Max Weber lamented over a century ago that the context in which industrial age economic organizations operate emphasizes a technical and cultural rationalization focusing on the material at the expense of the super-material. The pursuit of material rewards in the modern economy has left little room for a spiritual or theological approach to understanding work and business. More recently, scholars and practitioners have begun to focus attention on the tremendous human and ecological costs of myopic materialism, and there appears to be growing interest in the secular business academy in both alternative foundations for capitalism, business and organizations, including spiritually grounded ones.
As yet, however, Christian scholarship (even including its recent renaissance) has only begun to touch the business disciplines, and it remains for such insights to be developed. Yet a comprehensive and articulated Christian worldview is incomplete without an understanding of how business enterprise and the people who operate within its scope fit into a larger vision of the divine kingdom. How can business contribute to God’s work in the world when it is often contextualized by forces that negate good intentions: brutal markets driven by distant investors in search of greater profits and global competition? How can core business disciplines such as management and marketing (often seen as the field that is engaged in selling us things we don’t want or need) be reconciled with Christian values? The following essays draw from scholars in the fields of ethics, management, marketing, and political science to explore these and other pertinent questions.
In the opening essay, “Money or Business? A Case Study of Christian Virtue Ethics in Corporate Work,” author Scott Waalkes (Malone College), examines the historical reduction of “business” to a singular pursuit of material/financial gain, the negative fallout from such a reduction, and its inconsistency with Christian values and ethics. Then, building on the work of Aristotle, Waalkes develops a case for how three Christian virtues implicit in the incarnation may serve as a remedy. He then looks at the writing of business leader Max Depree as an illustration of how such virtues might be employed in a corporate setting.
In “Unchaining Weber ’s Iron Cage; A Look at What Managers can Do,” Bruno Dyck (University of Manitoba), Mitchell Neubert (Baylor University) and Kenman Wong (Seattle Pacific University) provide a brief history of Weber’s “iron cage.” The authors then describe how management theory and practice based on virtues derived from Christian ethics can inform a new understanding of the four classic management functions: controlling, leading, planning and organizing. Dyck, Neubert and Wong then draw on organizational learning theory to describe a process managers can follow to unchain the iron cage by sequentially practicing four key biblically-consistent management virtues: sensitization, dignification, participation, and experimentation. Then the authors discuss implications for management theory and practice.
In Margaret Diddams (Seattle Pacific University) and Denise Daniels’ (Seattle Pacific University) essay, “Good Work with Toil,” the authors employ the biblical themes of creation, fall and redemption to examine critically current management theories. The authors find that while many current management theories are consistent with either the themes of creation and/or fall, they emphasize one theme over the other, largely ignoring some important tensions about work and workers. Diddams and Daniels then use the biblical theme of redemption to develop an approach to management and a research agenda that seeks to address these tensions and move management theory forward.
In his provocative essay, “Marketing as a Christian Vocation: Called to Reconciliation,” David Hagenbuch (Messiah College) makes a case for the compatibility of Christianity with marketing, perhaps the most negatively viewed field/profession in business. He begins by establishing the centrality of reconciliation to vocation. He then argues that since marketing, particularly when practiced according to its core, normative definition, facilitates reconciliation through mutually beneficial exchange. Hagenbuch then addresses some common misconceptions about marketing that obstruct the ability to see marketing as a vocation. He concludes with practical suggestions on how three main groups of stakeholders can encourage the practice of marketing in a way that is consistent with the field’s own normative theory and with the vocational theme of reconciliation.
The next essay “A Theological Reflection on Exchange and Marketing: An Extension of the Proposition that the Purpose of Business is to Serve” continues the theme of examining marketing’s compatibility with Christian values. In this essay, Gary Karns (Seattle Pacific University) builds upon scholarship that re-examines the core purpose of business and develops a framework to compare key themes in the Christian worldview with marketing. In his comparison, he finds areas of both alignment and misalignment. In order to address areas of misalignment, Karns offers suggestions on how genuine human flourishing can be advanced in the practice of marketing.
In the final essay, “The Creation, The Kingdom of God, and a Theory of the Faithful Corporation,” Stephen Bretsen (Wheaton College), develops a theory of the Christian firm. Bretsen begins by tracing the origins of the secular corporation and contemporary theories that underlie its existence. He finds that both private (wealth creation focused) and public (stakeholder focused) interest theories are insufficient for supporting a “faithful corporation.” Bretsen then develops a theological grounding for a corporation that wishes serves as a vehicle for fulfilling the creation mandates and advancing the Kingdom of God.
Our hope is that each of these six essays contributes to the growing body of Christian scholarship on business theory and practice. We also hope that this issue deepens reader appreciation for how alternative of conceptions of business can help facilitate escape from the iron cage and turn (or return) the focus of business to contribute more to God’s ongoing redemptive work in the world. Of course, we are aware that this theme issue only represents a starting point as these essays leave out some important issues and as there are other fields of business that also need to be addressed: i.e., finance, accounting, and strategy.
We the editors are indebted to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Initiative Grants to Network Scholars program and to the participants in the “Theology and Management Seminar” (2004-06) for the ideas behind this theme issue. We are also indebted to scholars who submitted papers and those who served as reviewers.