The Missing Curriculum of God-Centered Work
- Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Many things have changed since 1721. Some things—like men's white powdered wigs and women's corsets—we can live without. But some things have gone out of fashion that we really need to recover.
In 1721, Jonathan Edwards graduated from the Collegiate School at New Haven, known today as Yale University.1 But before Edwards and his classmates could exit Yale, whether to work as pastors or merchants, they were all tested in a particular field of study that has since disappeared from virtually every school in America: the practical art of God-centered work.
This specific subject has not only disappeared from our schools, but from most of our churches and homes as well.
The course of study that Jonathan Edwards and his fellow Puritans completed had a name, a Latin term: technologia. It was a curriculum complete with textbooks. Technologia was not just a course on vocations or aptitudes. It was a holistic curriculum that helped people approach work in the broader context of a Christian worldview. It was the biblical worldview that gave work—all kinds of legitimate work—remarkable purpose and meaning for Jonathan Edwards and his peers, whether they were missionaries, bankers, or homemakers.
Dr. David Scott, professor of history at Southern Evangelical Seminary, discovered the technologia curriculum while doing eight years of PhD research on Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans. "The Puritan curriculum of technologia," writes Dr. Scott, "taught Edwards a God-centered view of all reality. He grew up in a church that believed it had an obligation to teach what it meant to live a God-filled life in everything we do. That is why the textbooks of technologia began with the being of God and traced His truth through creation all the way to how it is lived out as a farmer, shoemaker, or merchant."2
But today, there is little formal curricula available that combines an understanding of biblical worldview with a God-centered work life. This is what I call "The Missing Curriculum."
How many texts are available today that specifically focus on the theology of work, or help students comprehend how the biblical worldview relates to things like repairing automobiles, designing software, or running any legitimate business?
Off the Radar
I was the principal of a Christian school for 14 years. During those years, it never occurred to me that my school should provide specific instruction for students in the art of God-centered work. Frankly, I did not know there was such a thing as "theology of work" or anything close to it. Nor did I know that a full curriculum could exist on the topic, as it did in the days of Jonathan Edwards.
For many years, I, like many others, thought only pastors and missionaries did "God-centered work." I failed to make any connection between selling shoes (which I did part-time while a college student) and the Kingdom of God.
So what does selling shoes have to do with the Kingdom of God? If we separate the two, we will never understand the answer. But as the English Puritan Pastor George Swinnock put it, "The pious tradesman will know that his shop as well as his chapel is holy ground."
This is a teaching we do not often hear today. When was the last time you heard a sermon along the lines that "your shop as well as your chapel is holy ground"? But as we know from Genesis 1:26-28, God created humans in His likeness and image with one functional purpose in mind: to rule over the earth and all that it contains. And this raison d'être necessitates all kinds of work! Furthermore, it makes all legitimate work on Planet Earth a response to God Himself! If this isn't "holy ground," my friend, I don't know what is.
The First Commission
Work, at its core, is an act of governance. Governance over wood, metal, cows, cotton, and carrots. Governance over sound waves, electrical currents, and wind. Governance over computer keyboards, fiber optics, and digital images. Governance over people. Governance over things. Governance over ideas.
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