Monthly Archives: February 2013

MPM / BAM Thought Leadership Profile: The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics (IFWE)

Evangelical Christians today find themselves living in an environment of economic strain, and are asking tough questions about how to think biblically about economics. They have also come to believe that their everyday work six days out of the week doesn’t matter to God, and has no meaning. The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics (IFWE) was founded in August of 2011 to address these critical issues with biblical truth and sound economic teaching.

At IFWE, we seek to educate and inspire Christians to live out a biblical theology integrating faith, work, and economics. We want to awaken Christians to the strategic role their work plays in God’s loving and redemptive narrative in the world. By rediscovering the biblical doctrine of work and by viewing economics through this lens, Christians, through their work, will bring about flourishing in their communities, our nation, and our world.

Each person is created in God’s image and, like him, has a desire to be creative and fulfilled using God-given talents through work. As we explore a comprehensive, biblical view of work, we understand that our work – whether paid or unpaid – deeply matters to God. It is an integral part of his purpose in this world.

For many Christians, this is a paradigm shift in how they view their work. Sadly, many have been taught work is just a place for evangelism, or to earn a paycheck to donate to the church and missions. I worked for years in the business world, seeing little to no connection between what I did as a businessman and God’s Kingdom. I secretly envied pastors, missionaries, and others who got to work “full-time” for God.

It wasn’t until I began taking seminary classes that I discovered the church’s historical teaching on the biblical doctrine of work. I helped start IFWE to help Christians realize that their vocations are the means God has given them to change the world.

In addition to this life-changing message about work, what many Christians fail to also realize is that their ability to freely live out their vocation requires liberty and economic freedom. As citizens, we must sustain an environment of economic freedom – one that not only allows individuals to flourish in their work, but also reflects the inherent dignity of each human being.

As a biblical advocacy think-tank, we believe that changes in attitude and practice can come through building awareness, presenting scriptural evidence, and challenging individuals to believe the truth of scripture.

To carry out this life-changing mission, IFWE partners with leading Christian theologians and economists to develop a biblical theology of work and economics. We bring these thought-leaders into conversation with one another, and we translate their research into practical resources.

These resources include our first book, How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, and “Why Does Income Inequality Exist? An Economic and Biblical Explanation,” one of our first published research reports. Yet another practical resource is our blog, Creativity.Purpose.Freedom.

We are currently producing a book on poverty and the poor entitled From Poverty to Shalom: Applying Biblical and Economic Principles for the Flourishing of All Mankind. This edited volume aims to equip Christians with a biblical and economic understanding of how to best care for the poor. Expert Christian theologians and economists are contributing chapters. Among the contributors are Dr. Walter Kaiser, Dr. Art Lindsley, Lord Brian Griffiths, Marvin Olasky, Jay Richards, Fr. Robert Sirico, Peter Greer, and others.

Other IFWE resources include op-eds, white papers, talking points, videos, and curriculum, which communicate these principles of work and economics to the Christian community and beyond.

We’re starting to see the impact of our message. People who felt weary and heavy-laden by guilt or a sense of meaninglessness in their vocation are freed up by the truth that ALL work matters to God.

While we’re seeking to reach all ages with our message, we feel particularly compelled to reach those just entering their career. One young woman thought that in order to serve God well she must go work in Africa, even though she wasn’t necessarily passionate or gifted for that work. When she learned that all work matters to God, she rejoiced, realizing she could still support the poor in Africa, but instead seek work that was a better fit for how God designed her.

One college student was motivated to enter the field of politics, but thought that it would be more valuable to God to become a pastor. A half-completed application to seminary had been sitting on his desk for weeks. When he learned that all work matters to God, he was ecstatic and eagerly completed internship applications to work for various public policy organizations.

These are just two examples of people whose lives have been impacted by the biblical doctrine of work. As Christians begin to grasp the biblical meaning of work, the importance of economics and whole-life stewardship comes into focus. People begin to understand how economics can help them be better stewards not only of their finances, but of their God-given gifts and abilities as well. Comprehending the biblical doctrine of work is the first step in transforming how Christians think about work and economics.

Through this work, we are seeking to help Christians embody Jeremiah 29:7, which says Christians are to, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The outcome we seek is the flourishing of all mankind to the glory of God. 

Hugh Whelchel is executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and author of How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.

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Christian Marketplace Ethics Theology: A Reflection on Biblical Generosity

–       Dr. Sas Conradie


Generosity is becoming a global buzz word. The chairman of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Lord Sebastian Coe, hailed the “spirit of generosity” demonstrated by British public during the Games while Sarah Crompton wrote in The Telegraph that “the real legacy of the Games must be that determination to be generous to each other.”[1] This is just the latest indication of what could become a principal value in the global community. But with the Scriptural foundation of God’s generosity, generous living should come natural for Christians, as an integrated part of who we are. And if the generosity of the British public made such an impression during the Olympic Games, just think about the impact if Christians across the globe will live out Biblical generosity.

