Can we Know the World and Still Love the World?

20150109_20050520150110_185910Tonight the Oikonomia Retreat came to a close with dinner and a presentation by Greg Forster titled “Can we Know the World and Still Love the World?” As director of the Network, Greg often spends his time “reporting,” facilitating or deferring to other guest presentations. However he lends his “voice,” often with passion, at the close of the conference. Greg opened with a clear call to “love the world.” Greg noted the Apostle Paul says love is the greatest of the 20150110_19011220150110_190054theological virtues. We need to realize that love in the fullest sense means not only loving what is good, but loving people and communities that are not good. Loving not only what is holy, but loving people and communities that are unholy. After all, it’s . . . the gospel. Jesus very patiently explains to us, in our spiritual denseness, that he did not come to save the righteous. But precisely because this truth is so central and basic to our faith, there’s a danger of taking it for granted. Yet we need to be reminded.

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From Life to the Bible

20150110_104602The second presentation to the Oikonomia Network this morning included a panel of experts discussing the role of scripture and its place in the faith and work conversation.

20150110_104551Chris Armstrong, Darrell Bock, Gerry Breshears and Tom Nelson gathered to discuss a rather provocative comment/issue that surfaced at the Boston Faith@Work Summit on connecting faith to life. Paul Williams noted that people possess a real difficulty of connecting life & work in their reading of the Bible. Paul asked, if this is a 20150110_080919problem, “how are we teaching people to read” scripture that overcomes this? The challenge may well be that we have a tendency to train seminarians to move from the Bible to life (exegesis to application) where people tend to come from life (in all of its messiness) to the Bible.  Williams had noted that the Bible does have answers, or people tend to think so, yet the approach to scripture seems to 20150110_111653assume a propositional view (seeking right “answers”). Williams suggested by video that scripture might function differently in how the text, as a narrative whole, might shape Christians in their ongoing living and acting. Williams also invoked Henri Nouwen’s critique that much of enlightenment education seems alienating, separating theory from daily life and even deferring application. Williams also wondered if faculty tend to implicitly convey an “expert” mindset to seminary students that often might impede how pastors then treat the observations in dealing with scripture.

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Loving Strangers through Work and Exchange

20150110_08102420150110_080913(0)Greg Forster and Charles Self open the session with a snapshot of the progress occurring in the Oikonomia Network. Among a number of efforts to provide growth of the influence within the network Greg notes several indicators of the group’s influence in theological education. Classroom integration of work and economics in network schools happened in over 100 classes this year with total attendance of almost 2,000 students in the past year. In addition, the network conducted over 160 extracurricular activities with total student attendance of over 6,700.

20150110_08165020150110_081704There is a new advisory committee to guide the Oikonomia Network, one that is working carefully with schools to insure that faith, work, and economics emerge as part of the integrative efforts of seminary education, not merely an add-on. The network already offers a number of resources available for seminary and congregational teaching, one of the meaningful 20150110_084842outcomes of the group. How can the Oikonomia Network know it is succeeding? Obviously print resources help such as The Pastor’s Guide to Fruitful Work & Economic Wisdom. In all, the network hopes that “primer” information evident in this text becomes existing knowledge, rather than new knowledge, for pastors.

20150110_083543 (1)This morning session P.J. Hill introduced Oikonomia Network participants to a new theme: “Loving Strangers through Work and Exchange” P.J. Hill is professor emeritus of economics at 20150110_083707 (1)Wheaton College and a senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center. An author and editor of books, his journal articles have dealt with the evolution of property rights, theology and economics, and the history of water rights in the U.S. He has operated a cattle ranch for most of his career.

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Best Practices: a popcorn of institutional ideas promoting faith and work

20150109_145618While the primary focus of today’s sessions at the Oikonomia Network retreat revolved around the state of theological education, there were moments of interaction about faith and 20150109_100127work among the participants. One of the best aspects of the day were short sessions with current colleagues as we heard and discussed in small groups some of the challenges and best practices in fostering a environment at seminaries that supported faith at 20150109_15045720150109_102346work. The themes included introducing administrative change in the institution, soliciting faculty awareness and support, encouraging ongoing research and modeling good practices around coursework with faith and work.

20150109_11193520150109_111952Some of the ideas included the following “pop corn” of observations and reflections

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Building Capacity to Navigate Change through Shared Governance

20150109_085315After a morning of challenges, Robert Cooley reconvened the group to discuss a conceptual framework that would position theological institutions with a leadership strategy to address change. While a comprehensive presentation (with many layers) 20150109_092619Cooley’s major role was to help participants think about the nature of the structure of our organizations, the respective roles and authorities, and the 20150109_092610resources needed to make the kind of decisions that could guide seminaries into the future. While primarily a conceptual presentation (as these notes reflect), Cooley’s passion remained oriented in helping living communities of theological education navigate, steward, and even flourish in the future. To understand the presentation, Cooley started with one key premise.

Governance is an artifact of culture.

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Dropping the Gauntlet, the Changing Face of Theological Education

20150109_08024120150109_083357The Oikonomia Network began it’s retreat in earnest through a video presentation by Paul S. Williams, the David J. Brown Family Associate Professor, Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College, that, in essence, dropped the gauntlet on theological education in general. The video was arranged by Greg Forster not to chastise but to set a reflective theme of the challenges we face.

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Imagery to Address Change and Rekindle Passion

20150108_201123Is theological education merely an attempt to develop a series of “new tricks” or is it more about changing our attitude to foster 20150108_190502change in the church? Getting to that answer from the standpoint of faith, work, and economics became the task of Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 10.05.37 PMReverend Kevin Mannoia, who served as keynote speaker this evening for the Oikonomia Network retreat.

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