(This paper was read at the Re-Imagining Faith: For America & the World conference on Thursday, January 9, 2014 at Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky).
Last April, 535 delegates gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Global Business-as-Mission Congress, many delegates were from countries closed to Christian evangelism. The global, virtual think tank that preceded that convention has produced thirty issue papers. Topics range from the biblical and theological foundations of the marketplace to business as mission models that combat sex trafficking to mobilizing marketplace Christians in the developed world.
One block from the convention site sits the Zion Café. This small restaurant shares a common wall with a brothel where young women on bar stools line the curb each evening as living advertisements. The Zion Café serves as a place of respite from the streets and a launch point of daily outreach ministry to the hundreds of young prostitutes working in the surrounding neighborhoods.
In October, the Christian Community Development Association held its annual national convention in New Orleans. Among more than one hundred workshops on every aspect of community development, eight of those workshops focused on small business development, social entrepreneurship, and job creation as tools for fighting urban poverty.
In recent years, more than three dozen books have been written on the integration of business and mission, especially as an effective means of holistic witness. Business as mission, or BAM, witnesses to the glory of God by taking an axe to the roots of poverty as it is coupled with preaching the Gospel. Most BAM initiatives to date involve micro-lending and developing microenterprises in developing economies.[i]
I share these things to illustrate some of the variety and the proliferation of market-based ministries springing up around the world.
Henry Blackaby summed up Jesus’ earthly ministry as a call to every Christian to be evangelistic witnesses to the glory of God. He wrote: “Watch to see where God is at work and join Him”(69).[ii] The growth in number and variety of marketplace ministries around the world the last two decades looks something like the beginnings of an exponential curve. Ken Eldred titled his own book, God is at Work (2005), and many missiologists justifiably argue that it is time for us to join Him.
But what can or should we do? Without theological clarity in answering the call to marketplace ministry, we risk religious disasters that could leave those ministered to worse off than in their beginning, now poor AND disillusioned.
I took part in the Global Business-as-Mission Think Tank and was a contributor to the issue paper on the biblical foundations of business as mission. This came about a year and a half after the publication of my book on marketplace theology, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission.
As a serial entrepreneur called to seminary to study the integration of Christian faith and economics, my biblical journey began with Deuteronomy 8:18. It reads, in part, “Remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers.” This passages presents a couple of questions: how does God give us the ability to create wealth and how does it confirm His covenant with Israel?
Somewhere along my way, I became convinced the marketplace is a creation of God but could not point to particular Scriptures to validate my thesis. However,t if business is part of God’s created order, it is not unreasonable to expect to find biblical support.
I began to re-read Genesis 1 and 2 through economic lenses. There are three components necessary to facilitate most production – energy, raw materials, and labor. God created a life-supporting, self-sustaining ecosystem, full of energy and raw materials. He then created Adam to work within and manage its further development. In economic perspective, the earth-sun ecosystem is the primary means of production and source of all the amenities of modern life.
Adam’s roles, as laborer and caretaker, are clear in Genesis 2:15. To date, most market related studies have focused on theologies of work and stewardship. But simply combining labor and management, that is, work and stewardship, does not a market make. There is still a missing ingredient: someone with whom to trade goods and services.
“God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” But, why is it not good for Adam to be alone?
The Garden was designed to flourish, to increase in abundance to serve humankind’s physical needs. In part, it was not good for Adam to be alone because humankind was also intended to flourish as a critical component of the created order. There are three distinct ways that Adam’s isolation was a hindrance to his prosperity.
First, Adam could not prosper materially. His productive output was limited by his own capacity. The first mention of Eve is as a helpmate, a co-worker. The marketplace needs energy, materials, and labor, but it is ultimately founded upon the division of labor and consumption. Specialization and exchanges between workers increase efficiency and create new wealth. Eve’s role as helpmate was for Adam’s immediate prosperity by improving productivity. Her role as wife is a projection of future proliferation.
