Category Archives: Faith

The Greatest Danger of the Intellect: Disuse

The recent controversy surrounding the comments of Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, in GQ magazine and the resulting backlash from gay advocacy groups provides a good example of the lack of intelligence too often displayed by members of the universal Christian Church. I am not speaking of Robertson being ignorant. Rather, there seems to be a lack of understanding between social and legal response on the part of these Christians as some have complained quite loudly in the media that Robertson’s right to free speech is being violated. That is wrong. Free speech protection is from government prosecution not social persecution. Robertson, I am sure, would be the last to complain about the public response. He was speaking, even if in terms some may consider crude, from honest and heartfelt closely-held religious beliefs. Sadly, however, much of the Christian response, even from well-educated and informed speakers, has been emotional rather than reasoned, adding to the ammunition of those who accuse the Church of being mostly rubes and ignoramuses.

This essay was written before the Robertson controversy arose but that sequence of events, I think, justifies the essay all the more. Christians, as becoming the sons of God, have been given access freely to the wisdom of God (James 1:5). This reason should be sufficient unto itself, but with the added incentive to grow into the humility of Christ, Christians should hesitate before speaking too quickly or bluntly in public. Christian thinkers have been among the thought leaders that created open and advanced societies, especially over the last five hundred years. Israel was expected to be a virtuous, and prosperous, example to the world that living according to God’s nature, ways, and will would entice the world to come out of itself and be drawn into the Kingdom of God (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). Today, that is the role of the Church today, to be salt and light to a world desperately seeking its own salvation and hope for a better future, a future only Christ can offer.

Upon reflection, I find this essay to be rather blunt in its assessment and I am sure there are some who will be offended. It is not that I am not interested in being more diplomatic but I do not find in myself the patience to redraft it. Perhaps I will at a later date but for now I will simply ask the reader to forgive me if it comes on too strong.

Much has been written for and against the role of intellectualism in the life of Christian believers and the Church. It would seem the conversation would grow stale and trite and be put to rest as an unproductive waste of time. But to do so is like only half-heartedly trying to revive a critically wounded patient. To stop short of making every effort, when even the least inkling of life remains, is to lose touch with the core value central to every human life: potential. So, I will here again take my turn at beating what some may presume to be a dead horse.

As a starting point, and even at the risk of being accused of prooftexting (because that seems always to be the first retort of contrarians), I will resort to Scripture: Genesis 1:26 – Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” Since God is Spirit (John 4:24), we can rule out physicality as the focal point of the image and likeness. That essentially leaves two realms of human existence open to the discussion: intellect and character. It is not possible to have an intellect (weak or strong) without character (virtuous or evil) and vice versa, but I digress.

God gave us a capacity for thinking that is greater than other creatures. It is facilitated by the brain as a physical organ but the mind is not the brain. The mind can be expanded with learning. It can be corrupted toward evil or heightened to virtue. We lean toward good or evil, again substantiating the argument with a Scriptural view, according to wisdom. It is almost as if we can dissect the functions within the brain between knowledge, which is simply the acquisition, use, and maintenance of information, and understanding, making sense of what knowledge means. This too can be divided into knowing what knowledge means in a practical or physical sense, which requires the discernment (or wisdom) of experience and learning and applying knowledge to solving problems, creating better things for life, etc., and knowing, or understanding,  along the lines of morality, determining between right (good) and wrong (evil), which we might also label wisdom or discernment of a spiritual nature.

Interestingly, as a side note, a great deal of the Mosaic Law and the pronouncements of the Old Testament Prophets focused on what we would first consider moral lines but have enormously practical implications: such as not oppressing the poor so they can live in the shared abundance of earthly provision, the shalom of righteous community. Of course this also involves aspects of revelation and worship when the poor witness the goodness of God in the blessings of that abundance. But, again, I digress.

But the digression serves a good point: we cannot understand the integration we see above, of divine command, social structures and justice, personal ethics, revelatory grace, and appropriate worship, without thinking on it more than just a bit. We must engage the intellectual muscle we have been given to grasp the complex integration of these concepts, which point to an ecological whole of our reality, especially in relationship to God.

Somewhere along the line I came across a little book, published in 1965 and now one presumes lost in the milieu of printed things, entitled Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder). Written by Ted Byfield, a Canadian journalist and high school teacher, the book counters accusations drawn against the Church at-large by an antagonistic popular Canadian cultural critic and Church outsider, Pierre Berton. In the opening paragraph of the book, Mr. Byfield sarcastically captures Berton’s core perception of the Church. Speaking on Berton’s qualifications to criticize the Church from without, Byfield asserts Berton must be convinced that “Going to church often obscures objectivity and clutters the mind with a lot of prejudice.”

Actually, Mr. Berton may have done the Church a great service in offering an assessment from the outside, even if his vision was contorted by peering inwardly through stained glass windows. At the very least, I think, we can assume he was being honest in how he saw things. But the painful truth is, the perception too often rings true . . . even after passing through the doors and looking about with an unimpeded view once inside.

