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.
1721 was the year Jonathan Edwards was graduated from the Collegiate School at New Haven, known today as Yale University. 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: technologia, a Latin term. 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 to 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 Ph. D. 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.”
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, that would make up a full curriculum 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 what the one has to do with the other. 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 that 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.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our likeness an image, and let them rule…over all the earth.’” This profoundly important piece of information is often called, “The Cultural Mandate,” or, “The Dominion Mandate.” But I prefer to call it simply, “The First Commission.”
And what a commission it is! Here we have a commission to rule over the entire globe!
Chuck Colson summed it up this way: “On the sixth day, God created human beings—and ordered them to pick up where He left off!”
Randy Kilgore, a leader in the current “faith-at-work” movement, says: “God created a world that functions on order, and requires labor for its tending. He created you and me to be a part of that order, to do that labor. Even when our acts at work don’t seem to have eternal significance, their very rendering fulfills His original commission to humans to tend His creation.”
“Creation-tending” is a very big job! Ruling over all the earth entails a responsibility as broad as the world is wide, and requires many varied occupations, including carpentry, civil service, high-tech work and homemaking. It involves physical work (as with Adam the landscaper, tending and keeping the Garden), and mental work (as with Adam the zoologist, naming the animals).
Both kinds of work occurred before the Fall. Work is not a curse! It is our great and awesome responsibility as vice-regents over this remarkable planet. And we were made in the image of God so that we could carry out this function well. The curse just made our work more difficult.
Some people think that when Adam and Eve sinned, they forfeited their role as governors over all the Earth. Like ambassadors caught in an act of treason, Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and removed from their positions as God’s vice-regents over all the Earth. In this scenario, “earth-tending” could no longer the job description of human beings.
If this is the case, then we are prisoners on a cursed planet, sent out to wander, spending our days toiling for food. Our work, then, is no longer a way of fulfilling the role that God had in mind for us when He created Adam and Eve: “Let Us make man…and let them rule…over all the earth.” Beyond providing for our own subsistence, work, then, could no longer have any significant purpose.
No Secular World
If we embrace the notion that our original job description (The First Commission of Genesis 1:26-28) was rescinded at the Fall, then we will have a very difficult time seeing how one’s shop as well as one’s chapel can be “holy ground.”
But what the Puritans seemed to understand so well, is that because “the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1), God is still the owner of every pair of shoes in every shoe store in the world, and He claims rights to every customer who walks through the front door.
Because they saw Jesus as “Lord of all” (including all shoes and the selling thereof), they did not divide the world into “sacred” and “secular” compartments. They did not see some work as “secular,” and other work as “sacred.” For them, there was no “secular” world.
No, in Edwards day, the merchant was doing “the Lord’s work” as much as the pastor.
If I Could Do It Over Again
If I could do it over again, I would have all my high school students complete a course on “the art and science of God-centered shoe-selling.” I would call it, “More Than A Paycheck.” As a matter of fact, I recently wrote such a curriculum, and I have called it just that!
I’d like the next generation to know that no matter which career paths they might take, whether it be in business, the arts, or homemaking, they will always be working in the Lord’s field. This is because there is no other place to work! It is all His turf! From the plastic of our computer keyboards, to the rubber tires on our automobiles, it all belongs to Him, and He is “head over all” (I Chronicles 29:11).
I’d like to further impress upon them that no matter where we work, our ultimate authority is Christ. We might work in places that ignore the Lordship of Christ, and in some places that actively deny it, but we will never work in any place that is exempt from it.
Is there any place that lies outside the realm of God’s affairs? Is there any sphere of life’s activity that exists independently of God, on its own, in a vacuum, somehow separated from His ownership, interest and involvement? Hardly! I would teach my students that they will never have a “secular” job, because there truly is no “secular” world.
While Heaven may be the place we go to when we die, Christ instructs His followers to “occupy” planet Earth until He comes again. This act of occupation takes place in every legitimate field of human endeavor. It takes place as followers of Christ observe all that He commanded within the realms of business, government, the arts, media, education, and every sphere of legitimate work on this planet.
The degree of corruption we sometimes find in these “earth-tending” spheres may be because Christ-followers have either opted out of them, or we have never realized that we are supposed to observe all that Christ commanded within the context of those kinds of jobs in the first place.
Jonathan Edwards and his peers would have understood that it is in the workplaces of the world where we have a prime opportunity to “observe all that Christ commanded,” which is the thrust of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.
It was the so-called “Protestant Work Ethic” that fashioned America into the land of opportunity it quickly became. Yet, today’s “sacred-secular split” has led many Christians to leave their Christianity outside the workplace door. As a consequence, people cannot always distinguish Christians from non-Christians in the work-world, and our economy has suffered greatly. I want to encourage the next generation to change this. Will you join me?
The commitment to intentionally and systematically train young people in the “art of God-centered work” has largely disappeared from education. The custom of teaching students how to make connections between the biblical worldview and all forms of legitimate labor is no longer customary. It has gone the way of men’s powdered wigs.
But it can be restored. I believe we can once again train our young people to see “their shop as well as their chapel as holy ground.” This is why I wrote the “More Than A Paycheck” curriculum, and why I hope it will be widely used among educators. And that is why I am excited about the work and vision of RENEWANATION.
The white powdered wigs can go. But to equip our sons and daughters with the ability to engage in their everyday work “as the work of God,” is long overdue for a comeback.
Editors Note: The curriculum written by Dr Overman comes in two simply-written books, titled, God’s Pleasure At Work, and The Difference One Life Can Make. Each book comes with a DVD containing short video clips that augment and supplement the text. The aim is to reach not only high school students (using the curriculum as a unit of study in sophomore or junior Bible classes, or as part of career-path classes), but to reach parents as well. The curriculum is appropriate for use by adults in small groups. These groups may be formed on a temporary basis through the school for the purpose of the course, or by parents in church small groups they already attend. (For more information, call 877.624.0230.)Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) entered Yale just prior to his thirteenth birthday and graduated at the top of his class four years later. He became an outstanding theologian who served as a pastor, missionary to Native Americans, and the third President of Princeton University. He and his wife, Sarah, parented eight children. Among their progeny are scores of pastors and missionaries, 120 college professors, 110 attorneys, 60 authors, 30 judges, 13 college or university presidents, three congressmen, and one Vice President of the United States. David Scott, “”A Church Without A View: Jonathan Edwards and our Current Lifeview Discipleship Crisis,” Christian Apologetics Journal, 7:2, Fall 2008.