Second, Adam could not prosper intellectually. God could have given Adam unlimited knowledge and wisdom and perhaps Adam could have produced miraculous output. But God, for whatever reason, did not. Together, Adam and Eve could collaborate. Eve’s presence offered an alternative intellectual perspective. And today we can easily identify an abundance of business and leadership literature on the value of collaboration.
Finally, being alone, Adam could not prosper spiritually. I like to say that holiness occupies empty space. Practices of holiness and evil occur only within relationships. Adam could relate to God but God had no need of Adam. Holiness, as opposed to egocentrism, only exists where deference, respect, cooperation, and collaboration take the welfare of others into account. The Trinity perfectly demonstrates mutuality. Adam was created as an individual but an incomplete reflection of the image and likeness of God without Eve. Adam was created a communal being. We are holy only in relationship to peers so even our spiritual needs are best met in community.
These three – material, intellectual, and spiritual prosperity – answer the shortcomings of Adam’s isolation. Exchanges of goods and services between Adam and Eve, and amongst human actors ever since, summarily labeled “the marketplace” or “business,” serve several related functions in creation and God’s redemptive mission in the world.[iii]
Three functions of business emerge from the preceding discussion. First, the marketplace allows us to flourish economically. The marketplace meets (and often exceeds) our temporal needs. By economic participation, whole nations flourish.
Second, the marketplace requires intellectual development in vocational disciplines. Specialization provides opportunity to pursue specific interests, tailored to personalities, gifts, talents, education, experience, and opportunity all toward fulfilling vocational lives and accelerating economic growth.
And third, every exchange is an opportunity to practice holiness. Exchanges can serve as places of spiritual formation and discipline as they reveal and shape both our character and attitudes. Sadly, we have largely subsumed our economic holiness to the self-indulgence of materialism and consumerism. We have taken God’s blessed abundance, the outcomes of organizing complex economies, and enslaved it for our own desires and pleasures. We have lost sight of the transience of holiness, that the blessings we receive must pass through us to be truly effective. It is within the process of giving away that we are most acutely spiritually formed and transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18).
There are two more functions of business in God’s created order. The first is apparent throughout Scripture as it reminds us that creation reveals the glory of God. If we accept business as a vital component in the created order, then its practice should reveal the nature, character, and will of God.[iv] According to James 1:17, any good that business does comes from God.
The last function is closely connected to both revelatory grace and to spiritual formation. Good will come of the righteousness of intentional Christian practitioners. In this way, the final function carries over from God’s self-revelatory intent to become our witness in the redemptive mission of God. Our wealth developing works serve as witness to the Gospel and are inherent to it, especially as good news to the poor.
To illuminate the holistic nature of integrated vocation and faith, let’s revisit Genesis 2:15: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” God did not command Adam to work.[v] To cultivate and keep the Garden are inherent
to defining what it means to be image-bearing humanity. God does command work elsewhere in the Bible but only to correct sinful flesh which prefers sloth to escape the tedium and struggles of work in a fallen creation.
Cultivate in this verse, or otherwise translated as till or work, is from the Hebrew term `abad. This is the same term used when the Levitical priests are appointed to serve, to `abad, in the Temple. It is also used in Exodus 7:16 where Moses entreats Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to worship, to `abad God in the desert.
`Abad is also translated as the imposition of hard labor by the Egyptians in Exodus 1:14, and even as bondage in Exodus 6:5. The intentionality and intensity of `abad come with great expectation, even demand, by authority over workers. And, it is consistent with the use of the term bondslave to characterize our relationship to Christ in the New Testament. To `abad for God is to work, to serve, and to worship simultaneously.
So how does biblical economics work out in Christian life? John Wesley was concerned that Christian transformation, through the abandonment of vice and the adoption of frugality, would lead to increased wealth and the temptations of self-indulgence.
By response, in Sermon 50: The Use of Money, Wesley reduced economic obedience to God to three simple steps. The first was that Christians should earn all they can, so long as the means and the product were righteous. That is, neither is to pose physical, mental, or spiritual harm to the worker or the surrounding culture. Wesley found offense in the production of hard liquor for its direct harm to the drinker, their family, and their community, and for the over use of grains leading to shortages of bread.