There is to be no doubt there is often an overt anti-intellectual attitude circulating within the Church. Sadly, however, there is also a covert, perhaps completely unrealized, anti-intellectualism that circulates as well. Two comments make my point. I take theology seriously so I write with intention to make my point as clearly as I can. That is not to say it will be presented in mono-syllabic words nor necessarily in short sentences. One comment came from a friend who read my book. He said, “I thought I would just sit down and breeze through it but there was no way.” That pleases me on two counts. One, he found it challenging (one hopes on the conceptual level and not just the structural). Two, he worked through it despite the challenges.

The other comment came after a fellow church member attempted to read one of my essays. He rejected the thesis out of hand. No, I should say, he refused to consider the thesis deeply because he claimed that he could not understand the essay. This is a man who is the head of an international trade association. His unwillingness to slow his mind enough to consider what the text was saying simply cut him off from gleaning anything from the essay. My undergraduate degree is in English literature. If you think what I write is challenging, try reading and comprehending Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Criticism” (http://poetry.eserver.org/essay-on-criticism.html).

I say all that to come to a discussion on the lack of critical thinking in the Church. We have given ourselves over to the deception that the Gospel is simple. We sum up our Christian faith in pithy statements and there is a place for those but they should not be the end all of our theological or biblical reflections. Consider: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”   As a simple celebratory statement, this is absolutely loaded with assumptions, not the least of which require understanding “what is ‘a Christ’?” and “who is this Christ?” and why should his dying, revival, and return matter to me?

Take John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” This is the “slogan,” if you will, of the Christian marketing schema but, again, it is loaded with assumptions. What God? What does begotten mean? How does it differ from me siring my own children? Why does God love the world? How do we know? Why is his Son a gift unlike any other? What does it mean to believe in him? Believe what about him? And, frankly, the questions, considering we are speaking of an infinite God, are infinite in both number and depth.

When we stop short, assuming we know as much as we can (or need or want to) about God, our pursuit of holiness stops just as short. Without engaging God intellectually, our understanding will not grow and our character development in Christ will come up short as well. That is not to say we are less cherished by God. That is not to say everyone has the same capacity to “love God with their mind.” But it is to challenge us to know him as deeply and intimately as we can. Luke 12:48b: And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” I am quite sure this appertains to mental acuity as much as physical possessions or the reach of an individual’s influence. Granted, there are some of limited mental ability who, by grace, receive the love and salvation of God just as they are. But those of us who have been given more capacity should exercise it!

When we reject the pursuit of God intellectually, through ever deepening biblical and theological studies, we are, in effect, telling him that we know quite enough and do not care to know any more. We may not need to know any more but that is an approach I might take to a relationship with a car salesman or store clerk in passing but certainly not with my wife or a dear friend. How much more so is it important to know God, to discern his voice, to understand his ways such that we might emulate Christ’s ministry to the Church and the world?

I think two Proverbs are poignant given our cultural repugnance toward learning:

Proverbs 6:10-11: “‘A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest’–  And your poverty will come in like a vagabond, And your need like an armed man.”

Proverbs 26:16: The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes Than seven men who can give a discreet answer.”

The American people are some of the hardest working, most industrious people on earth and in history. We, along with a few other countries, have set the standard for human productivity. And we assail the lazy ones who will not work, citing 2 Thessalonians 3:10: For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” – when exhorting others to go to work, to be productive, to make something of themselves. And all the while, we push away from the Table of God’s Plenty, intellectually satisfied with crumbs and leaving the most succulent and nourishing dishes sit untouched. We seem to abhor laziness until it reaches between our ears because disciplining the muscles is far easier than disciplining and renewing the mind. Compare

Romans 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,”

and

1 Timothy 4:7b-9: On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.” (emphasis mine).

How can our mind be renewed if the things of the enemy, the flesh, and the world are not replaced with the knowledge of God? How can we understand the value, or even the meaning, of godliness, if not by learning of God and his ways? Romans 12:2 goes so far to say that engagement of the intellect in thinking on the things of God, through a reforming exercise of the mind, is the path to discerning the very will of God.

So as not to belabor the point, if you are one leaning toward acceptance of the Christian faith walk as an easy or simple endeavor, I will end quickly. God has given us each a distinct capacity of the mind. We are to exercise it, like muscles, such that it will grow stronger in Christ, not for the sake of our “becoming smart” but for discerning how to be Christ to the world, to understand how to help, not just why, to understand complex social issues to help direct them toward reconciliation and healing that reveal God’s glory, toward his Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

The Church often wallows in its ignorance, willingly accepting far less than the gifts of the intellect renewed and empowered by the ministry of Christ on our behalf and toward a powerful witness to the world as creative thought leaders. Christians have led the march in the foundations of public education, in modern medicine, in political development, and in economic prosperity. They did so by overcoming the laziness of intellect that is natural to us all. The world often has a dim view of the Church along intellectual lines. But it is fully within our power to lead the world intellectually and to render that view untrue.

Suggested Reading

Byfield, Ted. Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder): A Reply to “The Comfortable Pew.” New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1965.

Collins, Kenneth J. “Spirituality and Critical Thinking: Are They Really So Different?” (Evangelical Journal, 16(1), 1998), 30-43.

Sire, James W. Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Stott, John. Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006.

