In a second critique, Volf examines Luther’s understanding of work that has been a foundation for Protestants’ understanding of work and finds it lacking on many fronts. Volf acknowledges that Luther made a valuable contribution by desacrilising the vita contemplativa and by bestowing equal value to the vita activa. However, Volf sees Luther failing contemporary workers by: not addressing the alienation of work, which can be used to establish an ideological justification for alienating work; viewing the static vocational station that one is born into as set, which is inappropriate for modern economies that see people work in a variety of roles in a range of industries throughout their working lives; and failing to guard against work transitioning from vocation into mere gainful employment.
For the majority of Volf’s intended educated Protestant audience (in particular he mentions economists), the need for a systematic approach will be understood. However, for some readers, Volf will be unconvincing due to the lack of “explicit exegetical support” (as Volf acknowledges, 93) that give weight to his arguments, and the vagaries that are (necessarily) involved in conceptualizing the new creation. Conversely, sticklers for direct biblical grounded-ness will appreciate Volf pointing out Luther’s well known exegetical mistake in 1 Cor. 7:20, which for Luther was the false foundation of one’s static station in life (109), and thus may concede to Volf’s adamant preference of a more systematic approach to developing a theology of work.
Into this necessary systematic framework, Volf first bases his theology of work in eschatology. Outlining two competing eschatological views - annihilatio mundi that devalues human work, with the exception of work that directly or indirectly contributes to the sanctification of people’s souls and transformatio mundi, that sees a continuity between the present earth, and the “new heavens and new earth” to come that the bible speaks of - Volf applies his theological frame to so that “the expectation of the eschatalogical transformation invests human work with ultimate significance. Through it human beings contribute in their modest and broken way to God's new creation" (92). Volf attempts to articulate human beings’ contribution to the new heavens and new earth through the work they do, by describing human work as the “‘building materials’ from which… ‘the glorified world’ will be made” (91). This description is not Volf’s own as he cites Berkof’s work Christ; the two are in good company with N.T. Wright who uses the same analogy.
Volf does a convincing job in arguing for transformation mundi by: discussing the nature of God’s Kingdom in Matthew as both “now and not yet”; the future earthly hopes in Isaiah 11:6-10, 65:17-25; Paul’s emphasis on the liberation of creation in Romans 8; the lack of theological consistency in God affirming the goodness of creation in Genesis 1 and then annihilating it; and our role in cooperating with the Creator through work, which Luther too identified. Volf confronts the key annihilist passage in 2 Peter 3:10ff, but does so not by offering an explanation of what Peter meant, but rather by contrasting Peter with Paul’s words in Romans 8:21.
Volf builds on his eschatological framework by linking it to pneumatology: “One cannot talk about the new creation without referring to the Spirit of God. For the Spirit, as Paul says, is the 'first-fruits' or the 'down payment' of the future salvation (see Rom 8:23, 2 Cor 1:22) and the present power of eschatological transformation in them” (102). Volf disagrees with a traditional view of the Spirit’s role as being restricted to the “spiritual, psychological, moral or religious life of the individual” (102). Instead Volf asserts that if a Christian is filled with the Spirit, we must have a charismatic understanding “of every specific function and task of a Christian in the church and in the world” (113), which cannot exclude human work. Volf gives Old Testament examples (Ex. 35:2-3; 1 Chron. 28:11-12; Jud. 3:10; 1 Sam. 16:13, 23:2; Prov. 16:10) of how “the Spirit of God calls, endows, and empowers Christians to work in their various vocations” (113-4), and explains that these passages, if read in the light of the new covenant, can help in establishing a pneumatological understanding that “all God’s people are gifted and called to various tasks by the Spirit” (114), thus broadening the scope of the Spirit’s gifts to equip God’s people for all work within the world: “the point is not simply to interpret work religiously as cooperation with God and thereby glorify it ideologically, but to transform work into a charismatic cooperation with God on the 'project' of the new creation” (116).
As the first comprehensive attempt to develop a theology of work in the protestant tradition, Volf’s Work in the Spirit, can be held in high regard as a substantial contribution toward a comprehensive theology of work. Much discussion amongst Christian people in the marketplace should result affecting business values and practices as well as policy decisions. Churches too, should be encouraged to appreciate anew the “mundane work in the Spirit” that their members do during the other six days.