Skip to main content

In October 2023, twenty-five theological ethicists, business ethicists, economists, and philosophers gathered in New Orleans to explore the importance of virtue in business ethics for Christians. The symposium was hosted by Loyola’s Center for Ethics and Economic Justice and funded by generous support from the Kern Foundation and Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Faithful Business. The symposium was designed to respond to these timely and timeless questions: Does virtue and character matter in business? Can workplaces be transformed by the caliber of people present? What insights do scripture and the Christian tradition of theological and philosophical reflection offer for the challenges of the modern workplace?

Christian Scholar’s Review is pleased to publish a set of four keynote papers presented at the symposium. Elizabeth Rain Kincade, the Legendre-Soulé chair in business ethics and director for the Center for Ethics and Economic Justice at Loyola University in New Orleans and soon the new Director for the Institute for Faith and Learning at Baylor University, curated these, noting they “represent both the fruit and the spirit of our discussion.”  She goes on to introduce each of them below.

Written by scholars from different institutions, different denominations, and different disciplinary backgrounds, they capture the breadth of thought and expansive interdisciplinary engagement among the scholars at the symposium. Perhaps more importantly, they capture the approach of rigorous scholarly engagement carried out with charity within a community shaped by prayer, discussion, laughter, good food (it was New Orleans, after all), and eagerness to learn about both the ideas and the people present—many of the same components which go into creating the very communities capable of forming virtue, which each paper discusses. While the papers each focus on a different aspect of formation in virtue, when read together, they trace a trajectory from business education through businesses’ place in society to virtuous business as understood through paradigm and practice. Each approach offers a challenge to business practices as they are today. More importantly, each offers hope for the future of virtuous business as well as practical steps and theoretical framing for pursuing this future.

Daniel Finn, professor of theology and Clemens Professor of Economics at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary (College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University), draws on sociology, theology, and philosophy in order to analyze business as a social structure. He considers the question of what type of social structure is capable of cultivating virtue in its participants. Through carefully examining the significance of social structures in our daily lives (from buying bus tickets to professors giving grades in a university), Finn analyzes how social structures can work “upwards” and “downwards” in the development of virtue. Drawing on the social encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI, Finn then considers what impact it would have on moral formation for businesses to be social structures informed by practices of reciprocity and gratuitousness.

Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, turns back to education to consider how a university places professional business education within the liberal canon in order to form future businesspeople for virtue. Naughton draws on John Henry Newman to analyze the university principle—the “essence” of education—with the “collegiate principle”—the integrity of university education. How can we situate business education (and professional education) within both the canon of liberal education and the entire collegiate experience? Naughton provides a helpful schematic for the appropriate type of education that might make this possible, integrating courses that promote discovery (the traditional liberal education), application (business courses), and bridge courses (which integrate the two often through experience). He also considers the importance of the whole collegiate experience—the world beyond the classroom—for giving the students the formation and integration necessary for practical wisdom in the business world.

Hannah Stolze, the William E. Crenshaw Chair of Supply Chain Management at Baylor University, turns to the wisdom literature of the Bible to consider conceptual structures for businesses that seek to promote wisdom. Drawing on bible exegesis and scholarship focused on the noble woman of Proverbs 31, Stolze considers especially the demands placed on firms to respond to the need for quick strategy changes and expansion in a rapidly changing global marketplace, especially as this relates to the complexity of supply chains. Following the example of the noble woman, she considers how firms might choose to pursue a path illuminated by the virtue of wisdom rather than responding unwisely to current challenges.

Kenman Wong, professor of business ethics at Seattle Pacific University, draws upon business ethics and theology to question the critiques of Alasdair McIntyre that business by its very nature cannot serve as a “community of practices” capable of promoting virtue. Taking the example of Dayspring, a professional services company formed explicitly with the goal of being a part of Jesus’s work in “reconciling all things” through their business practices, Wong provides a compelling example of what it might actually look like, and the sacrifices required, for businesses to become communities where virtues are actually cultivated.

