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In this paper, Gary L. Karns extends the earlier work of others regarding the biblical purpose of business with a reflective analysis on exchange and marketing as key processes related to the institution of business. Relationships/interdependence, holiness, justice, love stewardship, creativity, hope, and other themes are drawn from the biblical narrative to form a Christian worldview lens that is employed for reflecting upon exchange and marketing as a paradigm. Alignments and misalignments between the purpose, worldview, and effects of exchange and marketing with a Christian worldview are discerned and implications for business practitioners, consumers and academics are identified. While the contemporary exchange and marketing paradigm is rife with misalignments from a Christian worldview, there are some compelling alignments which suggest that the processes of exchange and marketing have theological legitimacy. Commitment to a genuine concern for others is necessary to realign exchange and marketing practices. Mr. Karns is Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in the School of Business & Economics at Seattle Pacific University.


A Christian perspective on the purpose of business has been proposed by Denise Daniels and her colleagues1 and Jeff Van Duzer and his colleagues.2 In contrast to the contemporary paradigm of increasing shareholder wealth as the purpose of business, they propose that the theologically grounded purpose of business is to serve God through serving customers by providing the legitimate goods and services needed for life; through serving employees by providing vocationally rich opportunities for work; and through serving the broader community by contributing to the common good. In their view, profits are necessary means to the end of serving the flourishing of humankind, but not the ends of business activity asset forth in the shareholder wealth paradigm.

In response to their call for extensions of their argument into all aspects of business, including the sub-disciplines of management, finance and marketing, for example, this paper relates a theological reflection on exchange and marketing.It extends their work in two key ways. First, it looks at exchange and marketing as core processes involved in business rather than at business as an institution. Secondly, while similarly grounded in a narrative approach, it offers a more finely-grained, thematically-oriented Christian worldview lens which may also be useful for further reflections on marketing, and perhaps on other disciplines as well.

In particular, the paper seeks to identify alignments and misalignments of the contemporary paradigm of exchange and marketing with a Christian worldview. It is hoped that this will assist Christian business practitioners, academicians, students, and the church-at-large to understand more fully the implications of a Christian worldview for the practice of business. Moreover, it is hoped that new insights will be provided into ways to make the practice of marketing more virtuous, fostering the “positive” ethic of service, among Christians and non-Christians alike. Positive, in this instance, means that exchange and marketing are used as legitimate tools for fostering human flourishing (as opposed to “negative” ethics which emphasize boundaries on behavior, or “thou shall not” type proscriptions). [o limit its scope, the paper does not delve into the related important topics of business and marketing ethics. Several very fine works provide detailed treatment of business and marketing ethics, including Helen Alford and Michael Naughton;3 Alexander Hill;4 Gene Laczniak and Patrick Murphy;5 Scott Rae and Kenman Wong6 and Max Stackhouse, et al77 Nor does the paper examine the compatibility of capitalism and Christianity.8 Readers interested in that subject should see the works of Craig Gay,9 Michael Novak10 and John Tiemstra,11 for example. Further, this reflection’s scope is limited to paradigmatic concerns about exchange and marketing and does not address specific elements of the marketing discipline (such as persuasion, pricing, branding and so on). Such explorations may be better as follow-on studies that can be built on the footing established in this paper.

To set the foundation for the reflective analysis undertaken here, the paper opens with some background about the Christian worldview lens it employs and a brief overview of the purpose, worldview and effects associated with the contemporary practice of exchange and marketing. This is followed by the reflective analysis wherein the alignments and misalignments are identified. The paper concludes with a discussion of some implications of the reflection for enacting the vocation o fmarketing more faithfully.


Theological Lens

Articulating elements of a Christian worldview is a daunting challenge, especially in a brief paper such as this, given that countless theologians have been about such an effort for generations via confessional (in the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and others), narrative, and moral (in virtues or commands) approaches. These efforts have yielded diverse points of view, often with very subtle nuances. Yet another layer of challenging complexity is added by using the lens formed by such elements to analyze a particular issue.

This paper employs the narrative approach in developing its thematically-framed Christian worldview lens. In doing so, it connects with the doctrinal and moral commitments inherent in the narrative but does not necessarily identify itself in doctrinal or moral terms. It draws upon the broad sweep of Scripture’s narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and kingdom-consummation as was done by Jeff Van Duzer and his colleagues.12 The paper is also mindful of the methodological suggestions by Richard Chewning and by Monty Lynn and David Wallace13 for applying scriptural teachings to business subjects.

