I’m presently reading Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work by Miroslav Volf. The book is divided into two sections. The first section deals with the contemporary world of work and the second section deals with developing Volf's theology of work. I loved these opening paragraphs from the seconde section (all emphases in the original):
Given the paramount importance of work in both liberal and socialist economic and social theory, it is remarkable that in our world dominated by work a serious crisis in work had to strike before church bodies paid much attention to the problem of human work. Theologians are to blame for the former negligence. Amazingly little theological reflection has taken place in the past about an activity that takes up so much of our time. The number of pages theologians have devoted to the question of transubstantiation – which does or does not take place on Sunday – for instance, would, I suspect, far exceed the number of pages devoted to work that fills our live Monday through Saturday. My point is not to belittle the importance of correct understanding of the real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper but to stress that a proper perspective on human work is at least as important.
One might object that the most basic things in life are not necessarily the most important, and that is hence superfluous to spend much time reflecting on them. Breathing is rather basic to life, but we do it twenty-four hours a day without giving it a second thought – until air pollution forces us to do so. Working, one might say, is much like breathing: its point is to keep us alive, and we need not bother with it until its function is hindered.
The parallel between breathing and working makes sense, however, only in a theology that subordinates the vita activa completely to the vita contemplativa. As Thomas Aquinas’ reflection on work illustrates, in such a theology the only real reason to work is to make the contemplation of God possible, first by providing “for the necessities of the present life” without which contemplation could not take place, and second, by “quieting and directing the internal passions of the soul,” without which human beings would not be “apt [enough] for contemplation.” But apart from the fact that work is necessary to provide for the necessities of the body and to quiet the passions of the soul, work is detrimental to human beings, for “it is impossible for one to be busy with external action and at the same time give oneself to Divine contemplation.” When a person inspired by the love of God does the will of God in the world, she suffers separation from the sweetness of Divine contemplation. Where the vita activa is fully subservient to vita contemplativa, there is no need to reflect extensively on human work since, as a mere means to a much higher end, it is in the long run accidental to the real purpose of human life.
The complete subordination of vita activa to vita contemplativa that has been basic to much of Christian theology throughout the centuries betrays an illegitimate intrusion of Greek anthropology into Christian theology. Faithfulness to our Judeo-Christian biblical roots demands that we abandon it. I am not suggesting that we should follow the modern inversion of the traditional order between vita activa and vita contemplativa and subordinate vita contemplativa completely to vita activa. I am not even suggesting that we should place them on an equal footing. I do propose, however, that we treat them as two basic, alternating aspects of the Christian life that may differ in importance but that cannot be reduced one to another, and that form an inseparable unity.
As soon as we ascribe inherent and not simply instrumental value to the vita activa (and thereby also to human work) we have answered the question of whether theological reflection on work is fundamental or marginal to the task of theology. … (69-70)
That last full paragraph nails it for me. (And he is a Presbyterian no less.)