The issue has two outstanding review essays.  In the first, Craig E. Mattson, the Arthur DeKruyter Chair in Faith and Communication at Calvin University, writes an engaging and in-depth review of five books to pose and suggest an answer to the question of how faith-based academic institutions should define their role and identity in the multi-directional process of community engagement and development. The books used in the essay are:

  • Erica K. Yamamura and Kent Koth, Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education: A Strategy to Transform Universities and Communities (New York, NY: Routledge, 2023).
  • Karin Fischer, College as a Public Good: Making the Case through Community Engagement (Washington, DC: Chronicle of Higher Education, 2023).
  • Davarian L. Baldwin, In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities (New York, NY: Bold Type Books, 2021).
  • David J. Staley and Dominic D. J. Endicott, Knowledge Towns: Colleges and Universities as Talent Magnets (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023).
  • Seth Kaplan, Fragile Neighborhoods: Repairing American Society, One Zip Code at a Time (New York, NY: Little Brown Spark, 2023)

Through these books, Mattson describes several models of community engagement, suggesting that the key role might just be creating genuine, give-and-take friendships to build reciprocal social capital between town and gown while moving away from the grandiosity of marketing to students that their colleges or universities will prepare them to become global world-changers. This thoughtful essay is a marvelous resource for on-campus discussions of appropriate place-based engagement and who or what should be the focus of change in such neighborly interactions.

Daniel K. Williams, Senior Fellow at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, provides our second review essay entitled “Two Visions for an Evangelical Reformation,” drawing on recent popular books by Russell Moore (Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, New York, NY: Sentinel, 2023) and Karen Swallow Prior (The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2023). As most readers of this journal will know, both Moore and Swallow Prior departed from significant roles at Southern Baptist institutions in the past few years. As Williams points out in the review of their books, both invite their readers inside their sensemaking of 21st-century evangelical faith and what it could look like unencumbered by human institutions. Moore’s remedy is greater reverence for the authority of Jesus from whence our identity should derive. On the other hand, Swallow Prior asks her readers to expand their imaginations to go back even further to understand how our own cultural traditions and presuppositions may have been shaped by a more human, albeit evangelical imagination, rather than a direct application of biblical ideas.

Neither Moore nor Swallow Prior are “exvangelicals,” and each remains deeply committed to their evangelical faith. But they suggest different paths forward for themselves and their evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ. As Williams writes,

Moore is calling his fellow Christians to repent and believe and then to receive a new infilling of the Holy Spirit or a new sense of assurance and pardon. If evangelical Christians followed Moore’s advice, they would become more dedicated evangelical Christians, with a new love for others, a new determination to be soulwinners, and a new zeal for the gospel—along with far less desire for political power. But Prior may be calling for something slightly different. In her view, the problem is not merely that evangelicals are not being true to their movement’s eighteenth- or nineteenth-century principles but rather that those principles have overemphasized or even distorted some scriptural principles while neglecting others. While her book says far more about the crisis than about a proposed solution, her vision for a reformation, to the extent one can discern it, seems to include a move away from the individualism of the evangelical movement and especially a rejection of evangelicals’ overemphasis on an instantaneous “born again” conversion that expects individual transformation without the long, hard process of repentance and sanctification.

He ends by noting that while Swallow Prior and Moore articulate in their own ways the immensity of our current evangelical crises, they both believe the gospel is greater still.

Other reviewers in this issue:

  • Alex Massad, assistant professor of world religions at Wheaton College, reviews Cory C. Brock and N. Gray Sutanto’s Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2023).
  • Jakob Miller, associate professor of political science at Taylor University, reviews Thomas C. Berg’s Religious Liberty in a Polarized Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2023).
  • Richard Mouw, president emeritus and senior professor of faith and public life at Fuller Seminary, reviews Matthew T. Martens’s Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal, with a Foreword by Derwin L. Gray (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023).
  • Daniel Edward Young, professor of political science at Northwestern College, reviews Kevin Vallier’s, All the Kingdoms of the World: On Radical Religious Alternatives to Liberalism (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2023).

Thanks to our book review editor, Steve Oldham, Professor in the College of Christian Studies at The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, for his excellent work curating these selections.

Elisabeth Rain Kincaid

Elisabeth R. Kincaid, J.D., Ph.D., is the incoming director of the Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL) at Baylor University. She also serves as associate professor of ethics, faith and culture in Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and affiliate faculty member in the Department of Management in the Hankamer School of Business.

Margaret Diddams

Dr. Diddams is an Industrial / Organizational Psychologist and Editor of Christian Scholar's Review.

Leave a Reply