Generosity in the Bible

The word ‘generosity’ does not occur in early English Bible translations. It is only since the 18th Century that the meaning of generosity evolved to denote the more specific, contemporary meaning of munificence, open–handedness, and liberality in the giving of money and possessions to others.[2] The word generosity is not used at all in the King James Version although it appears 4 times in the NIV, twice in the Contemporary English Version, 6 times in the English Standard Version. Generous is used 22 times in the Contemporary English Version, 16 times in the English Standard Version and 19 times in the NIV.

 In the Old Testament generosity or generous is used as translation for several Hebrew words:

In the New Testament the following Greek words are translated with generosity or generous:

There are other instances where the same understanding as generosity is expressed but where the specific word is not being used in the English translation. For example Mt 10:8 – “Freely you have received, freely give.”

From this cursory look at the Biblical words that are translated as generosity or generous it is clear that generosity or to be generous relates to:

  • An abundance, openness, willingness, freedom, being a blessing, not holding back of goodness, sharing and giving;
  • Giving and sharing with and care of those in need (strangers, the sick, the poor), but it is much more. It is more of a life-style that finds expression in different ways of giving and sharing;
  • Not so much about material goods but about relationships, also between givers and receivers.

Though the words generosity and generous are not that often used, it is implied throughout the Bible as characteristic of God and His people (eg Mt 25:34-46):

  • God is by nature generous who has given everything to enjoy;
  • God’s generosity finds its highest expression in the sending of Christ who showed His generosity by giving His life so that people can experience life. Jesus is also the perfect example of generous living in action as somebody who gave His life to the benefit of others without expecting something in return;
  • God calls all his followers to sacrificial generosity, free from the seduction of riches;
  • Unlike other religious traditions, Biblical generosity is not aimed at gaining merit, favour or reward. It is a response to God’s generosity and is unselfish by nature;
  • Generosity is ultimately about a spontaneous response to the grace of a lavishly generous God;[3]
  • As Dennis Tongoi emphasises, generosity should find expression in our giving to God, not to people or even ourselves.[4] “Our biggest sacrifice is therefore giving ourselves to God, then to others (2 Cor. 8:5). Wealthy people often give their money rather than themselves”;[5]
  • Christians are generous by nature because the Biblical understanding is that everything ultimately belongs to God. They share freely and abundantly of what in the end is God’s and not their own.

Christian generosity initiatives and resources

The increased emphasis on generosity in society presents the global church with an incredible opportunity to show Biblical-based generous living in action. The good news is that multiple Christian generosity initiatives and resources that facilitate and enable generosity had been developed and launched or in the process of being launched. Here are just a few:

  1. The Global Generosity Network (;
  2. The Global Generosity Movement (;
  3. The Generosity Resources List ( while different resources had been posted on the Lausanne Conversation website for use in teaching and preaching, (;
  4. Campaigns such as the 40 Acts campaign (, Micah Challenge, Missions Africa Trust Fund and others motivate Christians to give and take steps of generosity.


There seems to be disillusionment with greed and selfishness in at least certain parts of global society. The question is how we as Christians will show the way through Biblically-based generous living. Such generous living is a form of mission in itself in the 21st Century. As John Bunyan said “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Will we take up this challenge everyday?

Dr. Sas Conradie is the coordinator of the Lausanne/WEA Global Generosity Network ( based in London. An ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, Sas had been involved in various mission capacities since the 1980s. He holds a DD in Missiology from the University of Pretoria, worked in the Faculty of Theology at the University of South Africa, served as missionary in Ukraine, was assistant international director of a mission agency based in the UK and since 2010 coordinates the Lausanne Resource Mobilisation Working Group that became the Global Generosity Network. Sas guest edited the January 2013 edition of Evangelical Review of Theology that focused on generosity(

His e-mail address is

[1] Crompton, Sarah: ‘Keep the flame alive: The Olympic legacy and the new country we could be’ < > accessed 15 August 2012.

[4] Dennis Tongoi, Mixing God with Money: Strategies for living in an uncertain economy (Nairobi: Bezalel Investments, 2001)

[5] Tongoi, Mixing, 85

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Christian Marketplace Ethics Theology: The Cleansing of the Temple: Christ Turning a Marketplace Upside-Down

 –       Seth Asher

Any time we grapple with questions of dealing with Christian interactions with an increasingly un-Christian environment, we do well to bring these questions back to the person of Jesus Christ. Did Christ deal with a similar event within Scripture? If so, how did he act? If not, can we observe other instances of Christ’s actions and see if they shed light on the matter?

