Why does Opus: The Art of Work need to exist? What void does it fill?
Chris Armstrong: To be “evangelical” is to bring the message of the gospel to the world. But the temptation has been to narrow that message—as if once we’ve sorted our matters of personal justification, our “job” as Christians is done. But what about the jobs—the value-creating, world-serving work, whether paid or unpaid—that most people spend most of their lives doing? Is our Gospel big enough to embrace those too? We believe it is, and that’s part of what Opus seeks to address.
Ben Norquist: Additionally, if Christians can carry their core identity as disciples of Jesus with them into their work lives, and if that identity can lead their work processes and decisions, the world will be amazed! They will see the Good News in front of them.
Define what you mean by vocation.
Ben: Vocation is an orientation toward the roles that God asks us to play over the course of our lifetimes for his glory and for the good of the world. We are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, colleagues, leaders, followers, teachers, laborers, citizens, etc. All of these can be vocations, but the first and primary vocation of believers is to love God.
Chris: Vocation is about hearing God’s particular call to you—to do the work he prepared in advance for you. It is through people—whether they know him or not—that God does his own work of providing (think farmer, cashier), constraining (think judge, prison guard), and redeeming (think nurse, recycling worker).
Of course, we do need to make a living, which is a part of vocation—but it’s only one aspect of it. At its foundation, vocation is first about our relationship with God, and only then about our relationships with people and society. That’s why you’re unlikely to discover your vocation by yourself. To discern the right vocational path, you need the people who know you the best as well as the God who knit you together.
What are our goals for Opus in these early years?
Chris: We are pouring the foundation and erecting the framework for a new understanding of vocation at Wheaton. Ben and I are aiming to attract the energy and wisdom of people from every part of the Wheaton community—students, professors, staff, alumni—and then handing them the resources to develop new vocational understandings within their own disciplines and roles.
This will involve many different things, all aimed at offering new ways that students can develop vocational discernment, along with ways that professors can develop and teach a body of biblical, practical knowledge on faith and work.
Ben: We want the Opus to offer top-shelf service to Wheaton College and to the larger Church by catalyzing thought and practice related to this Christian vision for vocation.
As you look ten years out, what fruit do you hope comes from the Institute’s presence both at Wheaton and in the world?
Chris: In ten years, I hope a significant number of our accomplished professors, through the support of the institute, will have moved the ball forward on strong, biblical understandings of vocation within their own disciplines—including framing and answering the “next big questions” on faith and work. I hope a decade’s worth of undergraduate and graduate students, living into leadership in the church and world, will not only be experiencing in their own lives the blessings of a vibrant and healthy understanding of vocation, but also be spreading that understanding to others.
I hope our alumni, as well as pastors and other opinion leaders nationwide, will be recommending Wheaton without hesitation as the best place in the country to prepare not just for any of the nearly unlimited occupations to which a liberal arts education opens the door, but also for a life in which heavenly faith and earthly work are two interwoven threads of one seamless whole.
Finally and most importantly, I hope churches and Christians touched by this message emanating from Wheaton (along with many other emerging centers in the country) will be stewarding their vocations in ways that join in God’s providing, constraining, and redeeming work to bless the world.
Ben: I envision future generations of Wheaton alumni who let their faith pilot their approach to their work, allowing the witness of the Church to God’s goodness flourish in new and surprising ways.
I also want to see cultures change within our societal institutions—schools, companies, churches, governmental bodies, etc.—by training Christians to value and lead in the vocations that have previously been swept aside by the notion that they are secular and second best. If Christians are well equipped with the vocational skills and knowledge to perform in these arenas, and if they are supported by a robust message that God cares about their work, then our capacity as a Church to illustrate the good news will grow in extraordinary ways.