 

 

 

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Think Tank Report – “A Dangerous Calling: The Challenge of Business as Mission in Hostile Environments”

A Dangerous Calling: The Challenge of Business as Mission in Hostile Environments

Download report here.

[I apologize that numbering these has gotten out of whack but I apparently missed one when it first came out. This is the eighth report available as of 12/20/13. – D. Doty]

From the Executive Summary

Challenge, risk and opportunity! Managing a business as mission (BAM) venture in a hostile environment presents the entrepreneur with a unique task. Not only is there the day-to-day task of ensuring the company is safeguarded against all the known risks, but there is also the constant need to look beyond the horizon to see those emerging threats that could bring down the business.

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The discussion in this report
addresses the interdependent relationships between BAM ventures and their hostile
environments.

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Good stewardship should motivate us to safeguard the assets and talents with which God has
entrusted us. However, as stewards called to mission, we choose to expose ourselves and
our BAM venture to a variety of hostile conditions and volatility that may threaten our
success. The challenge for BAM practitioners (BAMers) is to understand and cope with
multiple risks within a hostile environment that vary both in their nature and intensity level.

The goal of this report is to engage BAM entrepreneurs in a discussion on how to improve
skills for anticipating and managing these risks.

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BAm Think Tank Report #9 – Laboring in the Dark: Business in Iran

Laboring in the Dark: Business in Iran
BAM Think Tank Iran Regional Group Report

Available for download here.

From the Executive Summary:

Iran is an extremely hostile environment for any endeavor that is not instigated and controlled by the Islamic Government and its sympathizers.  This creates significant challenges for the Christian Community to create and operate businesses that promote Biblical values. In addition, due to the xenophobia of the Islamic Government and the imposition of International Sanctions, it is very difficult for the larger world wide Christian Community to provide any assistance or support.

Internally, the Christian Community is viewed as a threat to the Islamic Government and to openly identify oneself as part of that community is to invite persecution and potential death. Thus any identification of individuals or businesses as being an expression of the Christian Community is extremely dangerous and invites opposition.

In the area of economic activity, any enterprise of significant value is controlled and managed by the Islamic Government and is subject to its Islamic rules and regulations. Thus, to create and operate a significant business enterprise that is not owned and operated by a supporter of the Islamic Government and its values is nearly impossible.

However, despite the challenges of doing business in such a hostile environment, there are business examples to learn from. This report shares a summary of findings from a survey of 25 businesses in Iran. Many of these business are smaller in scale and tend to stay under the radar. The report shares survival principles and lessons learned from these businesses, as well as a summary of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for business as mission in Iran.

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In spite of the dark conditions, God is at work in Iran. It is a testament to the Grace of God and the perseverance of His people in Iran that in fact there is a powerful underground movement in the country that is having a great impact on the people and society, and yet is hidden from sight.

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Convergence: Recommended Strategic Reading

In recent years I have had the opportunity to pursue reading across a broad spectrum of materials. I have been thinking about several books that are interconnected with the opportunities for global witness of the evangelical Church. Here is a brief reflection on eight books (in no particular order), many seminal works unto themselves, that can contribute to strategic thinking for churches and mission organizations willing to take the time to think deeply about their actions before taking them. It is likely that many readers are already familiar with most or all of these but even so, perhaps it would be best to revisit them and think on how they interrelate. None of these books are new but, as we are wont to do, we may have let them slip from the forefront of our awareness and thinking. These are some of the best works in our generation and worthy of refreshed reflection.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t – Jim Collins (HarperBusiness, 2001).

Collins offers eight chapters on the key elements of what make great companies great. He has ordered them according to their importance to the endeavor toward excellence. Perhaps three keys are most relevant to effective evangelical missions work. The first is that each organization is headed by humble leadership. These folk know their own limitations and make sure they augment those with the right folk, which is the second key: getting the right people “on the bus.” These leaders also pursue the best interests of the constituencies they serve. Personal interests and agendas, fiefdoms, political maneuverings, etc., have no place in their pursuit of success. The third key is The Hedgehog Concept, that is, zeroing in on what it is your organization does specifically and not allowing ancillary activities undermine the best efforts that might be applied to organizational focus.

The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization – Thomas A. Stewart (Currency, 2001).

Missions organizations and churches seem to function more on instinct than extending a best effort in intelligence gathering and data analysis. It is almost as if “there is no king…everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). It is hard to imagine that the Lord condones the disunity and lack of transparency among many in missions work today. Many will not share intelligence because they fear it will undermine their ability to fundraise. To be most effective, missional leaders must shed such fears and practice their faith with an open hand, sharing and coordinating information and efforts. To not do so is tantamount to robbing the Kingdom of its most expeditious effectiveness. Information is often more valuable than money today in pressing toward organizational success. The Church is a singular reality and divisions undermine its witness and ability to minister to the world.

The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization – Thomas L. Friedman (Anchor Books, 2000).

