IF WE believe we are called to practice justice and mercy, then how do we apply these virtues in the world of work and economics?
IF WE believe we’re made in God’s image to be creative and are called to use our talents, how then should we work?In August 2011, Hugh Whelchel’s team of five set out on a mission to answer these questions and effectively change the hearts and minds of 70 million evangelical Christians. “Most Christians don’t understand how what they do Monday through Saturday fits in with their faith and going to church on Sundays. We hope to help change that,” said Whelchel, executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. The Institute of Faith Work & Economics (IFWE) can best be described as a biblical advocacy think tank with a two-fold philosophy: The Bible teaches that work has rich eternal significance; and Biblical economic principles provide a roadmap for stewarding one’s vocation in a manner that glorifies God and benefits others. IFWE believes there is a significant need for evangelicals to understand economics as a tool for living out their God-given vocations. “Our goal is to both undergird those Christians who are inclined to support free enterprise but do not have the biblical underpinnings, as well as challenge those Christians, who mostly out of good intentions, oppose the principles of economic freedom, but need to be exposed to more thorough biblical and economic teaching,” explained Whelchel. Once faith and work are integrated, Whelchel says economic questions are quick to follow: How do I make decisions in my company? How should I view wealth? What about the poor? How should faith influence public policy? IFWE strives to provide Christians answers to these questions by incorporating biblical and economic research. Once Christians connect their faith to their work, Whelchel hopes they will see how critical it is to maintain an environment of economic freedom. The focal point of IFWE’s mission is thorough research in order to “help lift the debate on faith and economics away from the world of sound bites and cherry-picked Scriptures.” They partner with leading Christian economists and theologians to develop a biblical theology of work and economics by publishing articles and comprehensive research papers. Their research is communicated to the evangelical community through op-eds, blog posts, media interviews and public speaking events. As he speaks to various audiences about faith and work, Whelchel sees light bulbs going on:
“One student at Campbell University in North Carolina told me that he had wanted to choose a career that was meaningful to God, but figured he had to go be a pastor or missionary to do that. When he discovered that he could serve God and others by doing what he felt drawn to do as an entrepreneur, he felt incredibly relieved and excited!”Whelchel expressed excitement in learning from and partnering with existing organizations that hold a similar academic focus as IFWE, like the Acton Institute and the Values & Capitalism project. But Whelchel said what sets IFWE apart is a narrower focus—they don’t seek to duplicate what’s already been done:
“Instead, our goal is to specifically focus on reaching and activating evangelical Christians with biblically based research.”Though IFWE modestly claims nine employees including visiting scholars and part-time workers, they have quickly gained momentum and support. Whelchel attributes their early success to the encouragement of leaders in the evangelical community:
“We’ve noticed that there is a real interest and excitement among various thought leaders in the evangelical community about our launch, and a desire to participate with us. That all gives us the sense that God is doing something bigger than us, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”Whelchel sees their message going to several spheres of influence including the church, seminaries, Christian colleges, parachurch organizations and public policy groups through teaching, speaking, curriculum development, social media engagement and small group Bible studies. Through IFWE’s research and public education, Whelchel believes Christians will radically impact our culture and make a positive, sustainable difference in their communities, and ultimately our world. The outcome they ultimately seek, according to Whelchel, is “the flourishing of all mankind for the glory of God.”
IFWE recently announced the release of its first major research report on the topic of income inequality, “Why Does Income Inequality Exist? An Economic and Biblical Explanation” by IFWE’s Vice President of Economic Initiatives Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley. Whechel’s new book “How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work” is now available on Amazon.com and will officially release later this summer. To learn more about The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE), visit www.tifwe.org.