All work ethic and no play ethic makes theologians dull scholars.

From Augustine to the present, Christians have often been suspicious of play. In our contemporary situation, however, where work gravitates toward the extremes of ulcers or boredom, play is being recognized by some Christians as one possibility for rediscovering their humanity. In a world that is commonly objectivized and routinized, play offers freedom to the human spirit. When the richness of play (from recreational activity to the arts) is made increasingly available and people are finding pleasure, meaning, and power within such experiences, Christian theology is challenged to reassess its suspicions concerning play.

Is there an alternative both to the traditional work ethic that has dominated Christian thought and to the hedonism and narcissism that characterizes much contemporary play discussion?

Some have written on this topic what might be labeled “pop theology.” In the last 20 years we have had theologies of secularity, of revolution, of process, of human potential. Each avant-garde trend has raised important issues, but all have proven ephemeral, including theologies of play. Too often they have mistakenly baptized current opinion and made it identical with the Christian faith.

Theologians of play have tended to fall into one of two cultural traps. Some, like Jürgen Moltmann, have included play within their work agendas of political liberation—within, that is, their updated work ethic. Play has been understood as both that proleptic experience of the future that is in God’s hands and our mission of liberation in behalf of that future. We are to work at our play for the sake of the kingdom.

Others, like Sam Keen, have reacted against such extrinsic goals. ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.