Bringing these questions back to the person of Jesus Christ remind us that we are agents of his Kingdom who seek to be his disciples, striving to bring about his Kingdom in the world in which we live.

This practice becomes all the more necessary when we begin to think about Christians working, playing, worshiping, and living in a broader world that seems to get smaller and more crowded all the time. As Christians, how do we engage “marketplace” environments where differing messages, diverse peoples, and unspoken expectations seem to govern the arena? Beyond that, how can we bring Christ’s Kingdom to such places?

The Gospels record an account of Christ entering just such an environment and acting boldly and redemptively. All four Gospels record the account of the event commonly known as, “Christ Cleansing the Temple” (Matthew 21.12-17; Mark 11.15-18; Luke 19.45-48; John 2.13-17). While each account differs slightly, the main event remains the same: Christ enters the Temple marketplace and violently disrupts it, driving away animals intended for sacrifice, and destroying the stations of those who exchanged currency. He quotes Isaiah 56.7 (“…My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”) and Jeremiah 7.11 (“‘has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I have seen it,’ declares the Lord.”).

After disrupting the local trade, Christ teaches and heals while the Temple leaders fume and begin to plot his death. What do Christ’s actions mean? In order to answer this question, we must acquaint ourselves a bit more with the significance of the Temple during the days of Jesus.

The Temple: The Hub of the Jewish World

Before its destruction in 70 A.D., the Jewish Temple enjoyed great status as a religious and economic center in the ancient world. This grand structure, constructed of gold and marble, stood brilliantly visible for miles. Thousands of people, Jews and Gentiles alike, passed through its gates daily, while a Roman garrison stood close by to keep the peace. In this place, worlds clashed: Jew and Roman, priest and commoner, buyer and seller, crippled and whole. The Temple stood as the hub of Jewish religion and commerce.

The proper observance of the Jewish faith remained the highest functions of the Temple. Pilgrims would come from all over the Empire to fulfill their religious obligations, and the Temple became filled with people during festivals. The outer courts of the Temple served as a marketplace and a kind of one-stop-shop for pilgrims. Those coming to the Temple could fulfill their religious duty of almsgiving by giving to the poor and crippled on their way into the Temple. Upon arriving at the outer courts, they could seek out a moneychanger to acquire the proper Temple currency, as foreign coin was not permissible for use; after getting money, one could seek out a livestock dealer to get a necessary animal for sacrifice.

If the pilgrim were unsure as to which animal to purchase, priests made themselves available for consultation. Other priests led worship songs and activities during the constant stream of sacrifice. Merchants sold and transported their goods across the Temple courts, taking advantage of the massive crowds that flocked there. Jews and Gentiles both could enter the outer courts and observe the events of the day. Beyond the business matters of the marketplace and the Temple proper, the outer courts became a gathering place for all people.

When one considers the marketplace atmosphere of the outer Temple courts, it comes as no surprise that the Temple also housed the wealth of the Jewish people. During the Temple’s construction, sizable donations and valuable gifts came in from other rulers around the Roman Empire. Monetary gifts were used to pay superior wages to workers and fund projects, while precious metals and other items contributed to the spectacular appearance of the Temple itself.

Each devout Jewish male across the world made a yearly donation to the Temple, and collection stations were erected throughout the Empire in order to take in the offerings and oversee the safe transport of the funds. The Temple also operated as a sort of bank, with safety-deposit boxes for local citizens who wanted to keep their valuables safe. The Temple housed the national treasures of the Jewish people as well.

Turning the Marketplace on Its Head

Now that we have gained a clearer picture of the significance and function of the Temple, we find ourselves in a better position to understand the magnitude of Christ’s actions in clearing the Temple courts. That day, by disrupting the business taking place, Christ attacked the religious and economic status quo. Everett Ferguson, in his work The Backgrounds of Early Christianity, says: “…Jesus’ action in cleansing the Temple looked revolutionary. It was an assault on the economic system and a challenge to the position of the Temple authorities” (pg. 565). How?

Throughout his ministry, Jesus chastises the religious leaders of the times. In Matthew 23.23-24, in the midst of a strong diatribe against the religious elite, Christ condemns the Pharisees for upholding the precise details of the Law and while neglecting justice and mercy and engaging in extortion and self-indulgence. In Luke 20.46-47 Jesus warns his followers to beware of those who enjoy lofty appearances and positions of power while “devouring widows’ houses.” Jesus takes issue with the fact that the priests and Temple rulers cared more for their own comfort and influence than the causes of the oppressed and needy.