I would recommend coupling this work with Friedman’s The World is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman has been given an uncanny ability to capture a snapshot of globalization in our day and its far reaching implications. The world is far smaller than it used to be and missions organizations can tap into the same re-organization of thought corporations do as both seek to enter and grow in global markets. But to do so without at least trying to frame the globalized world into missional strategies will result in transcultural failures and missed opportunities.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order – Samuel P. Huntington (Simon & Schuster, 1996)

There is one key point to this book that keeps it in front of me though I do not remember Huntington discussing it directly, and that is liminality. The whole world is in flux, especially politically and economically. Whole societies and cultures have been disrupted by the globalization of the past few decades. People everywhere are confronted by a depth of knowledge of other cultures and systems unlike any time in human history. Research has shown that people are most open to new ideas as they face life transitions, like having their worldview shaken by exposure to new ideas. These are transitional times and the best (often, most practical) ideas will be adopted to replace less effective notions of reality and living. How does the Church address the opportunities at hand as whole populations are faced with conflicting ideas, with new opportunities, or losses of opportunity? How is Christian faith framed as the best option for understanding the world we live in and making the best life for individuals and communities? How is Christian faith framed in light of the draw of Islam, Hinduism, secular humanism, etc.? People are looking for life and their world to make sense. They are searching for answers and meaning in highly agitated and disrupted times. How can the Church provide them answers and meaning?

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time – Jeffrey Sachs (Penguin Books, 2005)

The real message of Sach’s book is an unanswered question: If we have the economic power to eliminate abject global poverty, why are we not doing it? The Global Church controls immense amounts of wealth. Unfortunately many Christians in the West are committed to worldly, fear-based investment strategies to ensure their own comfort in old age. Retirement accounts appropriately parsed, at least to the world’s thinking, among precious metals, blue chips stocks, and a slight commitment to riskier high growth funds, have nothing in common with the biblical admonitions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the homeless. What we are missing is that the greatest wealth generation possible is by investing in the poor who, since all GDP is ultimately labor, possess the greatest potential for economic growth.

The Phenomenon of Man – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (HarperPerennial, 2008, first published in 1955)

Chardin was a French Jesuit and an authority in the field of paleontology. First, he was unafraid of reconciling the biblical creation account with modern scientific considerations of evolution. On this point, I agree with him wholeheartedly. It is only by a misguided insistence that the Bible is a history book rather than a sacred text that we must insist that every aspect must be taken literally. Unfortunately, that approach misunderstands the literary genres of the Bible and that stories, like Jesus parables, can contain truth without being factual. My second takeaway from Chardin’s book is in his visionary considerations of the growth of the noosphere, a “layer” of collective human intelligence surrounding the earth like the biosphere. The advent of the Internet has, in practical ways, made his vision come true. This points back to Stewart’s The Wealth of Knowledge above. The development of growing human knowledge, computing power, and global electronic communications offer opportunities to reach all the people of earth with the message of Christ in ways never before imagined. What strategies will best take advantage of these opportunities? Will they be restricted to simply “preaching” online or might they include ways of helping the world overcome its strife and struggles through the dissemination of ideas and practical applications of knowledge to alleviate suffering? Can global communications and knowledge-sharing help with economic development which, in turn, undermines oppression, modern slave trading and sex trafficking, economic isolation and deprivation? The possibilities have yet to been intentionally considered in the missions community. There are some pursuing these lines of thought in missions but who will step up to encourage and facilitate the conversation on a global scale?

Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration – Keith Sawyer (Basic Books, 2007)

Scripture is replete with the wisdom of seeking a multitude of counsel before formulating plans. Unfortunately, attempts to coordinate efforts among mission agencies, even to host gatherings of likeminded people toward collaborative work, is met with resistance. Two problems seem to exacerbate trying to overcome such resistance: the unwillingness to share information (see The Wealth of Knowledge above), and busyness. The first I have already discussed. The second is due to shortsightedness and an over emphasis on pragmatism. In the ancient days, when agrarian societies could afford some down time from productive field work, a fair amount of time was spent in learning and discussion among city elders. The worst impact of modern commercial society is the lack of opportunity to spend time together simply to discuss matters at hand. We have lost the art of personal social discourse and relegated it to blog posts and short articles on LinkedIn to share our ideas. These venues, unfortunately, do not allow for fluid discussion and the nuances of casual conversation. To be intentional about collaborative thinking, leaders must be willing to set aside portions of their schedules, trusting that the gains gleaned from such conversations will, in the long term, outweigh the fire-fighting and setbacks of business-as-usual. Together we can accomplish far more than we can individually, especially as we share ideas and parse our work according to each one’s strengths. The marketplace has demonstrated the positive impact of comparative advantage and specialization that many missions organizations and churches have yet to understand.

Non Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny – Robert Wright (Pantheon Books, 2000)

This is an interesting read as Wright studies social development throughout human history then draws a parallel between that development and biological evolution. Perhaps the most interesting observation, though Wright refuses to cross over into the discussion of metaphysics, is his conclusion that the progression toward higher complexity and specialization in both orders seem to be unidirectional and compelled by an inherent “force” or impetus. Though humankind has experienced some setbacks and dealt with some serious flaws along its developmental path, Wright’s conclusion paints a hopeful future.

