Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Nobility of Business

Now before you read any further, ask yourself this question, "What was your gut, visceral reaction to the title of this blog?" What does your reaction to the title tell you about yourself and your worldview? Now, on with the blog.

I ran across this article in a recent Karios Journal post. The article is based on Dr. Wayne Grudem's 2003 book titled Business for the Glory of God. I have known Dr. Grudem for about 12 years. His writings are always even handed but precise. He is not afraid to take a stand at the same time, I know him to be one of the humblest men I have ever known. I don't always agree with him and yet, knowing his character and his great commitment to both Christ and scholarship, I always find new vistas and angles that I had not previously explored whenever I read him.

This particular article is valuable in my mind because it challenges the basic humanistic, socialistic and in many ways Marxist thought that seems to be bantered about uncritically in this election season.

Grudem finds

that commerce is to be commended as the source of great good. His book on the subject, Business for the Glory of God,1 argues that work in manufacturing and trade is a high calling. For one thing, it serves to alleviate poverty:

"I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business. That is because businesses produce goods, and businesses produce jobs. And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year. Therefore if we are ever going to see
long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable businesses."

In this next passage, Grudem captures an anti-business (and, ironically, pro-poverty) mindset perfectly. Of course, some businessmen abuse their trust, but it takes cruel caricature to disparage business per se. Grudem shows how this caricature might go.

"If people think business is evil, they will hesitate to start businesses, and they will never feel real freedom to enjoy working in business, because it will always be tainted with the faint cloud of false guilt. Who can enjoy being an evil materialist who works with evil money to earn evil profits by exploiting laborers and producing material goods that feed people’s evil greed and enhance their evil pride and sustain their evil inequality of possessions and feed their evil competitiveness? Who wants to devote his life to such an evil pursuit as business? What government would ever want to establish laws and policies that would encourage an evil thing as business? If business is evil, why not tax it and regulate it until it can barely survive? And so with the attitude that business is fundamentally evil in all its parts, business activity is hindered at every point, and poverty remains."

Grudem goes on to argue that against this negative perspective Christians should lift up business as a noble venture, full of promise for those in financial distress.

"If attitudes toward business change . . . then who could resist being a God-pleasing subduer of the earth who uses materials from God’s good creation and works with the God-given gift of money to earn morally good profits, and shows love to his neighbors by giving them jobs and by producing material goods that overcome world poverty, goods that enable people to glorify God for his goodness, that sustain just and fair differences in possessions, and that encourage morally good and beneficial competition? What a great career that would be! What a great activity for governments to favor and encourage! What a solution to world poverty! What a great way to give glory to God!"2

Footnotes:
1 Wayne Grudem, Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003).
2 Ibid., 80-83.

5 comments:

WilyHacker said...

When I graduated from college, I started pursuing an M.Div. At that point I didn't know if it was going to use it for vocational ministry (pastor, campus worker, etc.) or not. I ended up not completing the degree (It became too mentally taxing to work as a software engineer during the day and to put in the amount of effort the studies required). Now I am just a well educated lay person who can serve the church with my background. God has gifted me more as an engineer than a theologian.

The concern I have with businesses is when there is a greater value placed on the shareholders than the employees. That seems contrary to the good that Grudem sees in business.

ChosenRebel said...

Grudem would agree with you as do I. In a sin-filled world, any system is capable of corruption. This is why we need to proclaim the gospel. What happens when a formerly Judeo-Christian culture begins to abandon its roots? Perhaps this story illustrates it.

The Empire State Building was built in 13 months! Today you can't get the permits and licenses required to begin building in that time. Why? Because, a man's (or a company's) word is no longer its bond. Judeo-Christian ethics have been thrown away.

But none of this is a statement about any inherent evil in business per se.

Continue to let your light shine in the field God has called you to. Don't hide your light.

clc said...