The Temple marketplace reflected this. The Law mandated that all must pay the Temple tax, and accounts exist of priests forcibly taking money from those who were poor; however, some wealthy religious leaders re-interpreted the command so as to count themselves exempt. The Law allowed for smaller offerings for those who were poor; however, in the Temple marketplace, the price of these supposedly cheaper animals would skyrocket, causing further financial distress to those who already found themselves with limited money.

To top it all off, the Temple marketplace maintained its own form of currency; to do business within the Temple courts, one must exchange for the mandated currency, often at poor rates. The profit would go directly into the Temple coffers. The priests gained immensely from the steady stream of money and sacrifice through the Temple gates, at the expense of those who could ill afford to pad the pockets of others.

Christ’s action paralyzed the normal economic business of the Temple for the day. Pilgrims could not exchange money and purchase animals, and the priests could not offer sacrifice. Even if only for a short while, the Temple business ground to a standstill. Christ denounced those operating there as thieves – the priestly class chose to neglect proper matters of faith, such as justice and mercy, in order to take financial advantage of the poor and needy for their own inflated egos and personal comfort. Jesus made the message clear: Such “business” has no place in the House of God.

The Gospel of John also contains an interesting epilogue to this event, in which Christ speaks to the nature of the Temple itself. John 2.18-22 tells of Jews who approached Jesus and demanded a sign of his authority, after seeing the Temple business had been disrupted. Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews thought Christ spoke of the physical Temple, but John tells us that Christ spoke of his own body. Christ makes a point: the presence and power of God dwells within people, not within structures. If people are being cheated and justice is being neglected in the Temple, the responsibility for these sins lies with the people in charge of the Temple instead of the Temple system itself. Christ’s assertion challenged the authority and spiritual condition of the Temple leaders as well as their worthiness to lead others in worship and true adherence to the Living God.

Christ’s actions cut deep into both the daily operation of the Temple and the basic understanding of the purpose that the Temple served. By disrupting the status quo, Christ could bring about a different set of activity within the Temple: redemptive acts of teaching and healing that bring about personal and corporate holiness.

Directly applying this passage to daily life appears difficult at first glance; the times have changed, and our interpretation and application of Scripture must take this into account. However, a couple of points emerge as we study this event. Christ’s changed understanding of the Temple itself challenges all those who seek to follow his teachings, while his willingness to disrupt the status quo of a deeply flawed marketplace sets a strong example of how Christians should engage contemporary settings.

One’s body serves as a Temple of the Living God. Christ brought a new understanding of the concept of Temple when he answered the Jews in John 2.18-22. Those questioning Jesus held that the true presence of the One and Only Almighty God lived within the Temple; however, Jesus spoke of his body as a Temple while the Jews spoke of the physical structure. The Apostle Paul develops this understanding in 1 Corinthians 6.17.20 when he exhorts the Corinthian church to avoid immoral behavior because the Holy Spirit lives in them. The religious leaders of the Temple may have upheld the Law and honored the presence of God within the Temple building, but they failed to understand and honor God’s presence living in them by acting unjustly and exploiting the poor. The actions of Christ condemn the leaders for being unworthy to act as stewards of God’s house.

Christ’s actions serve as a stark reminder for Christians who live and work in marketplaces today: we must honor the presence of God that lives in us by living accordingly. Just as the Temple should have been a house of prayer, we must be people of prayer. Our interactions must be guided by mercy and justice, while our decisions must be led by God’s Holy Spirit. Each marketplace will have understandings and norms that operate contrary to God’s Kingdom principles. As called ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must live out this understanding of personal Temple-hood and not compromise God’s living presence for the sake of marketplace acceptance or operation. Will we heed Christ’s call to be people of integrity and justice who live only by the principles of His Kingdom?

Redemptively engage the marketplace. The picture of Christ that we see here provides us with an example of how to engage marketplace culture: redemptively, and even disruptively, if necessary. Christ knew that the marketplace status quo did not uphold the principles of God’s Kingdom. He acted by disrupting the current operations: overturning tables, driving away sacrificial animals, and bringing redemption into the marketplace through teaching and healing.

Christ calls us as his followers to redeem the marketplaces that we engage. Part of this redemption means having a full understanding of what takes place within the marketplace and not turning a blind eye to operations and causes that defy God’s Kingdom. Once aware of how the marketplace falls short of the Kingdom of Heaven, we can then engage the marketplace in ways that introduce Christ’s paradigms of justice, mercy, and redemption rather than paradigms of greed and consumerism. At times, this will mean breaking the status quo. In these moments, we should remember that we are acting as agents of God’s Kingdom, setting up shop in places that desperately need the presence of the Almighty to break in. Operating redemptively in marketplaces may fly in the face of how many think marketplaces should work. However, we, as disciples of Christ, live by a different paradigm.