Conclusion

The global Church is poised to take on some of humankinds biggest problems – poverty, human trafficking, political corruption. To do so will require a great deal of collaboration and willful high-minded thinking and strategizing. To do anything less, given the opportunity, is to short change God’s calling on every Christian life to become living witnesses to the glory of God. Can we set aside egotism and self-protecting fiefdoms? Can we embrace the tensions of admitting we each lack comprehensive knowledge and trust one another as God’s own children, all with the singular focus of welcoming and advancing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? How might we go about creating a virtual think tank that openly welcomes disparate views on our current reality and then discuss without vitriol how different interpretations of Scripture might inform next steps and long term strategies?

Historically, the Church has suffered, and inflicted suffering upon the mission of God, by its own divisiveness. Very often, it has been the Church which hindered the progress of God’s agenda as movements of God have been embraced in the Spirit but then institutionalized, making them more a reign of human organizations than of God’s leading. If you have read some or all of the books discussed here, please reflect on them and how they can contribute to deepening discussions of Christian discipleship and Kingdom advancement.

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Eden’s Bridge Blog Milestone: Top Article

Okay, so my blog is not exactly setting the world on fire but it has just passed 20,000 page views. To date, the most popular post (accounting for about 4.4% of all page views across 160 posts) has been “On Justice and Righteousness (mishpat & tsadaq)—Strong’s 4941 & 6663,”  an excerpt from my book, Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission.

I find this intriguing because given all the other content of the blog, this post is fundamentally biblical and theological study. Mostly what I hear from folk when I share on the integration of Christian faith and economics is that they want bullet points on “what do I need to do.” I am encouraged that my most popular article is focused more on knowing God and understanding his ways.

Eden’s Bridge has been, from its start, a fledgling ministry. Without the support of an academy, I have largely funded operations out of my own pocket. I am deeply grateful to a handful of people who have come alongside and offered help when I needed it most (especially in getting to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Global BAM Congress last April).

Right now, however, I could use your help. I believe there are two areas of concern that require more research in the business as mission movement. One is on the theoretical (biblical and theological) side where we need to more carefully consider how BAM and Christian Social Enterprise (CSE) tend to set themselves apart from Christians who are already doing “business as business” and whether creating such a dichotomy is helpful, or even a legitimate approach. Are we called to create “alternatives” to worldly institutions (like the marketplace) or are we called to lead and transform these institutions, from where they are, according to the  biblical, redemptive mission of God?

The second area for research is on the practical side. There are thousands of BAM / CSE initiatives popping up all over the world but communications between them is often all but nonexistent. We need academic leadership to step up and engage in the coordinated research of assigning, then collecting, collating, and analyzing case studies to help us better understand what is happening and where, and what we can learn from melding these data in a “big picture” conversation, especially to develop best practices, answer the big questions of funding, facilitation, and mobilizing marketplace Christians from developed economies, and press the community of faith that is transforming business as we know it. The world’s poor continue to die everyday, both physically and spiritually. What is the role of the marketplace in revealing God to the world that they might be fed materially and in Christ?

Would you join with me? Donations can be made at PayPal using my email address: davedoty@edensbridge.org. Eden’s Bridge, Inc. is a U.S. registered, 501(c)(3) not for profit corporation and all gifts are tax deductible. Thank you for your continued support, especially in prayer.

Shalom,

Dave Doty

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BAM Think Tank #8 – Business as Mission: A Viking Challenge

Business as Mission: A Viking Challenge
BAM Think Tank Nordic Regional Group Report

Available for download here.

From the Executive Summary:

As far back as 200 years ago there was an example of BAM from the Nordic Region. This one person impacted his country socially, politically, financially and spiritually in just a few years. Hans Nielsen Hauge was a serial entrepreneur with a calling from God. He started around 30 companies, or rather industries, in Norway within 4 years and preached the gospel and discipled people.

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The learnings we share come from our BAM work in our own region as well as work done going out from our region. We also report findings and recommendations from the work on different themes that we have done in various BAM Think Tank Issue Groups.

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We researched four profiles of businesses that have been doing business as mission within or from the Nordic Region, plus a couple of shorter organisation summaries. We present some lessons learned and observations from these experiences.

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The Case for Investing in the Poor

Last March, the online headline in The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch (03/28/2013) read, “U.S. corporate profits soar in 2012. Workers get little of it.”[i] To quote: Last year [2012], the profit of corporations rose to 12.4% of gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. That . . . marked the highest rate since 1943.” The story goes on to report that U.S. worker productivity continues to climb but worker compensation (as a percentage of GDP) has slipped to the lowest level since 1955.

Investors, including 401k holders and pension funds, may be encouraged but, as optimistic as the profitability numbers might be in the world’s view, getting a 1:8 return falls far short of the thirty, sixty, and hundredfold returns of Jesus’ proclamation about how “investing” in the Kingdom of God would turn out (Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13 and Mark 4).

Some will likely accuse me of applying “spiritual truths” to temporal practicalities but I align myself with John Wesley’s sentiment: The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.”[ii] Wesley’s statement comes as argument against the isolating practices of desert ascetics but the spirit of what he says applies: the power of the Gospel, especially as Good News to the poor, is released in how we live unto holiness in relations with all those around us, even unto all the world (Mark 16:15) and especially economically.