Van Duzer and his colleague’s consideration of the creation narrative is suggestive of several themes for the lens developed here. These include God’s sovereignty (Gen 1:1; Deut 5:7) and God’s provision (Gen 9:3; Ex 16:1-30; Deut 8:6-18; Is 55:1-3; Mt 6:30; I Tim 6:17) at the outset. Their discussion of humanity’s place increation raises the themes of personhood (Gen 1:26-27); creativity (Gen 1:1); participation with God as stewards (Gen 1:28; 2:5, 15) and freedom (Gen 2:16; Ex 12:31-42; Psa 119:45; Rom 8:21; I Cor 10:23-31; Gal 5:1).14 They also raised the theme of relationships and interdependency in community (Gen 1:26-27; Gen 2:18-20; Acts2:42-47; I Cor 12:12-31). They used the concept of shalom,15 also noted below in regard to the kingdom narrative, to describe the perfect harmony that existed in the Garden.

In relating the fall narrative to the institution and practice of business, VanDuzer and his colleagues revisited the theme of freedom in particular. They suggest that humanity asserted its self-determination in a wrongly placed attempt to assume equality with God (Gen 3:5), violating the theme of God’s sovereignty. This produced a cascade of related violations of the stewardship and relationship themes. The theme of justice (Gen 18:19; Lev 19:36; Ps 82:3; Pr 11:1; Is 10:1-2; Am4:1-13, 5:24; Phil 4:8; Rev 15:3) is implicit in their discussion of a need for limits on business and is a basis for business ethics.16

In their discussion of the redemption narrative, which incorporates kingdom-consummation, it is evident that redemption is a theme unto itself, anchored in the Incarnation of Christ. They suggest that redemption represents God’s work to restore shalom or the kingdom of God (Ex 19:5-6; Mic 4:1-4; Mk 1:15; II Pet 3:13; Rev11:15), implying the kingdom theme. Their discussion of restoration included the notion of moving business into alignment with God’s values which further implies the underlying theme of holiness (Ex 15:11; Am 4:2; Eph 4:17-29; I Pet 1:13-16).17

Though not argued by Van Duzer and his colleagues directly, their discussion of the process of restoration is suggestive of the underlying themes of God’s grace and love and of hope that such restoration can and will come to be (Ex 6:6; 12;15:13; 24; Isa 9:1-6, 41:14; Mt 7:12; 22:37-40; Jn 3:16; Rom 5:12-21; II Cor 5:11-21; Eph1:7; Phil 2:4; I Jn 4:8). Their discussion of the nature of the restoration process omits the many ways God acted to restore a relationship with people prior to the Incarnation. All these acts reflect the underlying covenant theme inherent in the nature of God’s love (Gen 6:18; 9:1-18; 15:1-21; 17; I Sam 18:3; Jer 31:31-34). The giving of the Holy Spirit was noted by them as an aspect of the restoration process, implying the theme of spirituality (Jn 3:5-8; Rom 8:6; Gal 5:16-26).

Though by no means exhaustive, these themes, listed in Table 1 at the end of this essay, form a fairly representative and serviceable description of a Christian worldview. While this holistic thematic lens has not been employed previously, some of its identified themes have been applied to economic,18 environmental,19 work,20 business ethics,21 and consumerism22 issues which are related in many ways to exchange and marketing, although only as individual or very small sets of themes. Given this prior usage and the connections of the themes to Van Duzerand his colleagues’ understanding of the purpose of business, they seem reasonable to serve as the lens used in this reflection on the exchange and marketing paradigm. They keep to the narrative approach, but provide a finer granularity for the analysis. Several of them, such as creativity, justice, grace, hope and love for example, may even be comprehensible to those outside the Christian faith, which is an important issue when attempting to speak into secular business culture.23

Hopefully, despite its brevity, this overview has been sufficiently robust in grounding the lens through which the contemporary paradigm of exchange and marketing will be viewed. A more thorough enumeration of the scriptural and theological roots of these themes is beyond the scope of this paper. It is acknowledged that several presumptions have been placed on the reader to be familiar with Christian faith, with processes involved in reflective thinking24 and with methods of theologizing about a discipline.25 The paper also acknowledges fully that it does not tap the whole of the extant rich depth of theological work that describes a Christian worldview and that specific aspects of a Christian worldview (such as wealth, Sabbath, Incarnation of Christ, and so on) were not included beyond their inherent connections with the various themes. Moreover, it is acknowledged further that the paper’s approach is nuanced by the analyst’s own values perspectives and Wesleyan heritage.

