Section I: The History of Christian Faith and Work
- Scripture: From Biblical times to the 21st-century, God’s Word is eternal. Scripture is the primary authority for the Christian faith and is filled with stories about the lives of working people. Scripture reveals that work is an important part of a Christian’s journey of faith. This chapter contains a statistic analysis, in graphical form, of work-related Scripture as supporting evidence.
- Theology: Theology is a discussion about God to understand God’s revelation to humans. It is faith seeking understanding. The remaining nine chapters cover various theologians who have written extensively about faith and work.
- John Chrysostom (349-407): The First ‘Work’ theologian who developed his Christian theology of work using Old and New Testament Scripture. He wrote that there was dignity and spirituality in work, that Christians showed hospitality through their work and it was sinful to be idle. He favored the priesthood over the secular life, thus setting hierarchies between sacred and secular professions.
- Augustine of Hippo (354-430): He used the life of the apostles as an example to counter monks who did not want to work. The Apostle Paul worked and supported himself while spreading the gospels rather than burden the community. If the monks literally followed Christ’s words, they would die from the lack of food. He speculated that the monks were running away from work by choosing the spiritual life and stressed balancing the spiritual and working life by combining them. He urged the Church to emulate the early Church period and remove the hierarchical structure that separated the sacred and secular professions.
- Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): He based his theology on natural law using human reason and supported the two-tier contemplative-active hierarchy with the spiritual life superior to lay occupations. The active life was to preserve life and procreate.
- Martin Luther (1483-1546): He used both the Old and New Testament to support his theology that humans are called to work and not be idle. He opposed the Church’s two-tier hierarchy and argued that all work that supported the community and aided God’s kingdom was of equal value to God. Luther developed a theology on vocations: God called each person to an assigned lifetime vocation. He supported the Sabbath as a day of rest and a holy day of community worship. Luther developed a detailed set of business ethics to protect the community from unfair or dishonest business practices.
- John Calvin (1509-1564): He founded his theology of work on the Old Testament curse of humanity tempered by God’s graciousness. He believed in hard, industrial work (Protestant Work Ethic) and that it is sinful to waste our gifts through idleness. Calvin connected human work with the spiritual life that was tightly tied to the Christian life and like Luther, believed in the value of all vocations. He supported a balanced course for Christians by using God’s bountiful providence with modesty on behavior. Like Luther, he advocated community service to others. Calvin followed Luther’s lead in recommending specific business ethics but differed on such issues as trade and civil justice.
- Karl Barth (1886-1968): He centered his theology of work around the Sabbath: resting in God comes before work. He rejected the liberal theology of work that identified humans as “co-creative” with God. Barth rejected the Protestant work ethic by placing work as a lower priority in Scripture and believed that the main criteria for work was to prolong life. He agreed with both Luther and Calvin on the importance of work in caring for our community: Christ came to serve. Barth supported socialism (“self-denial”) over capitalism and communism. He rejected competition and advocated cooperation. Barth believed that work ethics should be addressed for certain times and places. He steered away from emphasizing Calvin’s spiritual qualities of work.
- Jürgen Moltmann (born 1926): He based his theology of work on human rights and dignity and not any kind of work but meaningful work. Moltmann agreed with Barth in prioritizing the Sabbath rest above human work but disagreed with Barth that work is simply to support our physical life – work has the joy of existence value. He believed that work does not define humans: we are loved by God first and created in God’s image. Moltmann advocated that work allows for human creativity and expression. He linked human work to Christ’s suffering and resurrection, looking forward (eschatologically) to the new creation with workers focused on the kingdom of God. Moltmann supported working in community (as did Luther, Calvin and Barth) and denounced unemployment as depriving humans of community.
- Miroslav Volf (born 1956): He views our current society as becoming compartmentalized and individualistic: Christianity is a 24/7 faith! Volf agrees with Moltmann that work is more than an activity to survive (breaks with Barth). He advocates three normative principles: guarding the individual’s dignity (self-actualization), practicing solidarity (community), and preserving the integrity of nature (new creation). Volf unifies work and the spiritual life. He develops a pneumatological (Holy Spirit) doctrine of work (following Calvin, not Barth) and fuses the doctrine of creation (Genesis) and eschatology (new creation) together through the Holy Spirit. Volf stresses the balance between work and the Sabbath (following Moltmann, not Barth). He agrees with Luther’s theology that all vocations are of value but rejects Luther’s theology that God calls people to a certain station: the Holy Spirit moves workers at different times to different stations.
- Pope John Paul II (1920-2005): He used both Genesis and the life of Christ to support his theology of work. Pope John Paul II stated that the value of work is man himself, who is the subject: work is for man and not man for work. He agreed with Moltmann that work is a fundamental human right and called unemployment “evil,” which paralleled Moltmann’s belief that full employment was a human right. Pope John Paul II ranked human work above material “things” like capital and land. He agreed with Volf and others that a necessary component of work is self-actualization. Pope John Paul II emphasized both community and the work of the Holy Spirit. He placed the Sabbath and work on relatively equal footing.
Section II: A Theological Model of Work
My proposed theological model is founded on the threefold, distinct, and interrelating aspects of Christian work: self-actualization, community, and new creation. All three aspects must be present and balanced in our work; no aspect has priority. Just as a three-legged stool must have all legs present and balanced to function properly, so must this theological model of work. The model is Trinitarian, as each work aspect relates to a person of the Trinity. It is a balanced, distinct, non-hierarchical and inter-relational representation. Self-actualization is what God created within humans in God’s image and is focused on the individual. God created humans to be relational within community based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. New creation is focused on following the Holy Spirit in establishing God’s kingdom here on earth.
Section III: 7 Steps to Integrate Your Faith into Your Work
Each step includes supporting personal stories from the author’s 34 years of professional work experience.
- Honor the Sabbath: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Take a day to remove yourself from the world of space and rest in God’s eternal world.
- Master Competence: Be proficient at a skill by working hard and long to master it. Be competent in your religion, a faith seeking understanding.
- Manage God’s Providence: God provides, and we are God’s stewards on earth. Manage God’s resources effectively and benevolently within your workplace, home, and church.
- Exhibit Christlike Character: Let your fellow workers see the light of Christ within you. Our character is founded upon humility, gratitude, and courage.
- Practice Servant leadership: The great leader is seen as servant first. Our leadership skills come from God and are used to develop people and serve the community.
- Balance Power: Power is a double-edged sword – both good and corrupt. Power is to be used for justice, to save lives, to serve the public’s interest, and to move the community towards the new creation.
- Be Missional: Christians are sent into the world to be faithful witnesses to the resurrected Christ. We are to be externally focused.
Glossary of Terms
Appendices (includes detailed references and footnotes)