I 've recently been reading After Sunday: A Theology of Work by Episcopal priest, Armand Larive. I'm presently in Chapter Three where he is identifying how theology has developed in a way that blocks us from seeing the importance of work. He is spelling out what needs to be altered in order to open space for a theology of work to emerge. I thought this excerpt was particularly insightful:
The term used most frequently to describe the task of the people of God is "reconciliation." It is biblical and seems to characterize God's purpose: God is reconciling or redeeming a rebellious humanity and humanity's systems. Reconciliation tends to be a broad description of what the church does, winning people to Christ, healing troubled souls, turning the spirit Godward, carrying forward a servant ministry, and the like. All of these activities - laudable as they may be - are people-oriented and point toward an enclave notion of the church. But what is the ministry of a pipe fitter, an auto mechanic, a supermarket checker, or a forest ranger? None of these occupations is primarily aimed at serving people in terms of redemption or reconciliation. Someone with a clerical prejudice might answer by suggesting opportunities for ministry to other people in the context of the job, but people don't choose their jobs primarily so they can have a platform for witnessing. When people value their jobs, they value them out of an excitement for the creativity a job offers, with a view to the job's intrinsic rewards, and because a job offers a platform of usefulness and self-worth. The concepts of redemption and reconciliation don't cover this excitement in any straightforward way. Once more they betray an implicit enclave view of the kingdom and an institutional church with a clericalized emphasis on membership. Redemption and reconciliation have their place, as do the church and its membership, but they belong under the umbrella of a broader, more inclusive term for human vocations. That term should be cocreativity, and its fuller description awaits the chapters on how human work is complemented by the work of the Trinity.
Using reconciliation as the master term for what constitutes ministry also reflects a turning away from a cocreative role in the history of the church. Thomas Berry argues that, prior to the fourteenth century, the church's "story" was integrated with a stewardship of nature. But the black death's devastation shocked the church out of confidence in nature, reinforcing a focus on redemption, the need to be sure one left this uncertain world as a saved soul.
Such excessive emphasis on redemption, to the neglect of the revelatory import of the natural world, had from the beginning been one of the possibilities in Christian development. The creed itself is overbalanced in favor of redemption. Thus the integrity of the Christian story is affected. Creation becomes increasingly less important. This response, with its emphasis on redemptive spirituality, continued through the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century and on through the Puritanism and Jansenism of the seventeenth century. This attitude was further strengthened by the shock of the Enlightenment and Revolution periods of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The American version of the ancient Christian story has functioned well in its institutional efficiency and its moral efficacy, but it is no longer the story of the earth. Nor is it the integral story of the human community. It is a sectarian story. At its center there is an intensive preoccupation with the personality of the Savior, with the interior spiritual life of the faithful, and with the salvific community. The difficulty is that we came to accept this situation as the normal, even desirable, thing.
If these very strong statements are followed to a logical conclusion, a different doctrine of the laity will be required because it is principally the laity who work with the creation. They are not just a clutch of people whom the clergy try to get into heaven but a people at the core of life as it is to be lived now. Part of the reason theologies of work get so little attention is that the gatekeepers of theology are mostly clericalized professionals, few of whom have spent their lives - or else forgotten - working in factories, raising crops, or in other ways affording themselves a laboring layperson's point of view. Indeed, the conventional wisdom of church professionals perfunctorily screens out or only nods at the seemingly secular world and its occupations. The pull of attention toward the institutional church and its Sunday observance is too strong to make room for the other days and other institutions that make up the majority of people's time. Nevertheless, the laity constitute that part of the church that serves the world, and that role demands recognition.
This gets at something I've been harping on for some time. Reconiliation and redemption are essential to our Christian vocation this side of the consummation of the Kingdom of God, but they are penultimate purposes. They expire at the consummation of the new creation.
We were created for relationship with God and to serve in cocreative domion with God over creation. That is our core purpose. That mission was marred with humanity's rebellion but it is also the mission that is being redeemed through reconciliation with God. We aren't just saved from sin. We are saved to a mission. We are saved to a reconciling community that seeks the return of humanity to a relationship with God and to shalom-filled cocreative dominion. Cocreative dominion is our core purpose both now and in the consummated Kingdom.