Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Work, Business & Creation Theology

** Originally published in Vocatio, Summer 2002, pp. 21-24. **

From my experience as a business executive, a student of the Old Testament, and an advocate of the marketplace theology movement, I have considered the possible relationship between this movement and creation theology. I suggest the biblical theology of creation is the foundation of and the energizing resource for the marketplace theology movement.

Introducing Creation Theology to Marketplace Theology
At least three resources or experiences have led me to make this connection. The first one began in my seminary years, since the emphasis in Old Testament studies has shifted over the past several decades. An once exclusive stress upon the powerful salvation of God in history has shifted to stress God’s formative and sustaining acts in creation.[1] On a related front, scholars since the 1960s have taken a keen new effort in wisdom studies, [2] which had long been an orphan in Old Testament scholarship. Generally speaking, wisdom theology and creation theology are very much intertwined. Wisdom theology has the ongoing, generative order of creation as its subject, and itself is a confessional reflection upon creation, its order, its gifts, and its limits.[3] As we will see, the recovery of creation in Old Testament theological studies seems to fit with the emergence of the marketplace theology movement.

Secondly, Sunki Bang’s article “Tensions in Witness” (also published by Vocatio) prompted me to consider the relationship between Christian mission and the marketplace.[4] Bang observes and describes five possible relationships between business and mission: (1) Business has no relation with mission; (2) Business is the means of mission; (3) Business is the field of mission; (4) Business is the channel of mission; (5) Business is mission. Bang rightly points out that the fifth position is the most mature position. It stems out from the creation mandate (Gen 1:28-30) which is the basis for the Christian understanding of business and mission. In addition, I would comment that the second, the third and the fourth positions are not really true integration between business and mission. In these three positions, we pay attention only to the instrumental or extrinsic value of business or, in a more general sense, work. Only when we adopt and practice the last position, we shall truly probe the intrinsic value and the sacred nature of work as informed by creation theology.

Thirdly and most memorably, in January 2000, Graduates Christian Fellowship of Hong Kong invited Dr. Robert Banks to lead a training workshop on marketplace ministry for IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) staff. God as a worker, Banks explained, brought off and continues to fulfill a seven-fold ministry, namely, ministry of a creator, revealer, provider, sustainer, lawgiver, transformer, and redeemer. Human beings, as created in God’s image, are called to participate in His creation through engaging in the above seven roles and their related activities. All of these roles and activities, I believe, belong to the category of creation theology. In fact, during the workshop we discussed which of the above seven roles should be regarded as central to the others. Instead of arguing for the centrality of one of the above roles, I believe that one particular role—the creator role—forms the basic and broad horizon of God’s overall work activity.

When discussing work ethics, Banks lamented that Christians frequently simplify the decision-making process into two mutually exclusive opposite positions: right and wrong. He advocated that in wrestling with ethical dilemmas, believers must also consider another set of equally important values: wise and unwise. Wisdom theology, which thinks resolutely within the framework of creation theology, is our teacher of ethics.

Relating Creation Theology to Marketplace Theology
Now I shall turn to some of the themes of creation theology and their relevance to the marketplace theology movement. Christoph Schwöbel has differentiated a twofold sense of the word “creation:” on the one hand, it denotes the act of creating (Latin creatio); and on the other hand, it refers to the result of such creating (creatura). Creation theology should be developed from both of these two complementary perspectives, and only together can they provide the outlines of a theology of creation.[5]

Creatio as power not novelty
Stephen Lee’s[6] comprehensive survey of the Hebrew verb bara’ (to create) shows that the doctrine of God as the supreme creator does not point primarily to creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), but more importantly, to God’s sovereign power and control over chaotic and evil forces. God is sovereign over both the physical world and our human history. Portraying God as Israel’s creator indicates His sovereign control over her fate and destiny. Our God not only created the world, filling it with abundant life, but continues to create and to manifest His sovereignty, in Banks’ terms, through His revealing, law-giving, providing, sustaining, transforming, and redeeming acts. Such divine sovereignty is a mandate, which God the creator shares with us who are created in His image.

Marketplace ministry should, therefore, empower men and women to participate in an ongoing struggle against forces that threaten to overwhelm the created order and the well-being (shalom) of the whole human community. Creation theology, if properly understood, does not promote the maintenance of the present system. To the contrary, it provides the marketplace theology movement a missional direction and prophetic pathos to constantly challenge the inherent evil in the status quo.[7]

Creatio as differentiation
According to Genesis and the ancient Near Eastern literature, the basic concept of the action of creation is differentiation. God separated the light from the darkness, the dry land from the water in the first three days of creation (Gen 1:3-10). This is differentiation in time and space. Then God created vegetation and living creatures according to their various kinds (1:11-13, 20-25) and ordained these different kinds of creatures, each of which will live and perform according to His diverse design. This is differentiation in values or functions. Furthermore, God created the “fathers” of different skills (4:19-22) and people of different longevity (ch. 5), allocated different lands to different groups of people (ch. 10), and gradually created a people through the patriarchs He personally called (ch. 12ff.).[8]

God called and continues to call individuals for fulfilling His supreme purpose. God calls his people not just to faith but to express that faith in quite definite sphere of activity within the world (not limited by occupational position). The “core business” of marketplace ministry is in helping, guiding, and mentoring men and women to discern and live out God’s unique calling upon them.

