|“Christian ‘Realism’ or
a New Reality in Christ”
A Review of
Reviewed by Ragan Sutterfield.
When I was in college we had to go to chapel, a requirement I couldn’t hold to regularly enough to keep me off the college’s “chapel probation” list—an honor roll of philosophy majors, artists, and a good smattering English majors. One of the chapel speakers who came through was a business man who had graduated from the college and made it big with Goldman Sachs, working in a very senior management position. He was invited by the college to speak to the students about being a Christian in business and also to spend time with the school’s business and economics majors. He was also a rather large donor to the college.
One of my friends, an economics major, attended one of this man’s lectures with the Business and Economics department. It turned out that the particular form of investments this Christian business man headed up for Goldman Sachs involved usury, and so my friend asked him how he squared the biblical prohibition on usury with his business practices. The man responded that in his personal life he holds to the prohibition. “So you leave your bible at home when you go to work?” my friend retorted.
It is indeed hard to serve both God and mammon and most Christians unfortunately accomplish the task through divided lives. It can cause no shortage of struggle for those who refuse to live with this divide and there are few comfortable places for an untroubled conscience. My own experience bears this out. Having worked for public and private schools, a business consulting firm that deals with major corporations, a large international development non-profit, and as a small business owner I can say that I have found no work that has been without the struggle to keep my work in balance with my vocation as a Christian. The breadth and power of advanced capitalism is such that it powerfully influences and encompasses so much—even something so seemingly good as helping hungry people find a sustainable means of feeding themselves.
And yet, there is certainly a need for business and even the most hardhearted of anti-capitalists and anti-consumerist will admit that there are companies who have done wonderful things for them, who have served their needs, created meaningful spaces and things that they would rather not do without. I love Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Spokes Bike Shop, Wordsworth Books, The Pantry Restaurant, Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Patagonia, New Balance, Cervelo, Shimano, Intervarsity Press, Wipf and Stock, Waterman—the list could go on, but these are companies that easily come to mind as businesses I would rather not do without, even if there are aspects of some of these businesses I would criticize. They create products and services that I love, not all that I need certainly, but things that I think I can easily embrace as enriching my life without regret or trouble.
Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae, both professors of business ethics at Christian colleges, have written a book that suggests that good business, business that aims to fulfill and serve human flourishing can actually be a Christian vocation—that Christians can see Business as a Mission (BAM as they nicely jargon it). Their book, Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Market Place is among the most comprehensive treatments of the possibilities and threats to Christians in business on the market. And while it is fairly academic with lots of great footnotes, it also offers many examples of real world applications of practical ethics by Christians wrestling with their work in business.
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