I have recently been asked to participate in compelling new project, the Theology of Work Project. I have agreed to be involved, not only because the whole matter of faith and work lies close to the heart of Laity Lodge, but also because I think this project has potential to make a significant difference in the lives of millions of Christians and in their workplaces, and therefore, ultimately in our society as a whole.
Let me explain why I’m excited about TOWP, and therefore why I am going to be partnering with them.
TOWP grew out of a conviction by several Christian leaders that one of the most important contexts for disciples of Jesus to live out their faith is the workplace. Yet these leaders sensed that, for millions of Christians, faith and work are separate realms. As they shared their vision with others, in time, several influential leaders joined them, including Dr. Haddon Robinson of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Tom Phillips, former CEO of Raytheon.
This expanded team contacted over 130 leading Christian thinkers, academics, workplace ministry professionals, and Christian workers around the world, asking if they sensed a need for a theology of work. Surprisingly, over 95% of those who had been contacted responded, with unanimous support for the development of a theology of work.
As the instigators of the project continued to push ahead, they formed a governing board of what was now called the Theology of Work Project. Serving on this board were such people as: Haddon Robinson, Tom Phillips, Daniel Byrd (professor of management at Claremont University), Katherine Leary (Exec. Dir. for Center of Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC), Sean McDonough (Assoc. Prof. of NT, Gordon-Conwell), and Dave Williamson (then the Director of Laity Lodge). Of course now you can see how I got connected to this project. Dave Williamson was one of my predecessors at Laity Lodge, and, in fact, the person who first got me connected with what is now my official ministry and my unofficial passion. The TOWP has a recently-appointed Executive Editor, Dr. William Messenger. Will has extensive experience in business, the academy, and the church. He earned a BS in Physics (Case Western), an MBA (Harvard), an MDiv (Boston U), and a D.Min. (Gordon-Conwell). With his broad experience and theologically-solid vision, Will is the perfect leader for the TOWP at this time.
What is the purpose of TOWP? Here are some excerpts from their website:
• They seek to “empower the Body of Christ at every level–from individual believers to institutions like the local church–to engage workplaces, and through them, the broader cultures at large, in transformational fashion.”
• They intent do “to bring together scholars and practitioners in a coalition aimed at building consensus around fundamental truths contained in a Theology of Work consistent with orthodox historical Christianity.”
• In the end, they want “to help workers perceive God’s purpose, meaning, and value in their work, and to bring Christ’s redeeming power into the fabric of their workplaces.”
• “[TOWP] has a five-year mission to produce biblical, theological and topical materials for equipping Christians to make use of the principles and resources of the Christian faith in their daily work. It is further engaged in collecting in one place reliable research materials to aid others – including pastors, ministry professionals, Biblical scholars and teachers, and workplace practitioners – in producing materials useful to Christians in their work lives.”
TOWP seeks to fulfill this purpose through the following objectives:
(1) To assemble a Steering Committee of the most able members of its key constituencies, namely biblical scholars, theologians, ethicists, economists and organizational scientists, workers, and workplace ministers;
(2) To produce a Theology of Work that is as broadly acceptable as possible, being relevant for every kind of workplace around the world, and meeting the approval of the full spectrum of traditions within the orthodox/historical Christian faith; and,
(3) To disseminate the Theology of Work as widely as possible, to reach the millions of people who may benefit from it.
I have been asked to contribute to this project, specifically in reference to the second objective. On the way to producing a Theology of Work, the TOWP is doing an extensive and intensive study of the entire Bible, seeking for God’s wisdom with respect to work. This study, a kind of biblical commentary, will be published as a helpful tool, and will also be used a grist for the mill that produces the Theology of Work, a statement to be endorsed by a wide range of Christian leaders throughout the world (rather like the Lausanne Covenant, if you’re familiar with that document).
Specifically, my assignment is to examine the biblical books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, writing a brief commentary on these books and how they inform our theological understanding of work. Even though I am a New Testament scholar by training, I was asked to focus on these Old Testament books because I once wrote a commentary on them (originally in the Communicator’s Commentary series, now in the Preacher’s Commentary series).
As I work my way through these books, I’m going to offer some insights and reflections here in my website. I won’t be publishing here what I will submit to TOWP. But I will put up some of my thoughts in a more unpolished and speculative. I’m doing this partly to be a good steward of my time. But I’m also interested in input from my blog readers. I look forward to working in community with you as we think together about how Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther inform our theological understanding and practice of work.