Every Job a Parable, John Van Sloten. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2017.
Summary: A theology of work proposing that our different jobs are “parables” that reveal various aspects of the character and ways of God, and therefore that all work matters and that God speaks to the world through our callings.
John Van Sloten has approached the theology of work in a way I’ve not seen before. He notes how so many of the parables of Jesus focus on the various kinds of work his hearers would readily have recognized and observes:
“When Jesus wrapped a parable around a particular vocation, he was affirming the creational goodness of that job.
I think Jesus is still doing the same today–through the parable that is your job.”
For him, this sheds new light both on how we image God in all of our endeavors, how God is revealed in our work, and how we might more effectively image God in our work. He traces the significance of our work from creation where God speaks through our work and our world; the fall and the ways we are hindered from experiencing God in our work; redemption and the transforming power of naming God’s saving presence in the world, and the New Earth that reminds us that our work is a foretaste of our eternal destiny.
He did something else I’ve not seen before. He interviewed and studied scores of workers from different occupations: astronauts and Walmart greeters, forensic psychologists and restaurant servers, emergency response personnel and asphalt contractors and explored how God meets them in their work and reveals himself through it. One of the powerful experiences for both Van Sloten and the various workers was to see their work in new light as they revealed that it all matters to God.
Perhaps one of the chapters that most resonated with me was his discussion of our lives as part of God’s great story, that he speaks through us–where we have the sense that we are participating in something greater than ourselves, where Someone greater than ourselves is speaking or singing or composing or caring or building or crafting through us. He calls this entering into the spokenness of our work.
Through short chapters that weave stories of workers with theological reflection, Van Sloten offers one of the richest and most accessible treatments of the theology of work I’ve read. He invites individuals and groups to join him in this reflection on the significance of our work with reflection questions titled Lectio Vocatio at the end of each chapter. Van Sloten has also created a series of YouTube videos around different vocations. One example is a sermon on restaurant servers. He includes a list of links to all the videos in an index.
There are many people who sit in our churches who wonder what connection their work has with the things we speak of Sunday by Sunday. They spend the major portion of their waking hours at work in many cases. John Van Sloten offers the tremendous news that God not only speaks on Sundays but through us in our work, which matters greatly. God “calls” to the world through our callings. Rather than a necessary evil, our work images the good and beautiful and true God. The book may serve as a great resource for an adult education class, or a preaching series, giving people hope that it is not simply through their involvement in the church, but also through their work in the world that they may know the pleasure of God upon their lives.