God at Work
A note on David W. Miller’s God at Work
Good morning. This is working theology.
A wide chasm separates working people from the clergy: “It’s as if they speak two different languages.”†
In David W. Miller’s God at Work, he gives us a framework to think through this problem as well as historical evidence to support the relationship between work and faith. Miller is a lecturer and the director of Princeton’s Faith and Work Initiative.
A Chasm Widens
Church leaders are business people whether they like it or not. They have budgets and utility bills like any other business—they have a purpose, leadership, internal and external stakeholders, and even marketing strategies.
In other words, outside of their tax designations, churches and businesses are very similar.
Unfortunately, theological education and business education could not be more different, and there is no bridge across the gap in their respective curricula.
Miller quotes another work on this separation: “As one religiously devout business school professor said to us, ‘It’s not really clear that the church has anything to say in this arena that’s of any use.’”††
Theology has everything to do with business, but you do have to hunt for it. This ought not be the case.
Learning from the Other Side
The first step for theologians to lead in this area is to recognize the complexity of the marketplace rather than criticize its obvious problems. On the other hand, business leaders who are active in the church need to learn theological complexity, that it in fact does have much to say about one’s economic activity.
In other words, we need to at least try to understand one another.
Miller clarifies this problem and its implications, which I’ll quote at length.
For example, a clergyperson might be quick to criticize a business person caught offering a bribe to gain a contract (and rightly so). But is that same clergyperson engaged enough to offer theological guidance if that businessperson were not to offer the bribe, thereby losing the contract and having to lay off a hundred workers due to lack of orders? Perhaps because people in the workplace crave theological guidance and pastoral support on such difficult challenges, they dismiss clergy critique even when it is deserved. Thus, frustrated by the apparent lack of interest or uneducated response to the challenges they face in the marketplace, many workers and professionals simply give up on the church and turn instead to secular therapists, consultants, and self-help guides for ethical guidance and spiritual nurturing.†††
A Bridge to Suffice
This is a serious problem. Business leaders need to help educate church leaders on the problems they face and the economics of their work, while the church leaders need to educate business leaders on church history and ethical principles derived from theological instruction.
The rest of Miller’s book lays out a framework for doing just that, which he calls the Four Es.
Integration between faith and work fall into four major types of faith issues:
Ethics, where leaders emphasize “connecting biblical ethics to concrete applications in marketplace settings.”
Expression, where “some view work primarily as a mission field with the main purpose of evangelizing others, while others view work itself as mission, part of fulfilling one’s vocation.”
Experience, where businesspeople look for meaning and purpose in their work.
Enrichment, where their work “leads to an accent on collective solidarity, fellowship, and broader growth as a community.”††††
With an organizing principle like this for people on both sides of the aisle, they may end up learning a thing or two.
Thanks for reading.
†Laura L. Nash and Scotty McLennan, Church on Sunday, Work on Monday: The Challenge of Fusing Christian Values with Business Life (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 166, quoted in David W. Miller, God at Work (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007), 93.
††Nash and McLennan, Church on Sunday, 268, quoted in Miller, 88.