Book Review – Work: Theological Foundations and Practical Implications
Religion & Liberty Online

Book Review – Work: Theological Foundations and Practical Implications

“Work: Theological Foundations and Practical Implications” presents a thoughtful and comprehensive guide to the intersection of theology and work. The text’s contributors are made up of scholars from a variety of studies, including economics, church history, and theology, among others, who offer unique perspectives on work.

In the introduction, editors R. Keith Loftin and Acton’s Director of Program Outreach, Trey Dimsdale, ask the question, “Why would anyone remain interested or indeed become interested in a religion that ignores nine-tenths of their life?” Such a question brings to mind past eschatological Christian views in which people see little point in investing in their earthly jobs if they have their eyes and hopes set on Heaven. “Work,” however, suggests that people can combine eternal and temporal concerns in realization of the purpose of work.

The book is divided into three sections, each emphasizing a different category of theology. Section One covers biblical theology. In it, John Bergsma writes about creation narratives in Near Eastern cultures and the biblical creation narrative. Bergsma claims that “work is part of the original human vocation,” as seen in God’s instruction for man to “work the soil” in the book of Genesis. Eugene H. Merrill expands on the biblical affirmation of work in his chapter about Old Testament prophet books and books of wisdom and poetry. He references the ideal wife in Proverbs 31 as “the ideal of good, hard, and honest work.” Proverbs 31 is filled, Merrill writes, with words “describing what she does to provide for her family and herself.”

The rest of Section One addresses other scriptural evidence for affirmation of work, such as in Paul’s letters and the gospels of Jesus Christ. For example, John Taylor describes Paul’s “Labor of Love,” seen in his letters to the Thessalonians, in which his “working for money did not derive from selfishness – quite the opposite. It ensured that he was not a burden on others. It was the practice of love.”  While not covering the entire Bible, section one provides substantial evidence from a decent range. By engaging scriptural evidence spanning from the Old to New biblical testaments, “Work” shows readers that work itself is an inherent part of humanity and spirituality.

Section Two, “Systematic Theology,” describes Christian doctrinal ideas of work. In Chapter Six, Miroslav Volf writes about work as cooperation with God. Volf emphasizes the importance of eschatology in theology in that “When one refuses to assign eschatological significance to human work and makes it fully subservient to the vertical relation to God, one devalues human work and Christian involvement.” However, Volf’s ideas about eschatology are transformative rather than limited. He notes that “the expectation of the eschatological transformation invests human work with ultimate significance. Through it, human beings contribute in their modest and broken way to God’s new creation.” Thus, if we find significance in the eternal we can discover significance in our everyday work.

Section Two presents several other interesting applications of theology to work. For instance, in the chapter “Work and Sanctification”, Scott B. Rae claims that work can affect virtue. He cites virtues such as trust, teamwork, initiative and perseverance as examples of virtues encouraged by “marketplace activity.” Because “Business is an environment that both reveals and refines a person’s character and spirituality,” readers learn that there are benefits to actively and enthusiastically participating in it. Furthermore, Darrell T. Cosden describes work as playing a vital role in the new creation. He cites Revelation 20-21 and describes how “God’s ultimate goal for creation is for it to become his eternal home. The purpose of ordinary human work that creates value, that preserves and transforms, and that distributes goods is to build and shape, together with God, that future home.”

Section Three, “Practical Theology,” focuses on applications for theology in present-day work. In Chapter Twelve, for instance, pastor Chris R. Armstrong describes how “American Christians of my generation have largely given up on finding any spiritual meaning in our work.” In response, Armstrong notes that people should look to ideas from scholars like John Wesley and C.S. Lewis to understand the holy significance of their jobs. He cites, in particular, C.S. Lewis’s medievalist ideals that “affirmed the most prosaic and seemingly ‘secular’ parts of our lives as places of divine significance.” Furthermore, in Chapter Fourteen, “Poverty, Justice and Work,” Michael Matheson Miller writes about combating poverty with justice and how this can be done largely by enabling impoverished people “to create prosperity for their families and their communities.”

The book ends with an afterword by Gabriela Urbanova. Residing in the Slovak Republic, which was occupied by Communist rule from 1948 to 1989, Urbanova describes how her culture “causes the lessons of this volume to impact me in a special way.” At the end of her section she summarizes “Work” in this:

“These principles will help us to fulfill [God’s] calling: to perform work as an act of love. Sure, the challenge is difficult, but it is one that is well worth the effort. How do you answer this calling?”

If you’re wondering how to merge ideas of religion and work and, in turn, revolutionize how you view your 9-to-5 job, this book is for you.

Get your own copy here.