Exchange & Marketing

The purpose of exchange is to provide a rationalized system for trading goods and services among individuals and groups acting as buyers and sellers. Exchange relationships that satisfy the goals of the exchanging parties are the desired outcome. These goals include sales, profits, brand equity/loyalty for sellers and met needs for buyers, for example. Exchange is necessary to solve human survival problems since these problems cannot be met solely by self-production. The particular exchange system and the activities employed among buyers and sellers depend on the exchange objectives and the values structures of the society that give context to the exchange process.26

Marketing plays a central role in the workings of exchange as its facilitating “hand-maiden.” Both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the economy dependon the presence of marketing which brings suppliers and consumers together and works to build ongoing exchange relationships. Advertising, selling and other promotional activities are equated most commonly with marketing. Yet, many more activities are also involved, including: conducting marketing research; selecting markets to serve; designing products; differentiating from competitors; pricing and developing distribution networks. Marketing is necessary in subsistence-oriented and in more developed economies.27 Thus, for purposes of this reflective analysis, contemporary exchange and marketing processes are treated as essentially one paradigm.

The worldview of the contemporary exchange and marketing paradigm holds economic interactions as the primary “relationships” in society through which people seek their self-interested personal happiness. These relationships are largely seen purely as instrumentalities for developing long-run patterns of exchange that serve economic interests by sellers. Collectively, the multitude of varying self-interests involved are seen as providing some moderating influence on any excesses that may arise in the exchange process in that sellers cannot afford to drive customers away and that customers cannot afford for sellers to disappear.

Materialism and consumption are the dominant values underlying the paradigm. Consumption is taken as the means to personal happiness, becoming for many the goal of life in itself.28 Indeed, marketing places highest value on consumption, expressed as satisfying customers’ needs/wants. While invoking intangible and ineffable emotional and even “spiritual” connections with goods and services, the paradigm’s worldview is grounded firmly in materialistic and experiential terms. Creativity is another highly valued core element associated with marketing and the innovation of new products. Further, pragmatism is the paradigm’s guiding philosophical perspective (for instance, “whatever works,” whatever strategies and tactics are perceived to be most effective and efficient in achieving a marketer’s goals will be employed).

When put most nobly by its defenders, the effects of exchange and marketing,at a societal level of analysis, include an improved quality of life, innovation, job creation and economic development. The paradigm, especially in market economies, has provided a plethora of goods and services that allow consumers to exercise freedom of choice and the opportunity to express individualized needs/wants.29

Critics counter that exchange and marketing contribute strongly to the presence of many societal ills. While an increase in the standard of living has occurred, the gap between rich and poor has widened.30 Moreover, there is not agreement on whether an increased standard of living translates fully into an improved quality of life. Enabling individualized choice has led to what some label as wasteful product proliferation and to the offering of undesirable products (such as cigarettes,street drugs, and so on). Many see marketing practiced as a set of gimmicks employed to line sellers’ pockets at buyers’ expense. Certainly history and contemporary life are replete with examples of underserved populations (such as the poor,minorities, the disabled or those in sparsely populated areas); exploited people groups (advertising to children, frauds on the elderly); unsafe/harmful products; deceptive/high pressure promotional activities; exorbitant/deceptive prices; un-responsiveness to consumers; stifled innovation and unfair competition; unbridled materialism; unrecognized social externalities (such as the health effects of obesity) and moral and cultural pollution.31 Of course, marketers are quick to defend themselves on the grounds that ultimately, bad seller behavior will be unproductive in acquiring and retaining customers and will be driven out as a result. Further, they argue that marketing reflects the values and mores of society as much as, or more than, it drives those values.32 For example, if sex did not sell, then marketers would not use it.

Reflective Analysis

The reflective analysis is presented in Table 1. In Wesleyan fashion,33 the focus of the analysis is on the purpose, worldview and outcomes/effects of the contemporary exchange and marketing paradigm which are represented by the columns in the table. The rows are the themes in the Christian worldview lens. The cells in the table contain the analytical perspectives on the alignment/misalignment of the exchange and marketing paradigm’s aspects with the Christian worldview themes. Rather than delving into every cell in the table, the discussion which follows focuses on the highlights and connections evident within the major column headings. (Given the interconnected and overlapping nature of many of the constructson both sides of the analysis, some duplication of analytical insights is unavoidable, yet an effort has been made to keep such duplication to a minimum.)

