Rethinking Work in Light of the Resurrection

Work in the Spirit is a revolutionary work by Miroslav Volf.  Volf is a Croatian former Pentecostal and Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University.  He is recognized as one of the most celebrated theologians today.

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In pages 89-91 of Work in the Spirit Volf contends;

“Christian theologians have held two basic positions on the eschatological future of the world.  Some stressed radical discontinuity between the present and the future orders, believing in the complete destruction of the present world at the end of the ages and creation of a fully new world. Others postulated continuity between the two, believing that the present world will be transformed into the new heavens and new earth.

Two radically different theologies of work follow from these two basic eschatological models.

If the world will be annihilated and a new one created ex nihilo then mundane work has only earthly significance for the well-being of the worker, the worker’s community, and posterity – until the day when “the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire” (2 Peter 3:10).  Since the results of the cumulative work of humankind throughout history will become naught in the final apocalyptic catastrophe, human work is devoid of direct ultimate significance…

The expectation of the eschatological destruction of the world is not consonant with the belief in the goodness of creation: what God will annihilate must be either so bad that it is not possible to be redeemed or so insignificant that it is not worth redeeming.  It is hard to believe in the intrinsic value and goodness of something that God will completely annihilate.

And without a theologically grounded belief in the intrinsic value and goodness of creation, positive cultural involvement hangs theologically in the air.   Hence Christians who await the destruction of the world … shy away as a rule – out of theological, not logical, consistency – from social and cultural involvement.

The picture changes radically with the assumption that the world will end not in apocalyptic destruction but in eschatological transformation.  The the results of the cumulative work of human beings have intrinsic value and gain ultimate significance, for they are related to the eschatological new creation, not only indirectly through the faith and service they enable or sanctification they further, but also directly, the noble products of human ingenuity, “whatever is beautiful, true and good in human cultures,” will be cleansed from impurity, perfected, and transfigured to become a part of God’s new creation.  They will form the “building materials” from which (after they are transfigured) “the glorified world” will be made.”

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