What is the relationship between faith and work? It is persistent question in the lives of many Christians. Those who spend their lives in theological academies and within ecclesia frequently tell us that Jesus, and the Bible, have more to say about material matters than about any other topic. Yet astonishingly little attention in the academic and ecclesial worlds is directed toward integrating faith and work. Miroslav Volf suggests that the volumes that have been written on transubstantiation dwarf the work that has been done on the entire field of faith and work. Attention that is given is pervasively influenced by neo-liberationist hermeneutics, Niebuhrian/Barthian socialism (from their early socialist periods) and “…Franciscan and monastic strands that glorify poverty and simplicity.” (90) (Many varieties of Anabaptist theology should be added to the third category.) Not only is attention not given to faith and work but many who wrestle with these issues in the marketplace frequently sense the ambivalence, if not antipathy, toward them by those who should be most equipped to help integrate their lives.
Fortunately, many marketplace Christians who wrestle with these issues have sought each other out and networked for mutual support and learning. It is a very diverse movement of folks with a fluid patchwork of organizations and resources to help integrate faith and work. Getting a handle on this movement is a challenge but David W. Miller’s God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement helps us do just that.
David Miller is the Executive Director at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School. (One of his colleagues at the center is Miroslav Volf who is author of one of the most important books I have read on work and spirituality, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work. Both men are Presbyterian Church, USA.) God at Work is Miller’s attempt to frame the Faith at Work movement so that both marketplace ministers and academics can get a handle on what is unfolding. The actual text is only about 150 pages but it is extensively footnoted, providing considerable “jumping off” places for academic types to pursue research.
By “Faith at Work” (FAW) movement, Miller intends a double meaning. The movement is both about taking our faith to work and about working our faith. He casts his net wide in his analysis, occasionally even bringing in observations about non-Judeo-Christian religions.
Miller sees the FAW movement as more than a century old. It has had three eras: The Social Gospel Era (1890s-1945), The Ministry of the Laity Era (1946-1985), and the Faith at Work Era (1985-Present). He devotes a chapter to each era. He then evaluates the response of the theological academy and ecclesial hierarchies to FAW. It isn’t pretty. “[Theological] students are often left with a one-note song, ‘lecturing, not listening,’ concluding that the best way to address business and FAW issues is by proclaiming a prophetic voice.” (98) He also writes “In general, clergy appear to focus on criticizing the obvious problems in the marketplace without appreciating the complexities or even the theological possibilities of the marketplace.” (91)
There are some notable exceptions to this trend. Yale’s Center for Faith & Culture has been established. Princeton has started the Abraham Kuyper Center but Miller suggests it has not been warmly embraced by the theological faculty. Fuller Seminary and Regent College (in Vancouver) have been championing this area for a few years now. Miller also reports that, based on survey data, many pastors genuinely want to be of service in this arena but simply don’t know where to begin. The relationship between the academy and the pew appears to be one of complete disconnect. (Miller also gives an overview of PCUSA social witness policy on the topic which I excerpted here.)
In the final chapters, Miller analyzes FAW as a social movement and proposes a typology for studying the movement. He suggests that there are four ways the movement tends to exhibit itself and that individuals and institutions tend to gravitate toward some expressions more than others. Here are the four modes:
Ethics – “People and groups located in the ethics (ET) quadrant are those whose primary mode of integrating faith and wok I through attention to personal virtue, business ethics, and to broader questions of social and economic justice.” (129) He notes that further diversification can seen by differing emphases on “the micro (personal), the mezzo (the corporate), and the macro (the societal).” (130) Evangelical groups have tended to specialize in the micro while liberal mainline denominations have tended to focus on he mezzo and the macro.
Evangelism – “The evangelism, or EV, quadrant contains participants whose primary mode of integrating faith at work is through evangelism, and the expression of their faith.” (132)
Experience – “In the experience (EX) quadrant of the Integration Box lie FAW participants and groups whose primary means of integrating faith and work involves questions of vocation, calling, meaning, and purpose in and through their marketplace professions.” (135)
Enrichment – “The enrichment (EN) type constitutes the final quadrant in the Integration Box framework. The primary understanding of integrating faith and work for FAW groups and people located in this type is often personal and inward in nature, focusing on issues like healing, prayer, meditation, consciousness, transformation, and self-actualization. (137)
Miller offers some thoughts about how to shape the future in the final chapter. He suggests that the logical starting place is the place where clergy are trained: seminaries. Among his suggestions is the idea of clinical pastoral education and field education programs for business just like many seminaries have them for hospitals, prisons, and psychiatric wards. Among vital changes he sees as necessary are:
“Clergy who wish to equip their people to integrate faith and work effectively will first need to develop a ministry of presence and listening in the work sphere. Clergy should go to their parishioners’ places of work for short visits as regularly and naturally as they make hospital and home visits.” (146)
“Clergy who wish to equip their people to integrate faith and work will also need to develop a ministry of public preaching and prayer that intentionally and constructively addresses all dimensions of the Four E’s of ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment.” (147)
“Clergy who wish to equip their people to integrate faith and work will also need to develop a ministry of teaching that includes all dimensions of the Four E’s. … Toward that end, I propose that clergy learn a hermeneutic of the marketplace. This will ensure that the parables and biblical narratives gains fresh sense of relevance and applicability to modern business situations.” (147)
“Clergy who wish to equip their people to integrate faith and work will need to develop a ministry of spiritual integration that ensures that laity are trained to utilize personal prayer and devotional study in their daily lives.” (148)
This book is a masterpiece. Not because it answers all the questions, but because it frames the issues and places them within a context that facilitates discovering the right questions. If you are a business person who feels disoriented with regard to faith and work, then this is a great resource for getting your bearings. If you are a pastor with a passion for reaching business people in your congregation, then this is a wonderful beginning point to investigate how you might be more effective in doing so. If you are in theological academia, then buy this book, read it, and listen! (*grin*) Thank you, David Miller, for a wonderful resource.