The Paradigm’s Purpose

There is an underlying alignment of the purpose served by exchange and marketing with a Christian worldview. The relationship/community/interdependence theme clearly incorporates the need for exchange and marketing processes that humankind has been employing to meet the needs of life across millennia and through various economic systems. The need for exchange is inherent in the interdependent, communal nature of humankind which is itself a reflection of God’s communal nature. The themes of provision and stewardship/participation also suggest a basic alignment of the paradigm’s purpose. Exchange and marketing are the avenues for participating creatively with God in work that provides for eachother’s needs, whether recognized as such by those engaged in it or not. It is a deep expression of the sharing of our unique giftedness.34 This also aligns with the personhood theme in that the paradigm hangs on people’s expressions of their particular identities and preferences. It seems that the exchange and marketing processes would be at play even if the fall had not occurred.

There is some alignment with the covenant, justice, kingdom/shalom and freedom themes. The exchange and marketing paradigm relies upon the presence of trust as a precursor to the willingness of parties to trade. Similarly, sufficient perceptions of fairness and freedom are also necessary for trading to occur. Also, a peaceful state of affairs creates an environment in which trade can flourish. Interdependent trading partners may be less likely to engage in armed conflict. Further, there is even some alignment with the theme of hope in the recognition within exchange and marketing that people seek deeper meaning, transcendence, and restoration. The processes of exchange and marketing operate on the fundamental premise that trading will lead to a better life circumstance, which is an expression of hope.

As practiced by fallen humanity, however, the purpose of exchange has been misaligned with God’s intents in myriad ways. From a theological perspective, exchange should be about a relationally oriented and just sharing of our differential giftedness to serve each other and the common good motivated by love rather than about exploitatively accumulating resources (such as wealth) for oneself in a presumed nearly zero-sum game. At its core, a Christian worldview gives preference to interpersonal relationships, setting exchange as a means to serve one another and not as a means to exploit or as an end in itself. Moreover, a Christian worldview certainly prefers distributive justice and self-sacrificial love over greed (for example, excessive wealth accumulation as either income for the seller or as possessions for the consumer). Economic justice is a main topic in Jesus’ teaching with the aim of setting exchange as secondary to personal interaction and as a tangible means of enacting care for others’ needs. This is an expression of the primacy of love as the motivator of behavior within relationships, and to covenant and community over contract and free agency. Genuine relationships between persons, according to a Christian worldview, model the relationships between God and persons. Love and community provide guidance for the conduct of these relationships, which should be more covenantal than contractual.

Another misalignment is that exchange and marketing and the resources/goods that are exchanged have become substitutes for God’s provision in the minds of most people. Also, the institutions of exchange, businesses for example, have encroached on the intended roles of other institutions established by God, including family, church and government, presuming an exaggerated sense of importance and priority and an ability to address people’s deepest needs commercially.

In sum, it appears that in spite of some basic alignment, the purpose of exchange and marketing is relatively upside-down compared to a Christian worldview. Modern society has even come to conceptualize relationships in terms of an economic metaphor35 where people and relationships are instrumental to exchange, not vice versa as intended. Exchange is used to serve personal gain at the expense of others and the common good rather than to facilitate the sharing of humankind’s differential giftedness in recognition and celebration of our interdependency.

The Paradigm’s Worldview

The worldviews of exchange and marketing, again, align in part with several of the Christian worldview themes. God’s provision is celebrated in the paradigm’s focus on the enjoyment of creation. Increasing productivity by not wasting resources is an aspect of stewardship. The emergent “green” movement is providing a new set of market opportunities that may lead to better care for creation.

Aligning with the relationship and love themes, the paradigm recognizes the importance of relationships, the desire of people to engage with each other in forms of community and that acceptance and belonging matter greatly to people. User and brand affinity groups, Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners groups for example, have become significant ways for people to connect with each other. To a degree, there is also some alignment with the covenant theme in the paradigm’s desire for long-term buyer-seller relationships.

The themes of personhood and freedom are reflected in the notion of consumer sovereignty and the high value that exchange and marketing places on choice. The paradigm attempts to be very responsive to individual identity and enables creativity in personal expression. Aligning with the spirituality theme, exchange and marketing recognize further that people want connection with the transcendent and with deeper meaning in their lives.

