This the second in a series of articles sharing insights from a joint curricular development initiative of the ON, the Theology of Work Project and three ON schools (Asbury, Assemblies of God and Western).
The May ON newsletter included an overall report on three curriculum integration workshops held in March, from the point of view of Will Messenger and myself. In addition to reports from individual seminary faculty who participated, which will come when the courses have been taught, I’m following up with a parallel series about insights and resources that Will and I thought were worth sharing following our conversations with faculty in specific subject areas.
Our conversations with New Testament professors quickly highlighted the fact that, although they share some common concerns, they also cultivate their own distinctive specialised perspectives.
Some scholars love delving into the historical background to the text. We spent time talking with these professors about:
- What was Jesus’ occupation? See Mark 6:1-6, plus an extended academic discussion by Ken Campbell.
- What were the occupations of the disciples?Only five would seem to be clear: four fishermen (Mark1:16-20) and a tax collector (Mark 2:13-17).
- Tentmakers: Priscilla, Aquila and the Apostle Paul; see also Tentmaking and the Christian Life on Acts 18:1-4.
- Women and work in the New Testament See, for example, The Businesswoman Lydia on Acts 16, or the extended discussion “Women Workers in the New Testament.”
I can’t help recalling (having received his permission to recall it here) my three conversations with Fredrick J. Long at Asbury. His enthusiasm for these topics was contagious, as he described what he had discovered in the course of writing some New Testament reflections for a book (forthcoming June 2018) on Entrepreneurial Church Planting: Engaging Business and Mission for Marketplace Transformation. Thinking about themes of entrepreneurship and business in the lives and ministries of Jesus, his disciples, Paul and the early Christian community in Acts had clearly become an absorbing study for Fred. He has now condensed his research findings into three short chapters that can provide a very useful starting point for anyone else embarking on this study.
Fred’s journey exemplified for me the excitement and new perspectives that can be gained when we look at familiar texts through different lenses.
Other scholars were primarily concerned with exegesis and taking the text very seriously. What does it say and what did it originally mean? And where are the New Testament passages that talk about work?
- We noticed that when John the Baptist talks in Luke 3:8-14 about “bear fruits worthy of repentance,” he identifies workplace ethics issues (see also the short Rev. Lyle Mook video on this passage).
- We discussed how the majority of Jesus’ parables (24 out of 37 according to Fred) describe business settings, and talk about the proper use of wealth and resources. Yet they seldom offer simple interpretations, and frequently raise as many questions as they answer. For example, what did Jesus mean when he said “Are you envious because I am generous?” in his Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).
- We conversed about how we can understand the words of Paul about slavery when he talks about Mutuality in Working for the Lord in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, or “Stay Where Your Are!”in I Corinthians 7:20-24, or Slaves and Masters in Colossians 3:18-4:1, or Philemon and Work.
And then there were conversations with those who were eager to discern much more immediate applications of NT teachings:
- What is good work? 1 Corinthians 3:10-17
- Does talk about Spiritual Gifts and Work in 1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40 also apply to work outside the church? (see also the short video How important is it to know your gifts? for the perspective of a business woman, which could supplement discussion of Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, or Ephesians 4)
- How do we apply what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-35 to conflict resolution at work?
- Could what Jesus says about “Seek first the kingdom of God” in Matthew 6:33 be applied to the life of an aircraft company?
- How might James’ warning about the oppression of workers in James 5:1-6 be applied today?
- Does the warning about Working with Nonbelievers in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 still apply?
These were invigorating and fruitful discussions. Yet I am left thinking that, in spite of the work that has already been done about How to Read the Bible with Workplace Eyes, we can still do a lot more to help bring the New Testament to life for workplace Christians.
And I am keen to learn about other tools that you have found particularly helpful in this quest, so please let me know what you think!