As we seek to engage marketplaces in our day and age, the account of Christ cleansing the Temple provides us with an example of how the power of God can break into an environment, challenge the economic and religious status quo, and act redemptively in ways that bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, may we do the same.


Aland, Kurt., ed. Synopsis of the Four Gospels: English Edition. Broadway: United Bible Societies, 1982.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus: An Investigation into Economic and Social Conditions during the New Testament Period. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003.

Betz, Hans Dieter. “Jesus and the Purity of the Temple (Mark 11.15-18): A Comparative Approach.” Journal of Biblical Literature 116 (1997): 455-472.

Ferguson, John. “The Cleansing of the Temple.” Modern Churchman 24 (1981): 27-30.

Evans, Craig A. “Jesus and the ‘Cave of Robbers:’ Toward a Jewish Context for the Temple Action.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 3 (1993): 93-110.

Casey, Maurice. “Culture and Historicity: The Cleansing of the Temple.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 59 (1997): 306-332.

Dawsey, James M. “Confrontation in the Temple: Luke 19.45-20.47.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 11 (1984): 153-165.

Seth Asher received a Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in May 2011. He combines a passion for Scripture with a heart for practical application. He authors the seasonal devotional Continuum of Grace (available at After being ordained in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Seth relocated to Newark, Delaware. Read more about the author here:

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Off the Shelf: On Books: The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else

By Hernando de Soto

(New York: Basic Books, 2003)

Reviewed by Rodolpho Carrasco

I was raised and educated in environments that viewed moneymaking as unrighteous and free markets as exploitative. Being poor and Mexican in Southern California meant that I had a hard heart toward rich, white capitalists who I perceived valued money over justice. As time passed, however, I changed my view of our economic system. My life was transformed by the educational and economic opportunities afforded me by our free-market system. I learned I was blessed to attend high school for free when I discovered that my counterparts in Mexico had to pay for the same privilege. That blessing was connected to the robust U.S. economic system, and toward this system, I felt gratitude.

My experiences as an urban youth minister have cemented my understanding of the magnificent potential of free markets to lift people out of poverty. I know Mexican immigrants who spent years living several families to one house while they saved the money to purchase that property and two others. I know young African Americans who built legitimate and sizable savings accounts while delaying gratification and working at multiple minimum-wage jobs.

Even so, I remain concerned about the pain that free-market capitalism causes around the world and at home. Admittedly, the rise of widespread health insurance and advances in medicine were principally driven by market forces, but there is something wrong when one episode in the hospital can create a hole from which a poor person spends years digging out.

There is also the ever present question of why a small percentage of the world’s population is as rich as Croesus while a great number remain as poor as Stone-Agers. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto’s latest book echoes my conflicting feelings: an admiration for the free market tempered with concern about its inequities.

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (Basic Books, 2003) directs attention to the importance of property law in making capitalism work for poor people around the world.

De Soto, who runs a think tank in Peru that the ECONOMIST magazine considers the second most important in the world, delivers a compelling set of arguments that good property law makes all the difference:

  • Capitalism is a tool that has improved the lives of millions and has the potential to improve living standards in every nation on earth. However, it has lost its way in developing nations and former communist nations.
  • Capitalism’s failure in the two thirds world is not an issue of culture. WASP culture is not the magic ingredient that makes capitalism work, and the traditions of indigenous peoples are not inextricably at odds with capitalist tenets. De Soto puts it like this: “Is illegal squatting on real estate in Egypt and Peru the result of ancient ineradicable nomadic traditions among the Arabs and the Quechuas’ back and forth custom of cultivating crops at different vertical levels of the Andes? Or does it happen because in both Egypt and Peru it takes more than 15 years to obtain legal property rights to desert land?”
  • The tipping point for the seemingly inexhaustible wealth of the United States is property law. Effective property law secures an asset, such as a home, in a way that allows it to be used for another purpose, such as getting a loan against that property. This is what we call working capital. Americans take for granted that we can obtain a loan against the value of our homes and thus acquire working capital. But such a means of acquiring startup money – the number-one method of funding a new business – is unavailable in most parts of the world.
  • The United States was in the exact same mess 150 years ago – lacking a uniform property law that could title property in a way that a bank would make a loan against it – as most countries on earth are in today. The lack of uniform property law was a headache as the U.S. government and the Supreme Court contended with illegal squatter settlements throughout the Western territories. De Soto’s chapter, “The Missing Lessons of U.S. History,” details the transformation of competing land claims and hundreds of legal jurisdictions into a singular, coherent set of property statutes.
  • Uniform property law is the difference between capitalism as a system accessible by the masses, as we have in the United States today, and capitalism as a tool only for a clubby elite, as prevails in most of the world.