There is even some alignment with the holiness and justice themes. The exchange and marketing paradigm depends on establishing the necessary level of trust for the system to function. Honesty and integrity are recognized as critical foundations for exchange relationships. The paradigm recognizes the role of perceived fairness in exchange activities, it provides various forms of redress and it prefers to avert social uprisings which hinder exchange.

However, there is a tremendous amount of misalignment. Chief among the aspects wherein the values of the contemporary exchange and marketing paradigm do not align with a Christian worldview is its emphasis on the self. This reaches the point of being an idolatry of self in denial of God’s sovereignty. This focus on self misaligns further with the provision, stewardship, relationship and covenant themes. It ignores responsibilities for the stewardship of creation, for membership in community and, particularly, for keeping commitments to others.36 Relationships are treated as merely instrumental to personal satisfaction, interdependencies go unrecognized and commitments are seen as matters of convenience. Expression of self-interest and preference is out of proportion with concern for the interests of others and community, also misaligning with the personhood, freedom and justice themes. The paradigm encourages relativized norms. Moreover, freedom is taken as license to pursue even the most base of self-interests. Thus, the paradigm is out of alignment with the holiness theme as well.

The emphasis on materialistic consumption is the other major misalignment of the contemporary exchange and marketing paradigm’s worldview with a Christian worldview. Consumption is seen as the goal of life. This is yet another form of idolatry which substitutes objects for God in misalignment with the sovereignty theme. Brands take on such importance in people’s lives so as to be practically worshipped. Ritualizing consumption and commercializing the sacred and the transcendent show an attempt to meet the deepest needs of persons through transient objects or experiences, ultimately secularizing these important aspects of a Christian worldview. The paradigm construes love, acceptance, identity, beauty and joy as commodities that can be obtained through economic exchange, misaligning with the relationship, love, holiness and kingdom themes.

The Paradigm’s Effects

As a result of the contemporary exchange and marketing paradigm, many persons enjoy a higher standard of living, which translates, at least in part, into a higher quality of life. There is a vast array of choice available for most consumers and there are many examples of ethical, socially responsible businesses, genuine service to others and helpful innovations.

Sustainability and eco-friendliness have become movements in the exchange and marketing paradigm which align with the provision and stewardship themes. The paradigm has produced results in alignment with the relationship theme in that people have found a sense of belonging and place. Starbucks has become a “third place” where people connect, albeit over a cup of coffee, for example. In addition to the relationship theme, aspects of the covenant and love themes are found in customer retention efforts that “go the extra mile” to serve customers. Respect for individuality in personhood can be found in the differentiation and customization of products. Certainly creativity has been demonstrated in these innovations and in the countless innovations and persuasive efforts the paradigm has produced. The paradigm has enabled freedom from various entrapments and addictions through a variety of products and services, providing aspects of redemption and hope as well. Shalom has been enhanced where the paradigm has built cooperation among people and the rule of law. The paradigm’s use by those in pursuit of various good causes demonstrates some alignment with the kingdom theme as well. In these causes, people are finding meaning for their lives which aligns with the spirituality theme.

As with the paradigm’s worldview, its effects also evidence significant misalignments with a Christian worldview. Denial of the sovereignty of God is found in a multitude of idolatries of self and of materialistic consumption. Many brands are idolized widely. In its pursuits, the paradigm has misaligned with the stewardship and provision themes where it has plundered and polluted creation. There is excessive duplication of products, the externalities associated with its using resources are not recognized, and corners have been cut in the name of productivity yielding despoiled creation.

The paradigm’s effects misalign with the relationship theme in creating highly transient pseudo-communities. Relationship marketing is often a ploy grounded in the expected lifetime value of a customer (defined as the discounted present value of future purchases). Further, its effects misalign with the relationship and love themes where social acceptance is conditioned upon purchasing a certain brand or experience, for example. An abundance of conditional and broken promises shows additional misalignment with the love theme and with the covenant theme.

The paradigm does not accord many persons the dignity with which they are imbued by God, showing misalignment with the personhood, love and justice themes. As experienced today, exchange and marketing appear to be primary tools of economic injustice. Often, disadvantaged persons have very little real choice and are exploited, deepening their economic and social disadvantage. The theme of freedom is infringed when products, such as payday loans, ensnare people.

