Why does a Christian need a “theology of work”? What is a theology of work?
As followers of Jesus, we should have a spiritual perspective on any topic! We recognize that God has created this world and He is sustaining it with His providential care. We are participating in His grand plans and we are a part of His grand design. In other words, this world is not just a physical reality. There are “hints” of another world that are just as real as what we can sense with our five senses.
We are spiritual people and we have the ability to recognize spiritual truth and apply it to our lives. This at least means we are to study the Bible and allow our lives to be shaped by its truth. The Spirit of God guides us as Christians in the paths God would have us take. The Spirit of God also shapes our thinking, our perspective and our worldview. Thus, we potentially approach every subject or situation from a spiritual, big-picture perspective. We also have the opportunity and (I would argue) the responsibility to develop a theological understanding of every facet of our lives. Since work is such a large part of our normal life experience, we need to think theologically about it.
Revered theologian John Stott argued in his book, The Contemporary Christian, that we are capable of “double listening” – a skill that enables Christians to connect our story to The Big Story:
I believe we are called to the difficult and even painful task of ‘double listening’. That is, we are to listen carefully (although of course with differing degrees of respect) both to the ancient Word and to the modern world, in order to relate the one to the other with a combination of fidelity and sensitivity.
-John Stott, The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World (IVP, 1992), p. 13
We are to “listen” to the voice of God through His Word – and we are to “listen” to the voice of our contextual, cultural setting. We make connections between the two that help us make sense of our lives.
So – how does this help us with respect to our jobs and our understanding of work in particular?
Consider the story of Hugh Whelchel, Executive Director of the Institute for Faith Work and Economics – Whelchel was a successful business leader for many years in the IT industry. His expertise was demonstrated in his ability to “turn around” several companies as an executive leader. As a Christian, he always struggled with understanding how his work as a successful businessman had any connection with the Kingdom of God and its realities. After years of envying the clergy and feeling lost as a Christian in the world of work, he encountered the teachings of Francis Schaeffer (How Then Shall We Live?), Abraham Kuyper, Luther, Calvin and Chuck Colson (How Now Shall We Live?).
Whelchel had his eyes opened to the reality that God really was at work in him and through him at work! He began to develop a theology of work and it transformed his life. Here is his account of what happened:
“These authors, whose work called down to me over the centuries taught that the work of my hands mattered to God. They wrote that our work serves three great ends: it glorifies God, it serves the common good, and it furthers the Kingdom of God. That includes everything we do from the most significant project to the most mundane task . . . Discovering the Biblical doctrine of work transformed my life. Work for me went from being just a means to an end to having transcendent purpose in and of itself. It wasn’t just an avenue simply for sharing my faith (to evangelize) or to create wealth to donate to missions work; it was the very thing through which I could be the salt and light Jesus called me to be. IN fact, my vocational work was part of a larger grand story of God I was discovering, a story that started in the Garden of Eden and continues when Jesus returns and establishes the New Heavens and the New Earth. My work as a businessman, or whatever I was to do, had real value and purpose in God’s Kingdom.”
-Hugh Whelchel, How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, (WestBow Press, 2012), Preface
See how important a theology of work can be? It can revolutionize your perspective about your job! You can begin to connect God’s big story to your story. You can begin to recognize the intrinsic value of work itself. You can begin to see how God is using you to contribute to the common good of all humanity.
So – where do we begin in developing our own theology of work? Here at FBC Arlington, we have affirmed this truth: Everything starts with God!