The Foundations of Marketplace Theology: Business in Creation and Mission

–       David B. Doty (© 2013)

The Marketplace and Prosperity in the Creation Narrative

The earth itself, by its abundant production of plant and animal life by reproductive multiplication, and its mineral content, serves as the primary means of production. All the products we create are made from materials either already at hand or by manipulating them chemically and in form. The Old Testament is rife with discussions of land rights, that is, access to the means of production and the opportunities it presents to be productive to support life for all people.

The multiplication of animal and plant life points to the prosperity (increase or profit) designed into creation. This is one of the four prosperity functions of God’s intention in the created order. The other three involve Adam and the introduction of Eve. The woman is first identified as helpmate, or coworker in modern parlance, to facilitate Adam’s immediate material prosperity via the division of labor. Shared labor and the resulting specialization of workers are the foundations of market economics. That Adam and Eve would share (exchange) the fruit of their labors must be assumed, and the birth of their progeny would add to their communal productive capacity. Hence, Adam could prosper materially. But Eve, and their offspring, represents two other ways in which she enhanced Adam’s prosperity. She helped him grow intellectually by the exchanges of collaboration and she helped him grow spiritually as he could exercise righteousness, or holiness, only in relationship to an equal.

The Functions of Business in Creation

In the design of the created order, value exchange, whether of material goods, services, or information, and its contribution to increasing prosperity on all fronts of human life, is central to God’s intentions for how our world operates. Creation has increase designed in toward abundance via increasing economic and social complexities. The more highly developed a society and its economic system, the more prosperity can serve additional needs, even wants, beyond mere survival. Business has been proven to decrease the potential for war between trading partners as each gains greater prosperity from the economic relationship and reduces losses of human productivity by the inevitable attrition of life due to war. The fruits of increase within a complex society contribute to value-added social goods like education, sophisticated government agencies, and public education. Business, in effect, funds an upward spiral of social well-being, even toward the Hebrew concept of shalom, which means far more than the term peace might imply as the absence of conflict. Shalom implies not only a complete well-being of the individual but for the entire community as well.

Business serves the purpose of God blessing his creation temporally. Additionally, business provides the opportunity for all humankind to practice righteousness, that is, holiness, in denial of egocentrism. Holiness cannot be practiced in isolation and in exchanges, in the space between us, whether those exchanges be economic, or familial, or for whatever other reason, God provides us opportunity to live unto the loving Spirit of the divine, to be fully human, made in the image of God. Business is a significant means along the path to human holiness.

The human search for truth, meaning, and significance is universal. Work and the product of our work, wealth, provide opportunities to grasp these concepts only as they are subordinated to the Truth of Jesus Christ. Business, as a vital component of human well-being and the opportunity for both material and spiritual blessedness, and as defined by the mutuality of interdependence, plays a substantial role in human spirituality, the fount of truth, meaning, and significance. Created in the image of God, humankind was designed with work and stewardship as fundamental elements of the nature of being human. Note that before Adam’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden that God did not command Adam to work and tend to the Garden. Rather, God created Adam to work and tend it as co-creator in communion with God to fulfill the functionality and abundance of the rest of creation. Humankind finds fulfillment in Christ and in this life as work, stewardship, and exchange are carried out according to the nature, character, and will of God.

By the interaction of divine power, human productivity, and exchange, God provides the opportunity for abundant life in the present. When productivity and exchange are aligned with the character, nature, and will of God, the grace, or outpouring kindness, of God is shed abroad to the world. Business conducted according to the righteousness of God, like charity, emotional and physical healing, and other human practices, reveals God’s grace and glory.

Business serves these four functions – abundant provision, the practice of holiness, human meaning and fulfillment, and revealing grace (witness) – in the created order.

The Function(s) of Business in the Mission of God

The mission of God in the world, instituted before creation and fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus Christ, is the redemption of all creation, to deliver it once for all from the ravages of sin and the power of death. Business, as a means of revelatory grace (witness), like the other ministries of the church and mission agencies, continues to draw humankind toward God as the church reaches out to the whole world via the marketplace to make disciples according to Jesus’ charge to the church, the Great Commission.

Business, conducted according to godliness, participates in this redemptive process in two key ways. First, by providing jobs and income for the poor, business is truly Gospel witness, that is, good news to the poor. By serving the needs of the poor, both economically and in the influence of public policy and institutions, business helps bring about social transformation. It does so by the influence of Christians in the marketplace bringing transparency and the order of law to commerce over the last several centuries. That influence is spreading as the legal accountability necessary for open markets to function helps overcome corruption in many cultures. Business also transforms the world as its economic impact allows for the development of institutions like sophisticated governmental policy, public education, and the advances of modern healthcare. All the world’s bills are paid by the productivity of work, by the innovations for gained efficiency in processes, procedures, and business practices, and by the wealth created by increasing complexity and exchanges of vocational specialization. Business is changing the world, even if by small increments, for the better.

The accountability demanded by the rule of law and necessary for sophisticated economic development serves a second purpose in the created order. It prioritizes relationships and common justice over barbaric enslavement, forced labor, and unmitigated abusive business practices. In effect, business practiced in highly ordered economies undermines the egocentric sin of both individuals and systems, such as illegitimate regimes ruling over poor countries or scofflaws cheating customers, vendors, governments, and their communities.

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