Toward a Theology of Work for Everyone

Co-authored proposal

Over the last two decades, Evangelical accounts of the theology of work have proliferated. Indeed, the “faith and work” movement has become a cottage industry unto itself, complete with a vast literature, dozens of organizations, and a bustling conference and media scene. However, as both its critics and proponents have observed in recent years, even though the faith and work movement has exploded among “creative class Evangelicals,” it has struggled to gain traction among blue- and no-collar workers. This essay addresses itself to this deficiency by way of both diagnosis and prognosis.

In terms of diagnosis, we contend that at least part of the reason the faith and work movement has stalled out in its attempt to translate its message for blue- and no-collar workers is due to some key theological deficiencies (see Lynn, Saving the Protestant Ethic [2023]; Haanen, “God of the Second Shift” [2018]). In the first place, many of these theologies of work have not attended sufficiently to creational finitude and its impact on work, sometimes conflating finitude and fallenness. Yet, in the second place, these accounts almost universally situate their theologies of work in the doctrine of creation, emphasizing human co-creation with God as the primary meaning of the imago Dei. In short, although the Bible offers multiple theologies of work, the faith and work movement, broadly speaking, is concerned mainly with one: the dignity-agency-power narrative rooted in Genesis 1–2. The problem with this approach, however, is that for the vast majority of workers, the daily experience of work reflects Genesis 3, not Genesis 1 and 2.

In terms of prognosis, we aim to address this deficiency in the form of two overarching theses. First, we will offer a more robust account of human finitude as a foundational element of the Bible’s view of work (e.g., Kapic, You’re Only Human [2022]; Schwarz, The Human Being [2013]; Smith, How to Inhabit Time [2022]). Second, we propose a methodology which more accurately reflects our present experience of work—which involves frustration, dissatisfaction, boredom, and exploitation—by grounding it primarily in the doctrine of the fall and only secondarily in the doctrine of creation (e.g., Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall [1923–24] Kelsey, Eccentric Existence [2009]; Hudson, Fallenness and Flourishing [2021].

We close by offering some constructive possibilities for a more realistic theology of work: the recovery of finitude as a genuine good of creation (and a genuine good in our working lives), a greater emphasis on and a more sober reckoning of how sin has distorted work, a revised understanding of the contested notion of “calling,” and a broader anthropology which does not identify image bearing with the capacity for creative and powerful work.