After Sunday: A Theology of Work

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Book Review: AFTER SUNDAY: A THEOLOGY OF WORK, by Rev. Armand Larive

A lot has been written about business ethics. Books on the spirituality of work are mushrooming. But is there a theology of work?

The 1965 classic Theology of Work by Fr. Marie Dominique Chenu, OP is out of print. So too is the 1991 Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work by Miroslav Volf, although discount copies are on the Internet and a dusty copy or two can still be had from the publisher, Oxford University Press (198 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016; $60.90). Still available is the 1971 Work, Society and Culture by Yves Simon (Fordham University Press, Box L, Bronx, NY 10458; $12.50), which is really a philosophy book. And then there is the 1981 On Human Work by Pope John Paul II, available from the National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $4).

Now happily comes After Sunday: A Theology of Work by Rev. Armand Larive (Continuum Publishing [2004], 15 E. 26th St., New York, NY 10010; $21.95).

This book, Larive admits, is heavy duty. It is "meant to be provocative, written with appreciation of what has gone before, together with the hope that more will be studied, discussed, written and refined."

The book opens with observations on Christianity’s ambivalence about work. Three chapters on the Trinity’s relevance to work in the world form the heart of this book. It concludes with a meditation on the meaning of good work and with suggestions for "tying together" work and Christian ministry. Along the way Larive frequently mentions the National Center for the Laity, specifically its 1977 charter, the Chicago Declaration of Christian Concern, which he calls "one of the most eloquent statements of the gap between the [institutional] Church and the working world." The NCL’s prophetic Declaration, says Larive, "reaffirm[s] what ought to be obvious: that the best place for the laity to exercise their Christianity is in their occupations." Larive also quotes the NCL newsletter INITIATIVES and mentions other NCL publications including Full-Time Christians by Bill Droel.

Larive, an Episcopal priest and a carpenter in the Puget Sound area, also draws upon many of the people and organizations within the NCL orbit. He cites William Diehl and Pete Hammond, active in the Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life (PO Box 239, South Orleans, MA 02662). He references NCL recommended books, including Good Work by Howard Gardner et al. (Basic Books [2001], 10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY 10022; $17.50) and The Liberation of the Laity by Paul Lakeland (Continuum Publishing [2003], 22883 Quicksilver Dr., Dulles, VA 20166; $28.95).

The laity are supposed to be the core of the church, Larive writes. "But in actual practice the laity are the clientele of the ordained. They are [assumed to be] people who need to be nurtured and assisted into a spiritual mode at worship, a social and ecclesiastical mode, and ushered toward heaven in the mode of a flock. The result is a church that is mostly self-absorbed with its own activity...If the church manages to break out of self-absorption and move outward toward the world, it usually does so with counseling and health efforts. These are very laudable measures, but alas little or nothing is left for…the arena of secular occupations. Yet this is precisely where the most unique gifts lie among the laity. If the church is to look outward toward the world, then this unique gift must be given a place of honor and articulated in the church."

Considering that 99% of Christians spend nearly all their non-sleeping hours in the world--on the job, around the home and in the community—it is perplexing that so little theological attention is paid to the laity’s role as co-creators and co-redeemers, Larive concludes.

----William Droel, is the editor of INITIATIVES: IN SUPPORT OF CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD, published by the "National Center for the Laity", P.O. 291102, Chicago, IL 60629.

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