Monday, March 22, 2010

Defining Work

"Work is the stewarding of Gods creation under Christ's rule, requiring us to fill and subdue it, to care for it and enhance its fruitfulness so that humanity continues and prospers in God's world in communities of care." H/T Rowan Kemp.



Mike W said...

Although I've found it weird that the doctrine of sin plays such a small part of our understanding of work now.
Compare it to say, sex.

Work is good. god made work, so you'de think he knows the best way to do it. But although work is good, when it is misused it becomes distorted, and harms the worker and others....

I like the Jesus bit too, but wonder, if our work shares in Jesus' whether we should have a sense of eschatological mystery, a sense of having to constantly discern whether our work is in fact true or false, since we can't map out the eschaton. How much does our 'stewarding' rely on the making new of all things, a trust that our failure to 'sustain' ourselves will not be in vain because of the resurrection

Matthew Moffitt said...

This is from two equip papers Rowan gave this week and last week. He argued that whilst we often base our theology of work in the doctrine of creation, we need to integrate that with our doctrines of Christology, Eschatology and Ecclesiology.

Creation, Christology, Eschatology and Ecclesiology need to form our theology of work.

byron smith said...

A few thoughts.

a) It is the earth (ha'eretz - could also be translated the land or even the ground) that is mentioned in Genesis. Can we simply broaden this to the entire created order without problem? Does the initial mandate include the atmosphere? (a very relevant question today given that we are indeed "filling" it with the wrong kind of gas, but that is not going to "subdue" it - quite the opposite!) Does it include extra-terrestrial creation? Does it include the angels?

(b) Is there any sense in which this task has a historical dimension such that we might say that we have now filled the earth? Or that other considerations might become more important than filling and subduing in a context where human activity has had such a massive impact on the living systems of the earth?

(c) The fruitfulness of the earth is primarily God's blessing rather than our responsibility. God blessed the fish and the birds and so on. He did not tell the man and the woman: make it fruitful.

(d) And this relates to a further point: the "mandate" given in Genesis 1 can equally be read as a blessing rather than a command. The two are not entirely mutually exclusive, but once again, perhaps even human fruitfulness can be seen as a gift to be received rather than as an agenda to be pursued.

(e) The ordering of the earth's fruitfulness to the continuity and prosperity of humanity is too simplistic. God blesses the earth prior to humanity. And he cares for living beings for their own sake, not simply because they can contribute to a human economy of stability and prosperity. All of creation are partners with humanity in praising God. There is a measure of doxological interdependence that puts a question mark over any straightforward and universal ordering of all other things towards human ends.

(f) Stewardship is one metaphor amongst others used in scripture. I would be hesitant to make it the primary lens through which all others are to be read.

(g) I second Mike's point about eschatological mystery leading to non-triumphalism regarding work; and this is not unrelated to his very important point about the brokenness of work and our propensity to wreak destruction and disorder even as we attempt to bring order. We need to read Genesis 11 as well as 1-2: the tower of Babel is in one sense the maximising of human efficiency in manipulating the available resources for the continuity and prosperity of human community!

PS If that apostrophe is original to Rowan, then he needs to think less about filling and more about culling. ;-)

Matthew Moffitt said...

The misplaced apostrophe is neither the work of Rowan or myself. I cut and paste the text from a facebook update one of my friends did.

I should have been suspicious when he originally had 'Christ's role' instead of 'Christ's rule'...

Matthew Moffitt said...

re. point f. Rowan argued that there are some jobs that Christians should not do because they are destructive; i.e. being a pimp. Rowan included work that destroyed God's creation under this category.

byron smith said...

God will destroy those who destroy the earth. - Rev 11.18.

Yes, though what does it mean to destroy the earth? Does a lumberjack destroy the earth? A farmer who irrigates a desert and raises soil salinity? A civil engineer who builds a dam that floods the habitat of an endangered species? And what of consumers who buy products generated from the wood the lumberjack cut, eat the food the farmer grew and power their lightbulbs with the electricity generated by the dam while they brush their teeth using the water using water piped from the dam?

The answers could even be historically contingent, such that an activity that is benign in one context becomes destructive in another.