As regards holiness, unwholesome products, deception and other unethical behaviors are widespread. Exchange and marketing have played a major part in producing a highly sexualized/immoral culture. The paradigm misaligns with the redemption and spirituality themes by engendering false hope and meaningfulness attached to particular products. The paradigm has established a cycle in which people chase after the hope and significance that a product promises, only to find it fleeting at best, if not completely empty. People are then led to some other “it” product as “the” answer to their deepest needs, with the same vacuous outcome.


For Business Practitioners

There is more to the implications of these alignments and misalignments than just the need to establish more stringent ethics systems in an effort to keep marketing from getting out of line, as good and necessary as such requirements are. Indeed, it appears that a Christian worldview requires business, as the agent of exchange and marketing, to identify and pursue creatively opportunities to contribute to human flourishing out of love and responsiveness to the best interests of others, especially the poor and disadvantaged. It seems that such opportunities to serve both individuals and the common good are plentiful and may well be economically viable.

In practical terms, this reflective analysis suggests that all business persons, especially Christians, should evaluate their products’ value propositions and their brand promises, paying close attention to: their contribution to customers’ long-term well-being; whether material things are offered as shortcuts for meeting deep, spiritual needs; pandering to or promoting the idolatry of self or of products/brands; and not offering vacuous products, for example. Business practitioners should examine their corporate cultures and systems to ensure that they are responsive to customers, employees and stakeholders. While preferred for all business people, Christians should definitely recognize their place as stewards, not owners, of creation, increasing their social and environmental awareness. Also, Christians should foster commitment to genuine relationships with more covenantal than contractual inclinations.

The question remains of how best to shift business persons’ thinking so that genuine concern for others is at the fore. Among Christians, authentic discipleship growing out of a changed life that proceeds from salvation should be a key avenue for breaking the shackles of self-oriented thinking (Mk. 12:29-31; Rom. 12:1-2). This is not, however, the sole province of Christians. Empathy for others is an aspect of common grace and needs to be fostered among all persons. Overcoming compartmentalization of faith and business among Christians is one thing, but overcoming compartmentalization of personal connections and business decisions is not dependent on faith. The dictum “It’s not personal, it’s just business” needs to be eliminated. Reducing the psychological distance between sellers and customers, while a factor of spatial distance, will help develop the intellectual and emotional aspects of empathy, both the feeling of what others are feeling and the behavioral aspect where people act for the good of others.37

Perhaps business people, especially those in upper management, would benefit from experiencing first hand the interdependencies they have with their customers and other exchange partners. There are several effective ways to engage the real-life stories of those involved in exchange and marketing that once existed when trade occurred among people who shared the same locales and life contexts on a daily basis.38 The advent of the Internet creates an interesting paradox here. Now exchanges can occur easily between persons who may never have face-to-face contact, exacerbating the “distance” between them, yet that same technology enables direct communication on an unprecedented scale. Online communities do carry some promise of increased story sharing, despite the potential for projecting false selves to others.

For Consumers

It is impossible to place all the blame on marketers for all of the ills of self-absorption, materialism, and so forth. Marketers do what they have learned sells their products effectively and, as such, their actions are reflective of the larger values context in society. (It is equally disingenuous for marketers to lay all the blame onto the culture and customers, since marketing does influence culture). So, there is a parallel set of implications for consumers. Choosing thoughtfully among products and services would be a helpful step. If customers signal a want or a willingness to respond to a self-serving, materialistic stratagem, marketers respond accordingly and vice versa. As demand shifts toward “green” products, stewardship will be more evident in business behavior, for example. Among Christians, very careful attention should be paid to applying the values and virtues of the faith when choosing which products to purchase and, moreover, what role in life consumption should play as a whole.

For Business Educators

An implication for marketing/business educators is the need to examine their programs’ learning goals with an eye towards including student development of the “positive ethic” that business should be used to serve and, in particular, to pursue developing products and services that meet the needs of underserved populations through establishing environmentally and economically sustainable operations. This could be done through emphasizing social ventures or cooperatives, perhaps. Curricular revisions should be explored which include sustainable economic development and social enterprise and, most importantly, which develop empathy and compassion for others.