Creatura as good
Throughout the first creation account, we encounter the affirmation that “God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The goodness (not perfection) of creation enables a world-affirming spirituality, and rejects the dualistic idea that the world is inherently evil.[9] This conviction also challenges the distinction between sacred and secular, and also a superiority of contemplative spirituality. In fact, daily marketplace experiences may be the most important ingredients for spiritual nourishment. Creation theology helps us to “acknowledge and appreciate that human life is embedded in ongoing daily processes of generation and decay, of birth and death, of alienation and embrace, of work and rest, of rise and fall”[10] (cf. Eccl 3:1-8). And indeed, “it is these daily turns of reality that claim most of our energy and attention and produce the structures and relationships of meaning”[11] whereby we can live as human beings with self-identity and self-consciousness. Creation theology, which focuses on these daily experiences, is a rich resource for marketplace spirituality.

Creatura as order
As described in the first creation account in Genesis, creation is a process from chaos to order. The result of creation is an ordered world as ordained in God’s will. OT scholar Hans Heinrich Schmid[12] forcefully argues that in the ancient Near East creation faith did not deal only, nor even primarily, with the origin of the world. Rather, it was concerned above all with the order, be it cosmic, political, moral, or social, of the present world in which humanity struggles and lives.[13] Righteousness, which is key to our understanding of salvation, is not to be understood narrowly as a legal or ethical matter, but as a notion of order, of the right ordering of the world, which intends shalom and eventuates in well-being when honored.[14] Thus, creation theology, the belief that God has created and is sustaining the order of the world in all its complexities, is not a peripheral theme of biblical theology but is plainly the fundamental theme,[15] upon which all other dimensions of biblical faith rest (e.g., election, covenant, salvation, and eschatology). For instance, the exodus, if reinterpreted in terms of creation theology, is God’s liberation of Israel from Pharaoh’s anti-creation polices and practices of slavery. God’s salvation acts in the exodus did not simply save Israel but also restored creation.[16] His subsequent covenant-making with Israel at Sinai also started a brand new creation—the people of God.

Salvation, thus, is essentially creation. Redeemed humanity is God’s intended humanity in His creation. The marketplace theology movement should lead a life of loving concern for creation, which nurtures our love of God. It should aim at returning the true humanity to all human beings by transforming them to live and act to fulfill His creative purpose in the world.

As we have seen, all theology is creation theology even when it does not speak expressly of creation.[17] It is upon this foundation that marketplace theology movement will become nourishing and life-giving. The biblical theology of creation not only empowers a world-affirming spirituality and stimulates intentional vocational discernment within the church, it also challenges those personal and structural evils of our fallen human society and aims to restore and redeem God’s created order in the marketplace.

[1] William P. Brown & S. Dean McBride, Jr. (eds.), God Who Creates: Essays in Honor of W. Sibley Towner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), xi.
[2] For a succinct review, see W. Brueggemann, “The Loss and Recovery of Creation in Old Testament Theology,” Theology Today, 53 (1996), 182-183.
[3] As summarized by W. Brueggemann as the viewpoints of Gerhard von Rad and many other scholars, see Brueggemann, 183.
[4] Sunki Bang, “Tensions in Witness,” Vocatio (July 1998), 17-18.
[5] Christoph Schwöbel, “God, Creation and the Christian Community,” in The Doctrine of Creation: Essays in Dogmatics, History and Philosophy, edited by C.E. Gunton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 161.
[6] Stephen Lee, Creation and Redemption in Isaiah 40-55 (Hong Kong: Alliance Bible Seminary, 1995), 129-142.
[7] Brueggemann views creation theology “has a powerful propensity for the maintenance of the present system” (189) and considers this as one of its weaknesses, which I really find at odds.
[8] Cf. Philip Yeung, “Creation and Vocation (in Chinese),” China Graduate School of Theology Bulletin, 241 (Oct 1997).
[9] Alister E. McGrath, “Creation,” in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, edited by R. Banks & R.P. Stevens (Downers Grove: IVP, 1997), 245.
[10] Brueggemann, 188.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Hans Heinrich Schmid, “Creation, Righteousness, and Salvation: ‘Creation Theology’ as the Broad Horizon of Biblical Theology,” in Creation in the Old Testament, edited by B.W. Anderson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 102-117.
[13] Ibid., 103.
[14] Ibid., 105-107.
[15] Ibid., 111.
[16] Based on Terence E. Fretheim’s study “The Plagues as Ecological Signs of Historical Disaster,” as outlined in Brueggemann, 185-186.
[17] Schmid, 115.


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