of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
We are looking forward to future gatherings, and whatever the Lord has in store for us next.