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Mark D. Roberts

In the series: God at Work: A Review of the Book by David Miller
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In a Nutshell:
God at Work by David Miller is an accurate, insightful analysis of the Faith at Work Movement in the last century. In includes, not only a careful history and sociological analysis of the movement, but also a look forward at the opportunities and challenges for those concerned with the relationship between faith and the workplace. I highly recommend this book to clergy and laity alike, especially to those who care about the ministry of God’s people in the world today. My only modest criticism of God at Work has to do with the implied ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), which, ironically, seems to assume a more institutional view of church rather than a more biblical view in which the Spirit-filled people of God, including both clergy and laity, are the church.
About the Author
Dr. David W. Miller is the Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, an institute of Yale Divinity School, where he also serves as assistant professor of business ethics. Miller’s background is diverse. After graduating from Bucknell University in 1979, he went to work for IBM. Then he moved to England, where he served in senior positions in business and finance. (You can find a PDF of his resume here; or a prosaic bio here.)
In 1995, Miller attended Princeton Theological Seminary, earning an M.Div. in 1998. He stayed on at Princeton Seminary, earning a Ph.D. in Social Ethics in 2003. His dissertation, The Faith at Work Movement: Its Growth, Dynamics, and Future, was the basis for his book, God at Work.
As you can see, David Miller brings together that which is rarely combined in one person: extensive business experience; theological education; church involvement (Miller is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA), and academic expertise.
About the Book
God at Work is based upon Miller’s Ph.D. dissertation. Upon hearing this, you might be inclined to regard God at Work as an overly academic and mostly unreadable tome. Though it is often true that published dissertations make for difficult reading, this is not the case for God at Work. This book makes for engaging reading. Much of the academic material has been put into 63 pages of footnotes and bibliography. The text of the book runs for only 153 pages.
The bulk of these pages focuses on the so-called “Faith at Work” movement, which Miller abbreviates as FAW. This movement emphasized the ministry of the laity, rather than clergy, and saw this ministry as happening in the world as well as the church. I had always thought of FAW as a post-World-War-II phenomena. But Miller shows that the roots of FAW grow deep into the social gospel movement that began in the late 19th century and continued into the middle of the 20th century.
The “first wave” of FAW, as Miller calls it, included themes that are still popular today. Among them would be “the popularization of Jesus” is such books as Charles Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? The last few years have seen a resurgence of Sheldon’s emphasis on Jesus, especially in the emblematic abbreviation, WWJD?, which one can find on t-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers.
Miller identifies the “second wave” of FAW as “The Ministry of the Laity Era (c. 1946-1985)” (pp. 39-61). Miller identifies several early leaders of this era, including J.H. Oldman, Hendrik Kraemer, and Hans-Ruedi-Weber. They saw church renewal and impact as centered in the ministry of non-ordained people in the world.
I was especially interested in Miller’s mention of two people as leaders of the second FAW wave. One is Elton Trueblood, who argued that “The world is one, secular and sacred, and . . . the chief way to serve the Lord is in our daily work.” (p. 48). Trueblood, among other things, was the first speaker at Laity Lodge, where I now work. The other is Howard E. Butt, Jr., the founder of Laity Lodge. According to Miller, Butt combined “questions of personal salvation with social and economic justice in the workplace” (p. 55). His “promotion of lay ministry and ecumenism during wave two was, in light of his theologically evangelical roots, nothing short of ground breaking” (p. 55).
The second wave of the FAW movement ran out of gas, observes Miller, for a variety of reasons. In part, this happened when people began to see lay ministry “merely as a means to increase lay participation in the interior life of the gathered church, as opposed to equipping laity for the challenges of life in the scattered church” (p. 56). Miller adds that “clergy and church professionals often redirected the movement’s energy and purpose, redefining lay ministry as more active involvement in church committees and the internal life of the gathered church” (p. 59).
As a member of the clergy and as a former church professional, I’ll offer a mea culpa in response to this charge. It is terribly easy for those of us who are responsible for building and maintaining the church to value lay ministry only insofar as it contributes to this mission. But, in my experience, it’s not just clergy and church professionals who make this mistake. Church-focused lay ministers do it as well.
I’ll never forget a nominating committee meeting in my first year as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. We were considering possible candidates for Deacon when somebody mentioned a man named Greg. Greg was rightly perceived to have great potential as a Deacon. But there was a problem. Greg was on the school board, in addition to running his own business and being a committed husband and father. His school board involvement took so much time that Greg couldn’t be a Deacon in the church. When this fact was brought up in the committee, a group of lay people, except for me, many were critical of Greg’s priorities. They devalued his work on the school board since it took away from his availability for church work. I was shocked. It seemed to me that Greg’s ministry on the school board was every bit as worthwhile as what he might be able to do in the church. In fact, I had recently met with Greg and talked about his school board involvement. He was there in service to Christ as well as to the community. Yet his peers, his fellow lay ministers, lacked Greg’s perspective and sense of broader calling, to my chagrin. In time, after lots of preaching, most folks in Irvine Presbyterian Church came to see ministry in the world as neither more or less valuable than ministry in the church. And, ironically, Greg sensed a different call in his life, and ended up serving as a Deacon in the church, a fine one, I might add.
Tomorrow I’ll continue my review of God at Work.
Note: For a related piece, see “FAITH: Christians Transformation Cultures” by AZDean. Also, see his comment below.

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