Of grave concern to all God-followers throughout time has been the misery of the poor. God’s concern for the poor is stated and re-stated throughout the Bible. In fact, the treatment of the poor is one of the greatest tests of true holiness. How we treat the poor, how we combat poverty to alleviate the physical suffering and mental anguish that accompany it, may be the greatest litmus test and witness of the Church in the world today.

So the obvious argument goes that since God is concerned for the plight of the poor (which tends to also encapsulate the widow, the orphan, the lame, the blind, the migrant sojourner, etc.), we too should be concerned for the poor. We take it upon ourselves to do what charitable giving that we can but spend more of our time in prayer for the poor than actually doing them good. We tend to wring our hands and shake our heads in resignation that “the poor shall always be with us” (Matthew 16:11).

It is a challenging contrast to juxtapose Jesus’ words on the ever-present poor to God’s assertion in Deuteronomy 15:4 – However, there shall be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess.” It appears that Jesus’ words are a reflection of resignation, or perhaps even an indictment of Israel’s failure to follow God, because the promise of Deuteronomy 15:4 rests entirely on the condition given in the very next verse – “if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.”

We accept the theological truth: God loves all and has special concern for the poor. We nod our assent to the biblical truth: God expects his people to help the poor. But do we understand the temporal truth: the Kingdom was inaugurated on earth in the earthly ministry of Christ and Kingdom advancement is now the responsibility of the Church, convicted, informed, and empowered by the endowment of the Holy Spirit? It is our call to action.

The passage from Deuteronomy above comes as God is explaining his rule over Israel and how they will fare as they adhere to his commands and guidance in the land of promise. The promised land was a foreshadowing of the Kingdom now (actively) coming. Sound eschatology (the study of the last things) leads us to believe that God is working in, through, and around us to bring about his universal rule on earth as it is in heaven according to Jesus’ prayer (Matthew 6:10). History bears out the testimony of the civilizing influence of the Judeo-Christian heritage. Modern scientism, public healthcare, liberal (in the classic sense) governance and economic policy, reductions of war, public education, and much, much more owe a great deal of their advancement to the influence of Christ in the world over the past two thousand years.

While we may not see the world being changed, it is more due to our shortsightedness than it is to it being not true. God is at work, reaching out to all nations, changing hearts by the invitation of the Gospel to follow Jesus, influencing the spheres of individual influence toward greater peace and prosperity for all, toward the ultimate shalom of the Kingdom. The world is being reformed, being consumed in almost indiscernible increments, by the holy fire of God’s presence. The day is coming, upon Christ’s return, that that Kingdom shall culminate under his rule, but the work toward that culmination is being carried forward in our own day.

There has been a movement in recent history concerned with the reclamation and reformation of the seven mountains of human culture – family, religion (or, ideology), government, education, arts and entertainment, media, and business. The point of our focus here is on the last: God’s movement in the marketplace.

In previous writings, I have identified twelve dominant models of marketplace ministries, not the least of which is the business-as-mission (BAM) movement. Under the BAM umbrella is to be found hundreds, if not now tens of thousands, of initiatives undertaken by mission agencies, development corporations, and churches seeking to stimulate small business and job creation in impoverished urban and rural communities domestically and abroad. These efforts include those aimed at helping the poorest classes through the creation of micro-lending institutions and opportunities. Often the investment necessary to stabilize the daily sustenance of poor proprietors and their households is almost laughably small by what most of us would consider startup costs of a new business.

But, as mentioned above, while we have the theological and biblical truths to agree with, there is an argument to be made that might even sway the world to the practicalities of following God’s lead leading the Church: the thirty, sixty, and hundredfold return.

The world (and even some Christian financial counselors) see a consistent financial return of twelve percent as good enough. But that involves a fear-based strategy of creating our own safety nets. Jesus warns rather strongly that our worldly safety nets are not safe at all. The first warning comes in his admonition against laying up treasures in earthly things, preferring that we invest ourselves and our riches toward Kingdom building (Matthew 6:19-21). The other is when he teaches about the rich man planning to build bigger barns to contain his wealth while not realizing that his soul will be demanded of him by God that very night (Luke 12:16-20).

Our financial “safety,” wrapped up in so many material things, even leads some of us to live behind heavy locks on our doors, in gated communities, and under the watchful eye of home security systems. But our material wealth, extending to our stock portfolios, will not protect us when our Lord calls us home. How we have invested ourselves and our wealth will be of far greater importance than we might suspect when the time comes to review our lives before the judgment seat of God.

The lever is considered one of the six simplest machines in human experience. The language of leverage, the means by which we increase power by the use of an intervening tool, is common in the marketplace today. The lever increases the potential of whatever power is applied to it.

In business, capital is the lever to unleashing the productive potential of the labor (physical strength and endurance) and ideas (mental acuity) of humankind. The leverage of capital invested in conventional strategies in developed economies is not yet completely tapped but the reduction from a hundredfold return (Kingdom principle) to an 1:8 ratio (12.5% market reality) should make Christians rethink how we are living financially in God’s Kingdom now.

The key to Kingdom investing is potential. Global productivity hinges on the output of highly developed economies – the United States, Europe, and Japan, as mainstays in productivity and size. Removing those three from the global picture, which represents about one eighth of the global population, reduces global per capita output to about one eighth of the standard in those developed economies. That is, workers outside those three produce at one eighth the level of U.S. workers.