De Soto’s ability to pinpoint capitalism’s shortcomings while glorying in its potential is rare. If your book club is populated equally by rabid free-marketeers and storm-the-gates anti-capitalist protestors, start with Mystery. Of course, I don’t know where one would find such a book club, given the radical divide that exists between the two groups. Nevertheless, I do not doubt that poverty fighters on both sides of the divide will turn to De Soto’s theses for years to come.

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Cover 2.1 (February 2013) – Exchange: The Journal of Mission and Markets

Cover 1-2 02-13

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The Fields of Harvest

“Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” – Matthew 9:37-38.

If we think about it much at all, we soon realize Jesus used economic analogies throughout his ministry. One reason is rather obvious: we all understand economics even if we do not understand the high language of the study of economics. Jesus compares the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the purpose of the Five-fold Gifts (to grow the Church – Ephesians 4:11-13) to a workaday endeavor. We all understand what workers are: they are people who put forth productive effort. We all understand what harvest is: it is the gathered fruit of productive effort.

For centuries, the Church has missed the opportunity to gather the harvest in the most abundant field of all: the marketplace. That is not to say there have not been plenty of examples in history of Christians connecting lives and ministering through workplace relationships. But, it is generally accepted among those studying and working within God’s movements in the marketplace that there has been little intentionality in engaging the marketplace as 1) a created institution in God’s original design, 2) as an enormously good and therefore redemptive institution in human experience, and 3) as a particular field bursting in abundance, beyond ready for harvest.

Let’s work through those three points in reverse order. The first question we might ask is “how is the marketplace ‘bursting’ in evangelical potential”?  There are several key factors that lead to that conclusion but the top one is the pervasiveness of the marketplace. There is simply no more pervasive institution in global society. Every person in every nation and town is connected through the global marketplace. It is a web of relationships and Christian witness, or any other kind of witness for that matter, occurs most poignantly through direct relationships. Not only do our human connections in the marketplace afford the opportunity to share the Gospel verbally but work performance in every ethical nuance demonstrates the underlying values and purposes of the worker. Our motivations, our words, and our actions do not always align and people perceive the difference between those who are only in it for themselves and those who serve higher purposes. And as we are all too often painfully aware, our actions nearly always speak with more authority than our words.

A particular example comes to mind from my own experience. My wife and I had a small retail business for several years. We started out in a side street, hole-in-the-wall location renting from a man many in the community warned us to stay away from. But he had the space we needed at a price we could afford and nothing in our initial dealings with him gave any indication that we would suffer from a relationship with him so long as we abided by the terms of our lease agreement. At one point, we experienced a clogged drain. The landlord reminded us that fixing it was our responsibility according to the lease. I was willing to unclog it myself but needed access to the building’s basement so he would, at the very least, have to come and let me in. I asked him if he also had a drain snake I could borrow to clear the drain.

When he came, he brought the tools and went into the basement with me. Before I could make a move to correct the problem, he ascended a small ladder, opened a drain connection, and ran the power snake to clear the drain. Unfortunately there was a fair amount of “nastiness” backed up in the drain that, when it cleared, gushed out of the open connector and fairly well covered him in sewage. When all was said and done, he turned to me and said, “I wasn’t going to do this for you but you’re such a [expletive deleted] nice guy.” What was it that made me “such a nice guy?” I was not contentious about the problem, I paid my rent on time, and I never questioned him about his reputation. How simple was that? To this day, if we see him on the street when we return for visits, he meets us as a friend and we know that our love for him has been received and felt simply in our appreciation of his dignity as one created in the image of God.

The relationships we establish via marketplace connections may range from casual encounters with baggers and cashiers at the grocery store to longstanding customer, vendor, boss, employee, landlord, etc. relations. In every case, we can make their worth to us known by simply appreciating them, being kind and generous, and, when God opens the door, sharing their value to God by telling them of the Truth of Jesus Christ and God’s grace extended to them.

The second item above is recognizing the function and good purposes the marketplace fulfills in human experience. The marketplace is often derided as a cutthroat environment of vicious competition but competition is only a superficial characteristic of the market. Even at that, competition helps keep innovation moving forward, prices in check (undermining monopolistic dominance and manipulation), and education forward-looking to stay apace with technological advancement. However, the fundamental nature of the marketplace is cooperative since it is the division of labor, which compels companies and workers toward specialization and collaboration, which creates the opportunities for exchange. Such division allows individuals and workers to excel in particular disciplines and increase efficiencies and sophistications within them as they know they can acquire ancillary goods and services from other entities.

