This interview is 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).
Tell us about the class you examined in the curricular workshop.
It’s a master’s level course, TH634: The Theology and Ethics of Work. The majority of students are in, or are training for, full-time church ministry. A substantial minority work, and plan to continue to work, in the marketplace as they live out their Christian calling.
What specific changes did you make to this class? Were there resources you assigned?
We integrated resources from the Theology of Work (TOW) website: six to eight assigned articles; two subject areas from which students could select a variety of articles to read; and a general assignment to familiarize oneself with the website layout.
What was your goal in making these changes – what did you want students to gain?
I had two main goals in mind for students: (1) To see that the Bible addresses more topics related to business and finance than one might initially think – and to begin to explore ways to connect biblical narratives with modern questions about commercial transactions, moral dilemmas in business, etc.; (2) To gain an awareness of the resources available through the TOW website, for future reference in sermon preparation and church study groups.
What was easier to do, or harder to do, than you had expected?
I found the first goal above easier to achieve than the second. Or, at least the first goal was easier to measure than the second. Students were easily able to incorporate thematic treatments within the TOW website to our class modules on such subjects as ethical dilemmas, work conflicts and workers’ rights and responsibilities. I am less sure of their ability to use the website resources well for their own future ministries – though again I am still wrestling with how to install measurable outcomes in the class to gauge success in this course goal.
How did it go with your students – what did they experience and what did they take away from the changed part of the class?
As a whole they very much appreciated the connections made on the TOW website between modern day business ethics and various narratives within scripture. They were clearly able to begin to think about new applications from familiar Bible stories.
What new questions were raised, either for you yourself or by your students in class?
Both I and the students were aware of certain Christian writers whose work focuses on bringing out biblical themes of Empire – and specifically how worldly Empire, driven so much by economics, is continually contrasted with the principles by which the Kingdom of God operate. Some in the class appreciated the emphasis on the TOW website of the positive role that the marketplace can play in affording Christians an opportunity to be salt and light. Others wondered if the website might perhaps consider more content on the perspective that views the lure of Empire/power/greed as an ever-present danger for modern-day Christians in their spiritual formation, shaping our desires and ordering our loves in a way inconsistent with Christian discipleship.
Will you keep the change if you teach this class again? Modify it? Are there other changes you’re considering?
I will absolutely keep the existing articles and resources from the TOW website as required readings for the class. I will continue to think about ways to ensure that students are able to navigate effectively through the TOW website for future study. Any general changes to the course for the future will involve possible changes to one or more of the textbooks, as new books are written on such subjects as Christian vocation and the Christian response to consumerism. But as far as the TOW website’s resources for connecting scripture to various topics related to work and business ethics, these resources are definitely staying in the course!