What does “faith and work” mean?

What does “faith and work” mean? July 4, 2014

This blog, and this whole channel at Patheos, are meant to help highlight helpful resources and thought-provoking questions coming out of what has broadly been described as the “faith and work” movement.  But what does the phrase mean? Does it mean that faith and work are the same thing? Does it mean “faith and works?”  Greg Forster of the blog Hang Together says “No” to both of those questions in a recent post:

The most persuasive version of the concern that I have heard would run something like this: The phrase “faith and work” implies that faith and work are, by nature, separate things, and our task is to integrate them. In fact, the argument goes, they are always bound up together. We have to challenge the assumption that separateness is their natural or normal state, and it is somehow up to us to find a way to make them fit. Rather, they are integral by nature.

Now, so long as we stick to the word “separate” there is some truth here. Faith and work are not, by nature, separate things with no connection. They are indeed integral – made to be together.

However, my concern is that we not lose sight of the fact that faith and work are different things. They are not separate, but they are different. Faith is not work. Faithfulness is work (to a large extent). But faith is not faithfulness.

Why is this important? For Greg, it helps keep alive the classic Protestant concern to separate our faith from our works–which, no matter how much they may serve others and glorify God, are not the source of God’s love towards us:

The suggestion that we consider tearing down what has been, to date, a very successful banner over our movement suggests to me that some may be so eager to emphasize the connection between faith and work that they are in danger of neglecting the distinction.

In fact, to the extent that there is some ambiguity and tension inherent in the phrase “faith and work,” I see that as a feature, not a bug. By the very fact that we have built a movement called “faith and work,” we testify that the two can never be separate; they must always be connected. But the name simultaneously maintains the distinction. It forces us to confront the difficulties of being faithful while not resting in our faithfulness for our favor with God.

You can read the rest of Greg’s argument here. And check out the whole blog–it’s a group endeavor–for thoughtful political and economic commentary.

Image: “Light for Others” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license.



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