At Work & Theology 101

Book Review: Work Matters – Lessons from Scripture

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Photo courtesy of Peter Dazeley/Corbis

R. Paul Stevens’ new book, Work Matters: Lessons from Scripture, is a nuanced and comprehensive look at how the biblical doctrine of work is revealed in stories throughout the Bible.

Particularly compelling is Steven’s use of stories to convey theological truths about work. Explaining this approach, Stevens writes in the introduction that (emphasis added),

The Bible is a collection of stories telling us of God’s loving determination to renew everything, including people. As such, it is rich in accounts of the lives and work of individuals whom God intended  to be working models of the Kingdom of God. All the way through the Bible we see workers, some good and some bad, but all of them described in story form.

True to this approach, Stevens discusses work in the context of the Bible’s grand narrative, explaining the establishment of work in Genesis and ending with what the book of Revelation says about man’s labors. In between he tells several stories that convey different aspects of the biblical doctrine of work.

He also attempts to answer many difficult questions about faith and work that are hard to answer:

  • Is all work good work? What makes work “degraded,” and how do we deal with it? Stevens offers the story of Cain as a key to answering these questions.
  • What does the biblical doctrine of work mean for people in sustenance-level and mundane, dehumanizing work? Stevens uses the story of Ruth to offer insights into these issues.
  • Will our work last into eternity? Stevens begins to answer this question by discussing the life of the Apostle Paul.
  • Will we work in heaven? See Steven’s treatment of John and the Book of Revelation.

Especially enjoyable about these stories are the ones rarely mentioned or explored in discussions about faith and work. Steven’s exploration of both Joseph and the ideal woman of Proverbs 31, for example, are illuminating as examples of how entrepreneurial initiative can be divinely inspired.

Stevens currently is professor emeritus of marketplace theology and leadership at Regent College in Vancouver. He has also worked as a businessman and pastor, and this breadth of experience has informed his belief that all work can be “holy work.” He writes,

Gone, or rather never to have been invented in the first place, is a hierarchy of occupations with the pastor and people-helping professionals at the top and the ditch digger and stock broker at the bottom. 

Also encouraging is his declaration that,

It may not be obvious that people who work in service industries or maintenance roles are also serving their neighbors. But in fact they are, whether directly or indirectly. 

This quote is made within the chapter discussing Bezalel in Exodus 35 – another example of Stevens bringing new stories to the table to illustrate theological truths about work. Work Matters is full of such nuggets.

Also helpful about the book is the way it is laid out. The grand story of Scripture comprises the book’s different sections, five parts that cover the biblical doctrine of work found in the Pentateuch, the Old Testament’s historical books, Old Testament wisdom literature, the prophets, and the whole of the New Testament.

In addition, the chapters within these parts are only five to six pages each. This makes the rich truth in each chapter easier to digest, little by little. It’s as if the book was put together with the busy life of the worker in mind. You could devour a chapter on a business flight, or a lunch break, or on a metro commute to work.

Work Matters will give you a better sense for how everyday work serves to convey the image of God to the world. It will help you understand how your own work fits in to God’s plan for creation as exhibited in the over-arching story of Scripture.

If you have questions about the purpose of your own life and work, Work Matters is a good book in which to find answers.

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