Second, Wesley believed Christians should save all they can. Saving was not about storing up treasures on earth but a call to simple living and frugal spending. Wesley taught that once basic needs are met,[vi] greater satisfaction comes in doing good rather than in the accumulation of money or things. By discipline, considerable resources can be put to charitable investment.
Finally, Wesley believed that Christians, compelled by love and obedience to God, should give all they can. Wesley’s fears were confirmed as he noted self-indulgence victimizing charity. And the same holds true today, especially in developed economies. Church parking lots in affluent American suburbs are populated by an abundance of late model, luxury automobiles. Many Christians live in spacious homes filled with expensive gadgetry and fittings. Many of us could be much less selfish and help meet the needs of the indigent and unemployed across town and around the world.
Electronic communication has removed excuse for ignoring the needs of the local and global poor. But even charity has failed by practicing enduring, dependency-creating relief rather than promoting local business development to alleviate global poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, half of the world’s poorest (some 700 million) moved above the United Nation’s measuring line of abject poverty.[vii] This was far more due to business creating new wealth and spreading it across the world than it was due to charity. And most new jobs have been created by small businesses as capital has flowed into developing economies.[viii]
More than ever, the poor can wade into the streams of global wealth. And that process can be accelerated intentionally by investing in small businesses at the lowest economic tiers.
To conclude: Business is a gift of God,[ix] an integral social component of the created order, given to bless humankind and reveal the glory of God, that shalom may prevail among and for all. The marketplace is land ready to be reclaimed for the Kingdom of God. May we, as the Church, move outside our sanctuary walls and get our economics right. Then we will be a powerful witness to God’s glory as a wise and understanding people, living by just statutes, and surely with God in our midst.[x]
The notes that follow are largely attributable to comments from and conversations with a dear friend and colleague, Rod St. Hill, Dean of the School of Business, Christian Heritage College (Brisbane area, Australia), lead author of “Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done…In Business: Biblical Foundations for Business as Mission,” Business as Mission Think Tank (2013).
[i] “The World Development Report 2013 was titled ‘Jobs’. In his foreword to the report the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, ‘The development payoffs from jobs include acquiring skills, empowering women, and stabilizing post-conflict societies. Jobs that contribute to these broader goals are valuable not only for those who hold them but for society as a whole: they are good jobs for development… The private sector is the key engine of job creation, accounting for over 90 percent of all jobs in the developing world’.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.
[ii] “Blackaby suggested that we identify ‘spiritual markers’ in our lives to help figure out exactly where we are positioned.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.
[iii] “The name of Israel’s promised land, Canaan, means ‘trade, pedlar, traffic’. Could it be that God’s creation of business was the creation of a ‘power’ that would deliver material, intellectual and spiritual blessing to His people. [Author’s note: Abraham Kuyper offers such a description for science as a ‘power’ included in the design of creation that could almost as easily be a description of the marketplace – “[S]cience arises from the fruit of the thinking, imagining, and reflecting of successive generations in the course of centuries, and by means of the cooperation of everyone. – Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art (2011, 43).]” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.
[iv] “This is consistent with the Westminster Confession – the purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.
[v] “[W]ork is important if we are to be ‘fully fulfilled’ as human beings. [W]ork [is] as the intentional application of our ‘imageness’ in God to produce goods and services that will bless others. Some is in the formal marketplace where wages are paid, some is in the home, some is in the voluntary sector. Our ‘imageness’ in God, or imago Dei consists of our creative, relational, purposeful and moral capacities.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.
[vi] “In this section of his sermon he also made it clear that we were to be generous to our households – wives, children and servants.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.
[viii] “The World Bank provides a good chart (at http://go.worldbank.org/U1PAJ5KG50) that documents poverty reduction through private business job growth in several countries.” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.
[ix] “Think along the lines that business is ordained by God (Gen 1:28, Ps 8:6, Gen 2:15, Deut 28:8-12), inspired by God (Is 28:23-29), witnesses to our love for God (Mt 5:16), witnesses to our love for our neighbor (Eph 4:8).” – R. St. Hill, private correspondence.