Finding Meaning at Work: Four Historical Voices for a Theology of Work

Chris Armstrong November 10, 2017

How can we find God’s purpose and presence in “secular” marketplace work?

Many of us struggle to find an answer to this question—from the time we start thinking about what type of work we will pursue to retirement and after. Drawing on figures from Christian history (Gregory the Great, John Wesley, Charles Sheldon, and C. S. Lewis) and contemporary challenges we face in the workplace, Dr. Armstrong asks four fundamental questions:

– Does time dedicated to working in “secular” fields endanger our souls? That is, is there an inherent tension or contradiction between the “worldliness” of work and the “spirituality” of faith?

-Does attending to virtues valued by the workplace (e.g., industriousness, self-control, obedience to rules and leaders) reduce us to pawns in exploitive structures of modern work?

– How can we work diligently while also pushing back against those parts of organizations and systems that are corrupted (e.g., injustices, immorality, work that harms and devalues others)?

– Where and how can we find God in our actual work? How can life in the material world connect with life in the spirit?

Dr. Chris R Armstrong is a second-career academic (Duke PhD, American Christian History) who taught from 2004 to 2013 at Bethel Seminary in Minnesota. (His first career was in business communications.) In 2014, Chris was called to Wheaton College to become the founding director of Opus: The Art of Work, an institute on faith and vocation.

Chris originally turned to church history to see how Christians have lived out their faith in the world; the same impulse drives his current research on work, vocation, and human flourishing. His first book, Patron Saints for Postmoderns (InterVarsity Press, 2009), looked beyond “the usual church-historical suspects” for guides to a vibrant, socially engaged faith. In his second book, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C S Lewis (Brazos, 2016), Chris explores medieval faith to find what Western Christians need today: a sacramental tonic for life in our disenchanted, secularized world.

Chris is the senior editor of Christian History magazine and blogs at gratefultothedead.wordpress.com. He lives in Naperville, IL with his wife Sharon and three of their five children. He enjoys board games and movies and is constantly surprised at how the mid-20th-century author C S Lewis still helps so many—including himself—live faithfully today.