Bakers need not raise cattle, harvest rawhide, and make shoes to protect their own feet if they can focus on bread making and trade some of their product to Florsheim or Nike. Their margins increase with the efficiencies gained by increasing output at decreasing margins of additional costs. All that said, the marketplace creates the opportunity for workers and their communities to flourish more abundantly the more complex and interconnected their economic societies become.

The marketplace also allows workers to pursue specialized fields of work in keeping with their particular gifts and talents. Few engineers want to teach English literature and medical doctors are little inclined to perform oil changes to make money. Gifts vary by degree and nature and each person is most fulfilled by pursuing the specialties of their highest interests and capacities. A complex, diverse marketplace allows much more opportunity for finding satisfying work than economies of less sophistication. Markets working well effectively help make societies both wealthier and happier.

But this brings us back to point number one: the marketplace as an institution created by God. Oddly enough, as we pursue knowing God and his ways, many find the most profound truths are ultimately expressed simply. There is nothing more fundamental to sound theology than to understand the essential nature of God is love. Complications come into the conversation when we try to make how God’s love toward us works out complicated. (I am reminded of the management adage: K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid).

The abundance of the created order provides amply enough to feed, cloth, and house every man, woman, and child on the planet. The causes of poverty – economic oppression, bad politics, sloth – are all rooted in the selfishness of sin. It is rather simple math to figure out we could provide basic provision and protections for everyone if we would simply muster the political will to make it so. But we do not and so it is not so. But the fault does not lie at the feet of the market but rather at the feet of sinful market practitioners (including self-centric politicians leveraging economic relationships to maintain highly favorable lifestyles and social positions).

The marketplace is fundamentally good as it provides the opportunity for blessing all people. That it does not is not the fault of the mechanism anymore than it is the fault of the hammer if we strike our thumb instead of the nail’s head. The marketplace is merely a tool to serve much higher purposes. Only in recent history has the theology of the marketplace come into academic conversation. Some argue that its purposes are solely to provide work to accommodate the necessities of life and meaningful work (Van Duzer), relegating it to purely utilitarian status. I have argued, however, that, while it provides both those, its higher purposes are 1) to glorify God (as is the first purpose of all creation so therefore all subordinate functions and institutions within it), and 2) to bring many sons (and daughters) to glory (Hebrews 2:10) as a fundamental arena to learn and practice holiness through our economic relationships, given that the market is a core function of human experience.

The questions arise, then, 1) is the marketplace, as an institution, intended in creation, and 2) what evidence points toward it in Scripture? Genesis 2:15 – “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” – has been the launch point of many treatises on theologies of work and stewardship, both integral to the implementation of a market economy and the facilitation of market relationships. However, as those who through time have chosen to live “off the grid” have found, it is possible to work and to steward one’s resources in virtual seclusion. While there is an element of relationship with God, whether recognized or not, in such a lifestyle, humankind, created in the relationally-equal image of the Trinity, was not made to withdraw from its own kind. Rather, humankind was created to live in mutually-beneficial relationships.

Eve is introduced into the Garden narrative in a complementary role that serves the obvious purpose of procreation but is called co-worker before wife. In fact, God’s first assertion of her role is that of one who will help Adam prosper by the division of labor. But we tend to think even of that division of labor primarily in material terms, that Adam’s work could be subdivided making it more efficient and productive. However, the nature of relationship within the godhead is also bestowed upon the new race and the holiness of the divine relationships is implied. That is, the deference of humility and the practices of righteousness are to pervade human relationships just as they do between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The economic exchanges anticipated in creation, the core functionality of what I would venture to be the majority of our interconnections with the rest of humankind (beyond family, friendship, religious affiliation, and such) and our environment, were to be demonstrably infused with the defining characteristic of the divine personae: holiness.

If economic exchanges are of such significance, both in practice and in the design of creation, they offer untold opportunity for witness by the intentional practice of the Church. Informing those relationships for Christ-followers should be of utmost importance to spiritual leaders. Practicing righteousness, sacrificially in keeping with the humility of the Cross, for the benefit of the marginalized (the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant), should be recognized not just for the opportunity to “share” and reveal the glory of God, but also as the natural outcome of being transformed into the very image of Christ on the Cross.

Whole segments of the Church of late have largely abandoned the ideas of social, economic, and environmental justice, absurdly claiming that only by proclamation is the Word made known. That is utter nonsense in light of the Bible’s repeated claims that even nature reveals the glory of God. That is, trees, the stars and mountains, the cycles of life, death, and life in perpetuity, and tall grass waving in a summer breeze, all have something to say about God’s goodness. The love of God is manifest all around us but is most revealed in our serving others. We have not harvested as we should because we have resorted too often to “be warm and well fed” (James 2:16) without tangible consideration of the others’ material needs for survival and proliferation.