Discussing Table 1 with students in introductory business or introductory marketing courses could be useful. Other connections with the lens could be drawn out in subsequent courses. Placing this coverage in the business ethics course makes sense as well, but may compartmentalize its treatment detrimentally. Pedagogically, students could be asked to engage in debates about whether marketing concepts and activities align or misalign with a Christian worldview. Examples would include asking a class to debate whether consumer sovereignty corresponds to a Christian worldview on freedom; whether relationship marketing is an expression of genuine concern for others; and whether green marketing fulfills our stewardship responsibilities sufficiently. Students could also be asked to apply the Christian worldview lens to the issues, decisions and actions represented in the cases they study.


Jeff Van Duzer and his colleagues called for turning the shareholder wealth paradigm upside down. This analysis suggests that doing so requires reorienting the underlying contemporary exchange and marketing paradigm, which is upside down in many respects compared to the values associated with a Christian worldview. People and institutions flawed by the fall have produced innumerable unethical, immoral, unjust acts of exploitation, deception and harm as they engage in exchange and marketing. While at one level the “sinfulness of all humankind”is at play, this reflection suggests that, in particular, the idolatry of self and the substitution of objects and experiences for relationship with God (for instance, through materialism) are root misalignments. This finding comports closely with the conclusions reached by others about the contradictions of the marketplace with Christianity.39

Contrary to the notion that exchange and marketing are inherently evil however, this analysis suggests that exchange and marketing have a modicum of theological legitimacy, bearing many marks of God’s deeper truths and provision for humankind. Exchange and marketing are core aspects of an interdependent human community and, at their best, provide avenues for contributing positively to the flourishing of humankind. Effective and efficient marketing practices can be acts of good stewardship and service, providing products of substantive value.

Further, this analysis agrees that commitment to genuine concern for others is at the heart of realigning exchange and marketing practices.40 Among Christians, such commitment is central to adherence to the faith and can benefit from continuous renewal efforts. An approach for engendering other-centeredness among Christians and, more importantly, among non-Christians, is to reduce the “distance” between suppliers and consumers. If putting a face on homelessness by making it more personal and connecting with life stories helps people act more compassionately toward the homeless, then, by analogy, making economic exchange more personal through more connecting business persons closely with the real-life stories of customers and other stakeholders should help immensely. Such narrative connections have power to affect behavior. In short, the common phrase “it’s not personal, it’s just business” would be upended by making business personal. This would contribute to the re-orientation of business as an institution as called for by Van Duzer and his colleagues.

Follow-on explorations of the alignment of particular marketing concepts and models with a Christian worldview appear warranted, given that exchange and marketing do not seem to be wholly outside such a worldview. Further, the thematically-based Christian worldview lens presented here would benefit from refinements and from its application to a wider range of issues. Application of other theological reflection approaches are also need to complement the analysis presented here.

Table 1. Intersections of a Christian Worldview with Exchange & Marketing: Alignments & Misalignments
Cite this article
Gary L. Karns, “A Theological Reflection on Exchange and Marketing: An Extension of the Proposition That the Purpose of Business is to Serve”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 38:1 , 97-114


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  11. John P. Tiemstra, “Christianity and Economics: A Review of the Recent Literature,” Chris-tian Scholar’s Review 22.3 (1993): 227-247.
  12. Jeff Van Duzer et al, “It’s Not Your Business.”
  13. Richard C. Chewning, “A Dozen Styles of Biblical Integration: Assimilating the Mind ofChrist,” Journal of Biblical Integration In Business (Fall 2001): 114-151; Monty L. Lynn and DavidWallace, “Doing Business with the Hebrew Bible: A Hermeneutic Guide,” Journal of BiblicalIntegration In Business (Fall 2001): 9-40.
  14. Van Duzer et al, 103-110; Fred Van Geest, “Deepening and Broadening Christian Citizen-ship: Going Beyond the Basics without Succumbing to Liberal and Communitarian Ideals,”Christian Scholar’s Review 34.1 (Fall 2004): 91-118.
  15. Nicholas Wolterstorf, Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education (Grand Rap-ids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).
  16. Van Duzer et al, 109-112.
  17. Ibid., 112-115.
  18. Craig M. Gay, 180-195; Roland Hoksbergen, “Is There a Christian Economics? SomeThoughts in Light of the Rise of Postmodernism,” Christian Scholar’s Review 24.2 (December1994): 126-142; Harwood Hoover, Jr., “Christian Ethics and Market Mechanisms of Profit:The Intersection of Scriptural Themes with Models of Market Structure,” Journal of BiblicalIntegration In Business (Fall 1998): 50-73; Amy L. Sherman, “Facing the Impact of the MarketEconomy on Latin America and Eastern Europe,” Christian Scholar’s Review 30.3 (Spring 2001):289-304; Lisa Klein Surdyk, “God’s Economy: Teaching Students Key Biblical Principles,”Journal of Biblical Integration In Business (Fall 2002): 69-98; John P. Tiemstra, 227-247; NicholasWolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace: The Kuyper Lectures for 1981 Delivered at the FreeUniversity of Amsterdam (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1983).
  19. Steven Bouma-Prediger, “Why Care for Creation? From Prudence to Piety,” Christian Scholar’sReview 27.3 (Spring 2003): 277-297.
  20. Mark D. Ward, “Toward a Biblical Understanding of the Work Ethic,” Journal of BiblicalIntegration In Business (Fall 1996): 6-15.
  21. Alexander Hill.

