CFC Lecture

Ben Witherington: Do We Think Theologically and Ethically about Our Work?

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Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, recently lectured on “A Kingdom Perspective of Work.” In his talk, he challenges you to think theologically and ethically about your work.

Watch the full talk above. Below are a few key excerpts.

Isn’t work a part of the curse?

“Work is not the curse. The laboriousness of work, the labor pains of work… [are] the curse. But work itself was given to Adam from day one. ‘Tend the garden. Take care of it. Fill the earth and subdue it….’ Work, friends, is not a necessary evil, unless you’re doing a kind of work that is inherently evil.”

We care far more about the ethics of our games than the ethics of our politicians.

On a theology of play.

“When I started doing the research and writing for [my book], some of these subjects were so underrepresented in terms of theological discourse that I could find like one or two books ever written in human history on the subject….

“We are sports crazy in this country. Guess what? There has been one doctoral dissertation done on a theology of play at Duke… and one major theologian who ever reflected on play seriously…. That’s it. Not an important subject? Oh really? Ask your children, who are sports crazy, whether this is an important subject or not, and whether you ought to think about this in a Christian way.

“See, play is inherently eschatological. It has a goal. It’s leading on with a purpose — hopefully, to what? Victory. Isn’t that where human history is going? Isn’t that the outcome that we hope for all of us? Play foreshadows the end, when things do come to end and hopefully to a happy resolution. But, as we all know, there will be winners and there will be losers. And how you play now matters then.

“One of the reasons there is such a hue and outcry about what I would call cheating at play, or illegal play, is because frankly our values in our society have gotten to the point where we care far more about the ethics of our games than we care about the ethics of our politicians. And it’s a shameful place for our society to be.

“That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy play. Because playing, in essence, gives us a sense of joy and direction and something to root for.”

On the danger of finding our identity in our work.

“Do we work to live, or do we live to work? Now in this culture, there are a lot of people who live to work. When I do a presentation like this for doctors and lawyers, and they introduce themselves, I greet them and they greet me. And I say, ‘Who are you?’ Their first response often is not to give me their name, but [to say] ‘I’m a doctor.’

“No, I didn’t ask what do you do. I asked who are you. Their identity is so bound up in their work that they have a hard time distinguishing work from being.”

You have sacred worth just by being created in the image of God.

On why a theology of work matters.

“Being and doing are intertwined. But if you define yourself simply by what you do, you have forgotten that you have sacred worth just by being created in the image of God.”

“If you want to know why society gives permission to all kinds of abortions, it’s because they’ve completely lost their theology of all of us being created in the image of God and [being] inherently, from conception, of sacred worth….

“You see, we have cheapened life. On my watch and your watch, we are cheapening it everyday. We have coarsened our culture where it’s even possible for our leaders to be so corrupt and so crude and so rude that all they’re really capable of doing is channeling our fear and our anger. We don’t need leaders like that. We need leaders like Jesus Christ.

“The truth of the matter is, friends, that we are facing some difficult and dark days. And if you don’t have an adequate theology of the work you’re going to do — and the ethics of that work — then God help us all. The church will continue to shrink. The culture will continue to go south. And we will be living in a very uncomfortable place.”


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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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