Peter J. Snyder is Associate Professor of Business at Calvin College.
Much has been written in the past few years about the formative implications of higher education. Students are not cognitive receptacles in which to pour content, but are shaped by both the content and the practices of curricular and co-curricular activities. In his influential book, Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith draws inspiration from such varied sources as Bourdieu and Augustine to make the case that the practices in which we engage shape our loves and identity and that many of them are inconsistent with those of the kingdom of God.1 He argues that we must ultimately be shaped by church practices that, rightly ordered, foster love and identity that reflect the kingdom of God. Smith posits that the practices of the Christian university should help to shape students in ways that develop a kingdom orientation as they read Chaucer, examine geological formations, and create a balance sheet. The trick is, of course, that the various disciplines value different things and have their own loves that are shared by those who practice them. What is a teacher to do? Should the finance professor say that the practice of Christian hospitality is a very good and legitimate practice in which to engage, but does not really have anything to do with net present value?
Enter Kenman Wong, Bruce Baker, and Randal Franz, a trio of faculty members from Seattle Pacific University who build on the work of Smith and others to bring this conversation into the particular space of business education. They critique the status quo in which character formation tends to be limited to an overly-cognitive approach to business ethics popular in both Christian and secular universities that fails to recognize the bodily nature of learning and role of the affective in shaping us and our loves. After pointing the reader to work that has already been done on kingdom perspectives of business, they provide a set of approaches to engage in the practice of business education as Christian formation. While these proposals are provided in the context of business education, most of them are easy to apply to other disciplinary areas as well. Wong et al. suggest ways of developing a campus-wide telos whereby there is a shared understanding of loves across courses and departments; techniques for engaging in cultural exegesis to compliment more cognitive “worldview critique(s);” and thoughts on how to help students construct “‘counter formational’ practices and rituals.”2 The readers are left challenged to think deeply about how their own pedagogical and co-curricular practices form students in ways consistent (or not) with the kingdom of God.
A group of scholars provides comments on Wong, Baker, and Franz’s article in an effort to further the conversation. All of them are positive about the need for Christian educators to engage thoughtfully in the formation of their students and to move away from a cognitive-only approach. However each also provides a critique or further suggestions for moving forward. Jason Stansbury, a management and business ethics scholar at Calvin College, echoes the documented weakness of a cognitive-only approach to ethics, but broaches concern about the issue of indoctrination and the potential for backlash or apathy on the part of the student. He suggests a nuanced path forward that compliments Wong et al. Another management and business ethics scholar, Mitchell Neubert of Baylor University, likewise concurs that a cognitive-only approach is insufficient, but details how frameworks can be an important part of formation and stresses that educators should not simply dismiss the cognitive. Todd Cioffi and Peter Snyder, respectively professors of theology and management at Calvin College, provide a rich description of a course they co-taught three times that fleshes out some of the suggestions of Wong et al. Nicholas Wolterstorff, emeriti professor of philosophy at Yale University, provides perspective as a non-business educator. He agrees with Wong, Baker, and Franz and emphasizes the problem of an approach that assumes that “(by) getting them to think Christianly, (students) will then act as Christians.” He expands on many of their ideas, but expresses reservation with their suggestions regarding virtue ethics. The last person commenting is a leading management thinker at the University of Manitoba, Bruno Dyck. He describes how he fosters character formation at a secular institution using a knowing-doing-being framework that allows students to engage their own moral perspectives or traditions to critique the implicit worldview of certain business practices.
Wong, Baker, and Franz expand into the particular context of business education the conversation about the ways in which Christian higher education forms students. This is an important conversation to have as we faculty and staff too often rely unthinkingly on the existing practices we have inherited and their corresponding loves. The comments by the other authors further the conversation with their points of agreement and disagreement and additional examples of how to engage in formation that has a kingdom-oriented telos. Educating (including the formation of) future businesspeople (and writers, lawyers, and so on) is good work and needs to be done well. These articles will hopefully spark more conversation on the topic and foster richer, more kingdom-oriented practices.