  22. Gay; Michael Jessup, “Truth: The First Casualty of Postmodern Consumerism,” ChristianScholar’s Review 24.2 (December 1994): 126-142.
  23. Gay; Jessup.

  24. Benjamin S. Bloom, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Book I: Cognitive Domain (London:Longman, 1979); John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Think-ing to the Education Process (Boston: D. C. Health, 1933); David A. Kolb, Experiential Learningas Sources of Learning and Development (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1984); James Peltier,Amanda Hay and William Drago, “The Reflective Learning Continuum: Reflecting on Re-flection,” Journal of Marketing Education. 27.3 (2005): 250-263; Donald A. Schön, The ReflectivePractitioner (London: Temple Smith, 1983); Educating the Reflective Practitioner (San Fran-cisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987).
  25. Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002); GustavoGutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1973), 13; Robert L. Kinast,What Are They Saying About Theological Reflection? (New York: Paulist Press, 2000); Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture: A study in dynamic Biblical theologizing in cross-cultural perspec-tive (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979).
  26. Wilton Anderson, Goutam Challagalla and Richard McFarland, “Anatomy of Exchange,”Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice 7.4 (1999): 8-19; Richard Bagozzi, “Marketing as Ex-change,” Journal of Marketing 39 (October 1975): 32-39.
  27. Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong, Principles of Marketing 10th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ:Pearson Education, 2003), 5-10.
  28. Hans Kung, On Being Christian (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1984), 595; CharlesWilber, “Teaching Economics While Keeping the Faith,” in Teaching as an Act of Faith, ArlinMigliazzo, ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), 5.
  29. Kotler and Armstrong, 626-656; Laczniak and Murphy.
  30. 30Tiemstra; Surdyk.
  31. Kotler and Armstrong, 626-656; Laczniak and Murphy; Gene Laczniak, “Distributive Jus-tice, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Moral Responsibility of Marketers,” Journal of PublicPolicy & Marketing 18.1 (April 1999): 125-129; Gene Laczniak and Patrick Murphy, ”NormativePerspectives for Ethical and Socially Responsible Marketing,” Journal of Macromarketing26.2 (December 1, 2006): 154-177; Edward J. O’Boyle and Lynden Dawson, Jr., ”The Ameri-can Marketing Association Code of Ethics: Instructions for Marketers,” Journal of BusinessEthics 11.12 (December 1992): 921.
  32. Stephen Fox, The Mirror Makers (NY; Morrow, 1984).
  33. Donald Thorsen, Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience as a Modelof Evangelical Theology (Wilmore, KY: Francis Asbury Press, 1990).
  34. R. Paul Stevens, Doing God’s Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace (GrandRapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006).
  35. Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 218.
  36. Gay.
  37. Jeff Joireman, Dishan Kamdar, Denise Daniels, and Blythe Duell, “Good Citizens to the End?It Depends: Empathy and Concern With Future Consequences Moderate the Impact of aShort-Term Time Horizon on Organizational Citizenship Behaviors,” Journal of AppliedPsychology 91.6 (November 2006): 1307.
  38. Susan Butcher, “Narrative as a Teaching Strategy,” Journal of Correctional Education 57.3(2006): 195-208; Dave Johnson, “Bolivian Child Miners – Not My Problem!,” Industrial Safetyand Hygiene News (April 1, 2007): 8.
  39. Gay; Sherman.
  40. Sherman.

Gary L. Karns

Seattle Pacific University
Mr. Karns is Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in the School of Business & Economics at Seattle Pacific University.