If American, European, and Japanese workers can produce at the purchase parity power (PPP) standard of more than $50,000 annually, the other seven eights of the world’s population represents a quadrupling increase of global GDP if raised to the same productivity level. The last twenty years, through the far reaching consequences of globalizing business, have seen the greatest reduction of global poverty in human history. Imagine if global GDP, now about $82 trillion, grew to more than $300 trillion. That’s potential.

Put another way, think of capital as the heat under a boiler. Water tends to be inert unless acted upon by an outside force – heat, gravity, pressure, etc. If capital is invested in the poor, the upside of output is far greater than trading stocks on the future profitability of blue chip securities and government bonds. All GDP, ultimately, is labor. Unleashing the potential of idle labor requires capital. But it is more than dollars and cents, it is intellectual capital as well. By applying our financial resources as well as our intelligence, gleaned from decades of best-practices development, the plight of the poor may be ameliorated through growth economics at increasing speed.

What will it take for the Church to act? First comes self-denial. Western Christians are far too comfortable with the amenities of their comfortable lives. Many have surpassed necessity and now live lives of self-indulgence – luxury automobiles, fine dining, expensive entertainments, homes with the gadgets and expensive finishes, multiple home ownership, golf club memberships, luxuriant vacations, and the list goes on and on. Self-denial is repentance, turning away from ensuring one’s own comfort and ease and turning to consideration of the plight of the poor.

Second, the Church needs vision. According to Proverbs 29:18: Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained (or perish materially and / or spiritually), But happy is he who keeps the law.” The Law was the condition of Israel’s prosperity, of its shalom, a word connoting communal well-being. The Law is the promise of the absence of poverty in the Deuteronomy passage cited above. Jesus fulfills the Law by truly changing the hearts of those seeking to be obedient to God, those willing, like Jesus, to sacrifice for the sake of those in any and every kind of need – spiritual, mental, physical, and financial.

Investment in the poor is Gospel testimony, that is, by our good works, we reveal the glory of God – our good works are the shining light of our witness (Matthew 5:16). Charity has its place when needs can be met no other way. But our allegiance to and fellowship with the poor need to go beyond bread for a day to means for a lifetime. The old adage about teaching a man to fish has been updated. Knowing how to fish is insufficient if there is no access to a pond or the fisherman has no gear.

The success of microlending agencies has been hit and miss thus far but those agencies are maturing. The strategies they employ can be adapted to larger scale enterprises working with thousands, or even millions, of would-be entrepreneurs throughout the world who lack both intellectual and financial capital. The rich do not have a corner on the cumulative cleverness of humankind to make a better way of life for themselves and their families. But, as recent trends in wealth accumulation make clear, the rich are increasingly controlling (even hindering) the potential of global workers by acting as an economic oligarchy, making product and service availability decisions for the masses. Mega-corporations actual hinder and restrict human choice by dominating market strategies rather than encouraging the flourishing of innovation at the lowest levels where creative destruction sorts the bad from the good and the good from the better and best.

The Church has a great opportunity to demonstrate its presence and power in the world by living into the wisdom of God’s nature, character, and will. The abundance of the Garden of Eden, the original plan for human prosperity, is overshadowed by the staggering wealth of the New Jerusalem (a city built of precious jewels and gold). God created humankind to flourish, to prosper spiritually and materially. But those two, true spiritual and material prosperity, only occur in league and for only one purpose: glorifying witness to the goodness of God. If we Christians can get our economics right, coming alongside the poor and releasing their potential, investing ourselves and every form of capital in them, living with them as a true covenant community, the world will take notice of God’s people as a wise and understanding people with God in our midst (Deuteronomy 4:6), and his kindness will draw them unto repentance (Romans 2:4).

But if we deny God’s leading in ministering to the poor, specifically as a means of confessing witness that we believe the promises and obey the commands of God, denying Truth [the Sprit of Christ manifest] before men, we shall find ourselves denied before his throne (Matthew 10:33).

Love acts and it always acts according to love. There is no love at all without action (James 2:14-16), only a false religion devoid of meaning and power (2 Timothy 3:5).

[ii] John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley Volume XIV p321 preface to poetical works; Hendrickson Publishers.

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BAM Think Tank #5 – Business as Mission Franchising

“Business as Mission Franchising: Replicating Proven Businesses”

Available for download here.

From the Executive Summary: 

Many business as mission (BAM) practitioners believe that an increase in BAM franchising would more quickly increase the number of BAM businesses worldwide and thus exposure to God’s love and the gospel. Interest has been expressed in the concept of ‘BAM in a Box’, that is franchise and business replication opportunities that would make starting a new BAM business faster, easier, and with a greater chance of success.

Replicating successful BAM businesses should make a significant contribution to the BAM movement, but an investment of time, resources and expertise is required. The BAM in a Box Issue Group has created practical business replication “how-to guidelines” for BAM Entrepreneurs (BAMpreneurs) to support this need.

BAM franchising does have many advantages for BAMpreneurs. Franchise businesses are a lower risk for business owners and investors. Franchising is built on a proven business concept and provides many resources to support the business startup. Franchises generally come with a natural mentoring network and supportive training and systems.

