Work

Theological Foundations and Practical Implications

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R. Keith Loftin, Trey Dimsdale
  • London, England: 
    Hymns Ancient and Modern
    , March
     2018.
     288 pages.
     $44.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780334055297.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

For most, work is one of the defining characteristics of lives and selfhood. Most people spend at least fifty hours a week working, often having trained for years to qualify ourselves to carry out the demands and routines of our employment or profession. Events such as being laid off or retirement from work are considered as stressful as bereavement or divorce, as they challenge our sense of well-being and our place in society. Yet, until recent years, work has not been viewed in terms of vocation, rather being seen as a way to earn a living to keep a roof over our head or to pay for more fun or rewarding and entirely voluntary activities.

The collection of essays in Work: Theological Foundations and Practical Implications, edited by R. Keith Lofton and Trey Dimsdale, brings together some of the most prominent names in the study of religion and theology, such as Miroslav Volf, Jay Wesley Richards, Scot B. Rae, and Samuel Gregg, to consider Christian attitudes to work, mostly from the perspective of the Protestant traditions. Here lies a minor criticism of this collection of essays: although there is one essay considering Roman Catholic ideas about work, and there are references to this scattered throughout, there is no real acknowledgment of the contribution of the Magisterium, for example John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical letter, Laborem Exercens: On Human Work, to the concept of work as vocation.

This volume is on trend in that there seems to be a recent desire to reconsider the nature of work—both in terms of its physical location and in terms of its location in people’s lives and identity. As recent research on beliefs, values, and worldviews in the workplace has shown, religion or faith will play a primary role in this reappraisal. The collection of essays under review is therefore important and of use to academics and lay Christians alike.

This book is well-organized, and the editors have done a superb job at creating a volume that flows in terms of both argument and logic. For this achievement, Loftin and Dimsdale are to be commended. It is divided into three parts: (1) Biblical Theology, (2) Systematic Theology, and (3) Practical Theology, with an introduction and afterword that do an excellent job at drawing the themes together. In part 1, the contributors navigate biblical teachings on the concept of work, seeing it very much as part of the human experience and identity, and emphasizing the nature of work as a vocation. Part 2 starts to sketch the basic contours of a theology of work for the reader. Such academic discourse is important and hopefully will be used by pastors to help guide their congregations as they seek to understand the place of work in their faith lives. Part 3 offers an excellent set of contextual reflections on the place of discernment and vocation within the working lives of Christians.

Each of the three parts contributes to an overall impression of a rich tradition of thinking and theologizing about work within the academy that has not yet reached down to the pews, with a few notable examples. One such example is the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity’s Workplace team and events for young professionals run by parishes in London, including one facilitated by the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). This collection will hopefully change that. The essays comprising this book are extensively researched yet accessible to the lay reader, which is an achievement in itself. This is a book that will be a benchmark in the field. As well as illuminating the current debates, it will be useful to Christians seeking to discern their vocation in the world.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Maria Power is a senior research fellow in Human Dignity at the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice, Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.

Date of Review: 
April 25, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

R. Keith Loftin is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Scarborough College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, TX). Beyond his undergraduate studies (B.A. Biblical Studies, 2005), he holds an M.A. in Humanities (University of Dallas, 2008), an M.A. in Philosophy (Louisiana State University, 2009), the ThM in Systematic Theology (SWBTS, 2016), and the PhD in Theology (University of Aberdeen, Scotland, 2013).

Trey Dimsdale is Director of Program Outreach at the Action Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, MI.

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