These matters are complex and the pimp example too easy (remember that the pimp might help provide security for the prostitutes, resolve disputes and so on). I'm not defending pimping, just pointing out that no work can easily be entirely demonised, nor entirely vindicated. So the joy we take in our work is not as simple as delighting in any job as long as you avoid the "bad" jobs like being a pimp or working for an advertising agency.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Is there a way forward then?

byron smith said...

Good question. Is progress possible? Can our work contribute to something that grows and improves without that something turning into another tower of Babel? Can we build anything that lasts? Or is all the labour of our hands (and minds, pens, screens and so) merely hebel?

byron smith said...

... screens and so on...

Though the chances of working out how to avoid the futility of existence at 4.30 in the morning are probably pretty slim, I'm guessing...

Mike W said...

*hobby horse alert*

much of the kerfuffle seems to revolve around the meaning of 'fruitful' and 'prosper'
what does it mean to advance the fruitfulness of creation, do we even know what prospering might look like.

I think the only way forward is for theology to retake her role as queen of the sciences (and not a reclusive one!). That is we need thoughtful christians tentatively exploring the 'good' of different vocations and fields. So, instead of writing yet another book on the theology of ministry, perhaps write a theology of the built environment for architects and town planners (as Tim Gorringe has), or a 'theology' of coffee making .....etc. It would take a new and deliberate attentiveness to the world. (and strength to avoid the temptation to overblow importance)

byron smith said...

much of the kerfuffle seems to revolve around the meaning of 'fruitful' and 'prosper'

Or around Byron having a grumpy day. Either way, your suggestion is good.

Mike Bull said...

Revelation 11's "earth" refers to the "mediatorial Land." It has nothing to do with ecology.

Also, our work is the glorify the world, transforming it from nature to culture, from garden to garden-temple. This means communist architecture is sin.

Matthew Moffitt said...

@Mike W - you're not alone in this hobby horse, and Rowan was arguing for the goodness of work besides ministry. He also recommended this book.

@Senor Bull - hi :)

Do you think Rev 11 is the only thing the bible says (or maybe in this case, doesn't say) about the earth and ecology?

Mike Bull said...

Our commerce flows out of our worship. Revelation itself pictures worship as commerce.

If we get our worship right, the outflow will fix what we are doing in--and to--the world. I am optimistic about ecology in the long run because I am optimistic about the power of the Spirit through the gospel. God loves hopeless situations. "Not by might or by power..."

Here's some more links if you are bored:

byron smith said...

Mr Bull, as always, thanks for your thought-provoking contributions.

"Those who destroy the gèn" in Rev 11.18 may refer either to the land or more broadly (and in the context of a critique of Roman imperialism, I wonder whether the charge is broader than merely the promised land). In any case, destruction of this land is not purely ecological, but it is not unrelated to ecology. The link between economy and ecology is more than etymological.

Also, our work is the glorify the world, transforming it from nature to culture, from garden to garden-temple.
Yes, I agree. Though the possibility of Babel is ever present in this age and so our "work" is always questionable. In the end, the garden-temple comes down from heaven. We do not achieve it, though our present work might try to encourage anticipatory glimpses of it.

If we get our worship right, the outflow will fix what we are doing in--and to--the world.
I agree that worship is a key source for our activity, and that "getting worship right" is crucial for faithful work. Does this mean that reforming worship is the only focus in reforming work? No, I don't think so. I would say necessary, but not sufficient.

I am optimistic about ecology in the long run because I am optimistic about the power of the Spirit through the gospel. God loves hopeless situations. "Not by might or by power..."
I am optimistic about the my body in the long run because I am optimistic about the power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead to give life to my mortal body. But this doesn't mean I don't think it is highly likely that I will die before the day when the perishable is clothed with imperishability. Nonetheless, I try to stay healthy (as a secondary consideration), not in order to attain the resurrection body through diet and exercise, but because the resurrection of Jesus dignifies bodily existence and gives a living bodily hope. Similarly, I think it quite likely that the present age may end in "death" for much that we know and love, and even for much of our work. But this doesn't render it futile, just the occasion for groaning, and for persevering in the work of the Lord.