However, few proven BAM franchising models exist and there is little franchising expertise in the business as mission community. A BAMpreneur cannot assume he or she can create a BAM franchise by themself without appropriate training and resources. Yet a fragmented BAM community makes growing networks for BAM franchising more difficult. Franchising looks easier than it is and new resources and networks will be needed to successfully foster significant BAM franchise growth.

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“Ripple Up” Economics, or How LinkedIn (and Facebook) Can Easily Change the World

As of June, 2013, LinkedIn membership is said to have topped 225 million. The vast majority of those are employed people in developed economies where a cup of coffee can easily cost $2.00 or more. Let’s think about how the sheer numbers of that worldwide association could change the world.

The best way to lift the global economy is to create new jobs. The best way to create new jobs is to fund the startup of new small businesses. In numerous countries, a new business can be launched for $2,000 (US) or less. But let us use that benchmark.

If an investment fund were to be created to help all LinkedIn members invest in global small business development, at $1.00 per day per member, at the end of one year the sum in hand would be $82,125,000,000.00. At $2000 each to launch a new enterprise in a developing economy, even allowing for ten percent costs to manage the fund (because money handlers like PayPal take their cut first if the money is contributed online, and other administrative functions – like finding and evaluating the use of funds – do not happen in a vacuum), the net result would be the launch of 36,956,250 small businesses. . . in one year!

If each one of those business only produced one new job:

The CIA World Factbook (www.cia.gov ) states that the global workforce stood at 3,264,000,000 (2011) and unemployment at 9.2% (2012). That means 300,288,000 are unemployed. If each one of the new businesses launched created just one new job, it would reduce the global unemployment rate to 8.1% (263,331,750 workers) IN ONE YEAR!

Over five years, that unemployment rate could be reduced to 3.5% (115,506,750 workers), cut by more than 60% . . . all for $1.00 per day from 225,000,000 million of the most affluent people on earth . . . LinkedIn members.[i]

The concept is what I call “Ripple Up” economics. As people in impoverished economies rise out of abject poverty, their household incomes are stabilized, and new wealth is created by the increased productivity among the poor, they buy products and services to make their lives more convenient. The funds invested in those economies would circulate within them, stimulating further local growth. Those same funds would then be exported to buy locally unavailable products and the ripple effect would start to reach into more developed economies, creating more demand for products from Japan, the United States, Australia, Europe, and so on, and reducing unemployment in those countries as well.

All gross domestic product (GDP), the core measure of economic energy in the world, ultimately is labor. Unemployed workers are rife with latent potential. Helping them become productive, even in a miniscule way, releases the potential of their effort. That potential, once released, builds upon itself to increase the size of the local and global economic pie to the benefit of all. All for $1.00 per day.

Is that an “investment” business people should be interested in as the rising tide will lift all boats? These are your future customers we can lift from poverty!

Is the cost to any of us so high as to keep us from thinking this is a good return-on-investment (ROI) on our smallish donation to such a cause?

This is a simple idea but one that is actually doable in the face of innumerable global hindrances, especially political, to enhancing the common good. Why would we not do this? This is not an issue of any particular faith or political ideology. This is an issue of human flourishing that affects us all, and especially our children and grandchildren. Such a program would create a rising tide of tax revenues to shore up indebted governments, allow for greater global commitments to education and healthcare, and provide a peace-inducing philosophy (trade partners have been proven less likely to fight one another if it is likely to disrupt their economic health) of human unity.

Production and exchange function at the  very foundations of human community and are the source of all prosperity. Business pays for everything in this world, that is, the value created by the division but cooperation and collaboration of our labors and exchanges provides a better quality of life for all who participate.

Please share this essay…let’s get the conversation going. I know there are plenty of professionals on LinkedIn we can gather together to facilitate the creation of a charitable investment fund that can change the world . . . all for $1.00 per day.

Just think if we accomplished the same thing with Facebook . . . at more than 1 billion users! We could gut global unemployment in less than one year! This is an opportunity never before seen in human history, to work together as one people, globally connected. “What hath God wrought?”[ii]


[i] http://booleanblackbelt.com/2011/09/linkedin-user-demographics-and-visitor-statistics-2011/ – “75% of LinkedIn users are college educated, with 27% at the graduate school level. Unsurprisingly, 39% of LinkedIn users make over $100K annually.”

[ii] Samuel Morse (citing Numbers 23:23) – first message sent on May 24, 1844 to officially open the Baltimore – Washington telegraph line.

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BAM Think Tank #4 – A Business Takeover (Combating Sex Trafficking)

A Business Takeover:
Combating the Business of the Sex Trade with Business as Mission

The fourth report released by the Global Business-as-Mission Think Tank is available here.

“Between 12 and 27 million people globally are currently caught in human trafficking and exploited for their labor or sexual services. To begin combating the monstrosities represented by these numbers, we must recognize that trafficking is an industry and the sex trade is a business. These are economically driven enterprises. We must intentionally and systematically acknowledge the important role of business as a strategy to fight the trade on both a macro and micro level.”

– from the Introduction.

 

 

 

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