To reap the rich harvest of souls in our globalized world, one growing in wealth but plagued by disparity of distribution and access to opportunity, the Church must act according, not to principles or commands, but the nature and character of God. We must bend the back in service and, perhaps even more importantly, put our money where our mouth is, providing funds, information, guidance, and time to ensure the harvest is not lost, investing in helping provide a better life for the “other,” as tangible witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ, in us individually and corporately and in human society at-large.


Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

Why Eden’s Bridge?

The title of my book, Eden’s Bridge, may seem obscure given that I do not explain it plainly in that text. But the name has relevance on a couple of levels. About a year before I finished my master’s degree in World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Kentucky), I began to seek the Lord’s direction for what would come after. Having been in business, one of the two most apparent options was to start or buy another small business. The other option was to continue my studies and pursue a doctoral degree. Interestingly, everywhere I turned asking, “Should I do ‘A’ or should I do ‘B,’ the answer was always ‘Yes.’”

Admittedly, that was a bit confusing so I continued to pray. The impression that I eventually held was that I needed to do both, an admittedly formidable prospect. In any case, a year after graduation, my wife and I launched our third business enterprise but I continued to read and research in my spare time. Three years into that endeavor, the business failed amidst the economic collapse and I suddenly found myself with time on my hands. I revisited the idea of pursuing a doctoral degree and was met by the fact that I did not have the financial resources to do it. But I also encountered two professors, one a mentor and one a friend, who both recommended that rather than pursue the degree, I should simply write a book.

As I studied, I found that there had been a fair amount of scholarship on theologies of work and theologies of stewardship (both grounded in Genesis 2:15) but there was little, and that typically superficial, written on the theology of the marketplace. I also repeatedly was confronted by a divide between Christian commitment by Church members and how they perceived and practiced business. It was reminiscent of a conversation from years past when I attended a United Methodist Church in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

I had been invited to take part in presenting a three-part series of adult Sunday school lessons on the Holy Spirit. The other two participants were the church’s youth pastor, who was raised on the mission field in Venezuela, and a particularly charismatic friend who came from the ranks of a non-denominational church but found himself led to join the United Methodist Church.

The charismatic friend gave his testimony the first week before the assemblage of all the adult Sunday school classes plus the high school class. His testimony was deeply related to his experience of the Holy Spirit as an active agency in his life and his previous church life. When he finished speaking, I realized he had, in effect, presented half the material I had prepared for the third week of this lesson series. The second week, our youth pastor shared how his upbringing in the Wesleyan tradition was all about knowing and following the Bible with little or (seemingly) no interaction with the voice of the Holy Spirit. You may have just guessed that, when he finished, I turned to my wife and said, “He just gave the second half of my material. I need to build the bridge between the two.”

After Sunday school, on the way to the sanctuary, the woman who oversaw the adult Sunday school program stopped me in the hall, took hold of my arm and said, “You know what you have to do. You have to build the bridge between the two.” I went home, scrapped all my material and started afresh.

Just so, God spoke to my heart about building a bridge of marketplace theology that would help the pulpit and the pew reconnect on the spirituality of the marketplace. I set out to overcome that divide between Sunday morning and Monday morning, to build a bridge between “doing business” and “following Jesus.”

So, confronted with such a challenge, I wanted to know more about God’s agenda concerning business. Somewhere along the way of several years’ research, I became convinced that “business” was God’s doing, that is, business was a created institution, something God intended from the beginning. If that were to prove true, I surmised, the evidence was surely locked away somehow in the creation narrative of Genesis1-2. So, I went looking.

What struck me first was the economic impact of many of the created elements – the sun for primary energy, land for plant production and grazing, time as a measure of dividing activities, seasons, and so on. But the hinge came when I “discovered” that Eve was created from the notion of Adam needing a “suitable helper,” a co-worker. The division of labor, which implies cooperation, and encourages collaboration and specialization, is the fundamental building block of market economics, of doing business. Many argue that exchange is the foundation but you must have exchangers, and them agreeing to exchange, before that activity takes place.

So, there I had it. The name Eden’s Bridge emerged from the context of the biblical and theological origins of business – created in Eden – and clarifying the connection – the bridge – between God’s purposes for and means within creation for 1) glorifying himself, 2) bringing many sons (daughters) to glory by providing the cooperative, worshipful (in the sense of koinonia) opportunity of social cohesion, that is, a place to practice holiness in community, and 3) providing the elements necessary to sustain human life and to bless it in abundance.


Filed under Faith in the Marketplace