This the latest 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).
Previous articles in this series have dealt with the integration of vocation and theology of work elements in core seminary courses. What I haven’t described specifically is the content of our discussions about the theologies of vocation and work. Our conversations returned to some recurring questions that I have treated below.
This was not limited to discussion of full courses on faith and work. It also included shorter course modules on vocation and the theology of work that could be inserted into courses in a variety of disciplines and contexts.
What are we talking about?
Understandings of vocation, or calling, in the Bible and Christian history and contemporary culture are often quite different. How do we clarify what we are talking about? We agreed that any exploration of these themes must include some reference to biblical, historical and contemporary perspectives.
Several different types of resources were being sought for this, including:
- A concise general introduction to vocation that could be taught or offered as an article for students to read and respond to.
- A more significant study of how vocation and calling terminology is used and understood in the Old and New Testaments. For example, although it is dated, I still find Chapter 2 of Donald R. Heiges’ 1984 The Christian’s Calling, on “Vocation According to the Scriptures,” helpful for this, combined with use of biblical dictionaries.
- A very condensed or more extended survey of how this terminology has been used and understood in Christian history.
- Discussion about how, in the light of this history, vocation/calling should be understood today, and how useful this terminology is pastorally today. A brief discussion could look like this. Or this question could be turned into a research essay topic.
What practical help are we offering?
Seminaries often attempt to address multiple, and sometimes competing, agendas as they talk about vocation. In particular, we discusssed how the following concerns are related and can fit together:
- Encouraging young Christians to consider theological education and pastoral ministry with a real sense of personal vocation.
- Clarifying the meaning of Christian vocation/calling in a way that applies to all the people of God and is related to their everyday working lives in the world outside the church. This involves promoting the equipping and vocational-guidance role of local churches.
- Providing tools that individuals and churches can use to help Christians clarify their gifts and values and personal callings.
But what about all the other questions?
We discussed and debated a lot of other questions. What is the relationship between our Christian calling and our personal callings? Is this a biblical distinction? What is the relationship between job, career, calling and ministry? Is my calling my job? What kind of work matters most to God? Is there just one special thing for me? How do we help students find where they fit in God’s purposes? How is vocation connected to formation?
There were too many questions to discuss here, but three websites that offer helpful articles, videos and podcasts addressing these questions for seminary students are Bethel Seminary’s Work With Purpose, Fuller Theological Seminary’s De Pree Center resources and the On Vocation Blog of Wheaton College’s Opus.
Theology of Work
Our discussions about the theology of work were not only intimately connected to the themes of vocation/calling related above, but also began by asking very similar questions: “What does the Bible say?”, “What do Christian theologians say?” and “How do we relate this to popular understandings about the meaning of work in our culture?”
What does the Bible say about work?
We talked about how this question is answered in different ways depending on who is speaking. Here are three examples we considered:
- A pastor/theologian’s condensed overview of work in the Bible
- A management professor’s perspective on work in the Bible
- A business leader’s perspective on work in the Bible
What do Christian theologians say about the theology of work?
- What might a simple outline for a theology of work look like?
- An article on significant theologies of work during 1948-1998; this article does not include discussion of theologies of work beyond 1998, but it does describe foundations on which more recent theologies of work have built. Other sources need to be consulted for more recent theologies of work from Darrell Cosden, Armand Larive, David Jensen and others.
- Some areas of significant debate among theologians described by Graeme Smith.
- A selection of some more recent popular theologies of work found in the first section on this page.
How do we relate this to the meaning of work in our culture?
For a sample of the multitude of different answers that have been offered in answer to this question, consider several relevant bibliographies of both popular and academic resources via the links on the Advanced Study section on this page.
What might theologies of work for specific populations look like?
- Theologies of work for blue collar workers
- Theologies of work for and from women
- Theologies of work for those facing retirement
- Theologies of work for and from people of African-American, Hispanic, Asian and other backgrounds
- Theologies of work for children and young people
These include a large percentage of the overall population who are often not represented in discussions about the theology of work.
Vocation, Work and Ministry
Theology of Work