"This particular article is valuable in my mind because it challenges the basic humanistic, socialistic and in many ways Marxist thought that seems to be bantered about uncritically in this election season."

hmmmm. those seem like strong words considering that those "socialist" tendencies are biblical. both the old and new testament talk about looking out for the widow, orphan, impoverished, the good samaritan, etc. the o.t. is full of examples of how to not work to the edges of our fields. what is the modern day equivalent? maybe taxes. maybe not spending all our income and allowing a portion of our income to be used for the poor, aside from our tithes and offerings.

as far as grudem's article, i would agree with him in the context of our capitalist society. grant and i also like grudem and went to church with him in evanston when he still lived in the area. in many ways his views in this excerpt are exactly the kind of balances needed in capitalism. fair trade, fair practices, noble employers, noble employees. it is a ministry and a way to deal with poverty. but the reality is that poverty will never fully be dealt with if the issue of american consumption isn't addressed. more and more businesses of integrity is a calling but not a full solution.

A Musing Mom said...

I don't know if Grudem touches on it, but this whole concept of business as an antidote to poverty is what I like so much about micro-finance institutions (like Kiva.org). They provide infusions of capital that help lift small business owners out of the catch-22 they are in and get them on their way to earning a decent living wage. And it allows those who have even a small amount of funds to spare to participate.

I also really like that I can donate through an MFI whose primary goal is spreading the gospel because they're the ones who benefit from loan repayment (Hope International for example). It's a two-for-one: help alleviate poverty and support a God-pleasing organization.

ChosenRebel said...

clc,

This is where we have to use language and historical philosophical/ political concepts wisely. Both the republican and the democrats are guilty here. Both use language in propagandistic ways to achieve the level of intimidation they desire as a strategy to win their ideological battles. You are right when you say, "both the old and new testament talk about looking out for the widow, orphan, impoverished, the good samaritan, etc. the o.t. is full of examples of how to not work to the edges of our fields." ABSOLUTLY TRUE. It is also something that you know I support both by personal example and by the development of the “whole person ministries” that we have developed at NSC (Food pantry, clothing pantry, health clinic, eye clinic, dental clinic (soon), housing counseling and the thousands of hours that we spend every year in biblical counseling of people inside and outside of the NSC family.

But all of these texts that could be cited are about individual landowners, wheat growers, vineyard growers and the like, who were admonished to be generous with their harvests and leave the edges for the gleaners (i.e. the poor and often homeless) of their time. In addition, there was an every 50th year Jubilee that allowed those who had lost their lands to get them back so that the family's future was not mired in a cycle of poverty. It was the responsibility of the prosperous farmer (Business owners) to make allowances out of his bounty for those who were less fortunate. They were responsible, and yet it remained voluntary. They would be judged and/or blessed by God in proportion to their obedience to the principle of generosity and God’s specific commands.

But the coercive power of government was not involved. This is where your suggestion that taxes might be a modern equivalent, to my mind, is off target. It is a socialistic idea not a biblical idea that government is responsible to redistribute wealth.

On the other hand, I completely agree with your next comment: “maybe not spending all our income and allowing a portion of our income to be used for the poor, aside from our tithes and offerings.” Yes, YES. YES. Amen. Let the people of God live such sacrificial lives that the rest of the world sees the justice and love and mercy and kindness that He produces in our hearts. Let us then trust God to satisfy us with Himself (and less resources!) so that all will see our good works and glorify God who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16; 1 Tim. 2:9-10; 5:10; 6:18).

I agree too that fair trade and fair practice policies and noble employers and employees would do wonders to change the environment of business. This is why we need to make sure that the main task of the church stays the main task-proclamation of the life transforming gospel of the cross. But you finally end with a comment that I think tips your hand, (dear, beautiful, wise, passionate and pregnant sister!) ; )

but the reality is that poverty will never fully be dealt with if the issue of american consumption isn't addressed. more and more businesses of integrity is a calling but not a full solution.

Again, I agree but … American consumerism does need to be addressed but is this the place of government or pulpits and people. And the reality is that poverty will never be fully addressed or alleviated this side of heaven. “The poor,” Jesus said, “you will have with you always.” This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to alleviate suffering. We should and we should do it sacrificially, passionately. But it is not the place of Christians to use the coercive power of government to get everyone who doesn’t agree with our values to do what we are frustrated about.

Does the same thing apply to abortion? I don’t think so but for different reasons and principles. But this is already over long.

Looking forward to hearing news of your new gift from God.

Musing mom,

micro-finance institutions (like Kiva.org) are great and I think are wonderful expressions of creativity and help. They are also voluntary and non-coercive. clc was involved with a great example last year