Work in the Spirit 7

imgresA valid theology of work must facilitate the “transformation of work toward ever-greater correspondence with the coming new creation” because “new creation is the end of all God’s purposes with the universe,” says Miroslav Volf in Work in the Spirit.

But, the new creation doesn’t just evolve out of “the action of intrahistorical forces pushing history toward ever-superior states…in linear development from the present order of things.”  While there is going to be “continuity” between now and the new creation to come, God’s future creation will also exhibit “radical newness.”  Appreciating this “frees us from having to press history into a utopian development scheme” and anticipate the new creation with excitement where our work will come into “shalomic” harmony with God, human beings and nonhuman creation.

(I can feel myself having to slow down now as Volf’s idea is getting gradually denser….)


Eric Liddell: Pure Gold 4

imgresDavid McCasland in Eric Liddell: Pure Gold says there was “a wide social and philosophical divide…separat[ing] those [foreigners] whose enterprise was tobacco or mining [i.e., “secular” businessmen] from those whose venture was faith [i.e., “sacred” missionaries]” in China.

The business folks thought the missionaries were “native, piggish, and morally judgmental.”  The missionaries thought the business folks were “affluent, morally corrupt and unconcerned for the Chinese people.”

The sacred-secular divide has been around for a long time, it seems.

I love how David McCasland ends this particular passage: “There was behavioral evidence to support both views.”

Work in the Spirit 6

imgresMiroslav Volf finds that developing a Christian theology of work inductively from individual biblical passages is problematic for two reasons in Work in the Spirit.

First, while some Old Testament passages like Genesis 1 and 2 “look more promising at first sight since they include a more comprehensive perspective on work,” they provide us “at best only with some elements of a theology of work.”  Second, these elements are not “useful for a Christian theology of work” since they still need to be interpreted “in light of the revelation of God in Christ.”

So he proposes to move deductively, setting up a “theological framework” first, and then integrating the biblical data into the framework.  The framework he chooses is “the concept of new creation.”  Why this framework?

…at its very core, Christian faith is eschatalogical.  Christian life is life in the Spirit of the new creation or it is not Christian life at all.  And the Spirit of God should determine the whole life, spiritual as well as secular, of a Christian.  Christian work must, therefore, be done under the inspiration of the Spirit and in the light of the coming new creation.

So, there it is, Volf’s proposal, in short.

Work in the Spirit 5

imgresAdam Smith saw labor “not [as] an essential characteristic of human beings without which they could not be human” but as “a means to satisfy the ‘desire of bettering our condition’” according to Miroslav Volf in Work in the Spirit.  In other words, Smith thought “people work, not because work is an expression of their humanity, but in order to satisfy their needs….”  “Work does not have human dignity…[but] only usefulness.”

The division of labor serves to enhance this usefulness of work.  Therefore, even though Smith recognized that division of labor has a way of estranging the workers from their true selves, he “believed that the alienating consequences of division of labor are a burden that must be endured because the division of labor is the key to the progress of civilization.”

I was then surprised to read who decided that “division of labor has to go, and with it the whole structure of a market economy.”  Karl Marx!  Marx was, according to Volf, led by “desire to overcome alienation in work.”  I had no idea that Marx had such noble aspirations at inception!

Business for the Common Good 6

imgres“I want to run my own company.”

I’ve said that before.  One of the attractions of law practice is, at some level, and to some extent, even within a firm of a few hundred lawyers, you are building your own practice.

Kenman Wong and Scott Rae examine whether there’s room for “ambition” of this sort in Business for the Common Good.  They believe “ambition to advance God’s rule in the world through business is an appropriate form of ambition, in which title and position come about as a byproduct of a person’s pursuit of excellence.”  But the “naked ambition” — seeking title and position “with little regard to service” — is not.

So, if one wants to run a company of one’s own, the question to ask is, why?

If the goal “is to get to run [my] own company” and “what the company does is less important,” then the underlying ambition needs to be checked.  That’s because “what the company does and how it does it matter far more than whether a person runs the company.”

Work in the Spirit 4

imgresMiroslav Volf observes, during the time of manual production, a craftsman “could clearly see the effect of his own handiwork” in Work in the Spirit.

Then we entered the time of machine production “characterized by the combined operations of many orders of working people.”  “A craftsperson could work at his pace” but the machines instead imposed its own “mechanically controlled work-pace,” and “work became fragmentized into minute operations and the worker was robbed of understanding how her work related to the finished product.”  The result is “stupefyingly simple actions done with monotonous regularity,” and “such work is an assault on human creativity and dehumanizing.”

That’s true not just of material production, I submit.  Nowadays, more and more people become “information workers,” and “human work is… increasingly becoming mental activity.”  And this type of “mental production” — if you will — is also becoming increasingly “fragmentized” in my view.

Here is an example from my own field.  In order to develop and finance a large scale power plant in a developing country, you need multiple teams — e.g., engineering, environmental regulation, financial analysis, legal contracting and the like.  In turn, each team has specialists.  A  good legal team in a deal of this sort has specialists in construction contracts, power sales contracts, energy regulation, cross-border tax structuring, loan documentation, and environmental compliance.  The tax specialist might in fact be multiple tax specialists — one in US federal income tax, one in cross-border tax rules and one in state and local tax.  For the state and local tax expert, her task may not be “stupefyingly simple,” but it can feel monotonous.  The relentless pace often does seem outside her control.  And she sometimes does feel “robbed of understanding how her work” relates to the finished product.

All of these lead to “many people…deeply dissatisfied with the kind of work they are doing.”  (I think I find vegetable gardening so satisfying because I work on it from seed to fruit all by myself, and there is no fragmentation!)

Volf says he is proposing a theology of work that provides “a theological framework within which responsible and creative thinking about solutions to these problems is both required and possible.”

A bold promise.

Business for the Common Good 5

imgresIn Business for the Common Good, Kenman Wong and Scott Rae recommend a “whimsical” view of wealth to Christians in business, quoting Richard John Neuhaus:

The point is that wealth — having or producing it — really does not matter that much.  This point is missed by both the avaricious, who become captive to their possessions, and by religiously driven ideologues promoting designs for a just economic order.  Both take wealth too seriously.  A theologically informed appreciation of economic life and the production of wealth should be marked by a sense of whimsy and wonder in the face of the fortuitous, contingent, chancy and unpredictable realities of economic life.