Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor
By Ben Witherington III, Eerdmans, 2011, 166 pp., ISBN 978-0-8028-6541-0, $18.00.
Is work a curse, a necessary evil, a means to an end, or does it serve some other purpose? This is the question that Ben Witherington, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky, seeks to answer. Witherington seeks to dispel many myths about work. He says he was surprised “how little theologians have discussed work” (xi). Witherington notes that Adam was given work to do before the fall and work is being done in the New Jerusalem. Witherington seeks to clarify what a biblical view of work would look like. He interacts with others who have written on work and critiques their work: Miroslav Volf, Jurgen Moltmann, Gene Veith, Martin Luther, Augustine , David Jensen and Andy Crouch. Witherington is shaped by a Wesleyan, Armininian background. You can see this in his emphasis on believers being co-workers with God. For example, he critiques the reformed view for waiting for God to do everything. He emphasizes the scripture that says that we are God’s workmanship, created unto good works (Ephesians 2:10); and another Pauline verse, work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
Witherington defines work as “any necessary and meaningful task that God calls and gifts a person to do and which can be undertaken to the glory of God and for the edification and aid of human beings, being inspired by the Spirit and foreshadowing the realities of the new creation…” (xii). Witherington notes that nowhere in the Bible is the idea of retirement found. Work is part of the original creation. The fall did not change it; just made it more toilsome. It is also part of the “new creation.” He says that “in the creation accounts work is what human beings were fitted and commanded to do, … [but now] the Spirit inspires and gifts” believers for the work God calls them to do and “in which they find joy” (xii).
Witherington believes that our work needs to be connected to our calling to follow Christ. All Christians are to love God with their whole being and to love their neighbor as themselves. All believers are to make disciples of all nations. Witherington thinks our work can be a calling, a vocation, and a ministry. He believes these things are interrelated, but distinct. He believes that work is what one is called to and gifted to do. Along with that, he believes we should avoid two extremes, laziness and being a workaholic. He also discusses the nature of good work. We should strive for excellence in our work. We should put our whole heart into it.
Witherington notes that work needs to be balanced with worship, rest, and play. He suggests that Saturday could be devoted to rest and play and Sunday could be devoted to worship. Time with the family would be part of worship, rest, and play. The Bible says six days you should work and have one day for rest and worship. Then God said it was very good. This points out the need for rest, worship, and contemplation. It also supports the importance of leisure.
Witherington writes very well. The book is an enjoyable and stimulating. It would have been helpful to include an index. A book without an index is frustrating.