Management and the Gospel: Luke’s Radical Message for the First and Twenty-First Centuries

Bruno Dyck
Published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013

Reviewed by Craig Hinnenkamp, Global Commerce and Management, Whitworth University

An increasing number of writers in both Christian and secular journals are calling for a fundamental change in the basic orientation and purpose of business. Articulated from a faith-based perspective, J. Van Duzer et al. proposes the purpose of business is to serve God through serving customers, providing them legitimate, necessary goods and services.1 In this model, employees also become recipients, as they experience rich work opportunities, serve the greater community at large, and simultaneously contribute to the common good. From a secular perspective, Robert Giacalone and Kenneth Thompson essentially agree that the current worldview associated with business is organizational-centered, and essentially egocentric in focus.2 This organizational-centeredness emphasizes profits and the maintenance of the business itself as a morally desirable end, which allows justification of questionable means in the pursuit of wealth. The solution to this dilemma from a secular perspective then is to transform the worldview in business, and with it business education, to a human-centered framework in which profitability and accumulation of wealth is a moral enterprise only if it is to the betterment of humankind and the environment. In a similar manner from a Christian perspective, the purpose of business is ultimately to advance the kingdom of God. The commonality among these writers is the agreement that the current worldview in business is flawed and needs to be transformed.

Bruno Dyck in his book, Management and the Gospel: Luke’s Radical Message for the First and Twenty-First Centuries has made a significant contribution to this emerging and much needed body of literature. First of all, Dyck’s product is a well-researched and scholarly piece that contributes to the evolution of this topic but more importantly, his work is an exceptional addition to resources available to the management practitioner who is sincerely interested in the implementation of nontraditional management principles in this emerging management philosophy.

The basic premise of Dyck’s work seeks to interpret the Gospel of Luke through a first-century management lens. Dyck begins this scholarly work in Part I, with an in-depth discussion of the hallmarks of oikos, the primary form of first-century organization, and oikonomia, the management of these ancient organizations. In developing the background on management in the first century, Dyck contends that the Greek term oikos, usually translated as “house” or “household,” was the building block of social and economic life in the first century in the Middle East. In fact, according to Dyck, dating back to Homeric times, the oikos was the basis of social, economic, and political life, as well as the basic economic unit of production and self-support, up through the time of Roman rule in the first century.

The modern household differs from this ancient oikos in two ways. The modern household typically refers to a two-generational kinship family, parents, and children, whereas the ancient oikos involved a kinship family at the core but also included an extended network of families: slaves, servants, and other family units. Dyck points out that it would be common for a first-century household to include more than 100 people. Secondly, the modern household is mainly a unit of consumption whereas the oikos was the primary productive organization in ancient society. The concept of oikos from this perspective is important to Dyck’s discussion as it is the central focal point from which his discussion of management or administration develops. He describes three main elements of management within the first-century organization: managing relationships within the organization, managing money, and managing relationships between organizations. Dyck’s premise is that the management practices of the time were radically challenged by the parables of Jesus as recorded in Luke, and these Biblical concepts are largely missing in today’s business environment as well.

In Part II, these three main elements of management in first-century Palestine are examined through an Aristotelian perspective and contrasted through the parables of Jesus: managing relationships with organizations through a lens of inclusion versus exclusion; managing money through an elaboration on Aristotle’s natural chrematistics, contrasted to the biblical perspective of riches in Luke’s parables; and managing relationships between organizations in which the dominant first-century patron-client model of relationships is contrasted with the biblical emphasis on benefaction.

From this foundation Dyck proceeds in Part III to examine two key parables in the Gospel of Luke (the parable of the shrewd manager and the parable of the ten talents) for insights while focusing on the biblical challenges to first-century management paradigms, as well as a comparison with generally held assumptions in the world today. The richness found in Parts III and IV of this book reflect the depth and thoroughness of Dyck’s research and any summary in a short review of this kind is at the risk of oversimplification and failure to do justice to his extensive scholarship. It is also in this area of the publication that critics may take issue with some of Dyck’s biblical interpretations. Although many find these intellectual and theological controversies interesting and important in academic dialogue, readers are cautioned not to lose sight of this work as an application-oriented resource for the modern management practitioner.

Dyck’s analysis of Luke’s parables in Part III emphasizes a concern for the marginalized or powerless in organizational structures or those who fall outside of an organizational structure entirely. The interpretation of Luke in this regard gives much greater status to the marginalized, such as the slave of the first century who is elevated to the status of full moral being in Christ’s parables in Luke. Organizational relationships in this model are marked by equality and management is modeled through a servant leader orientation. Dyck discusses the equality of women in terms of organizational status as well, suggesting that women are often more consistent in the demonstration of servant leader qualities.

In regards to the management of money, Dyck argues that Aristotle’s disdain for acquisitive economics – using money to make money – is shared in Luke’s writings. However, whereas Aristotle’s concept of sustenance economics – using money to meet the needs of the community – focused on the relationships within the oikos, Luke expands this understanding to include wider segments of the community, as well as other nations and people, including the poor and marginalized in a more holistic and sustainable economic model. Lastly in Part III, Dyck addresses relationships between organizations, pointing out that Luke denounces the first-century Roman patron client relations, where the focus is gaining economic advantage, in support of a model similar to Aristotle’s concept of benefaction, benefits provided to those in need without strings attached. A major difference between Aristotle’s and Luke’s writings in this regard is the consistent theme in Luke that the poor and disadvantaged are to be treated as social peers and that the needs of these individuals should be a primary consideration in a sustainable economic system.

In Part IV, Dyck also includes an examination of twenty-one key passages in Luke that he refers to as “Kingdom of God” (KOG) references which he synthesizes into four “modes” of management associated with the KOG system of management in which people actively relate to one another in ways consistent with God’s way of managing. The modes he describes in a KOG management system involve these observable characteristics: (1) inclusion (all are welcome in the community with the absence of status differences); (2) a learning organizational environment characterized by open-mindedness and learning from one another; (3) followers of KOG principles emphasize benefaction and all are treated with dignity including those who are marginalized or outside of the organizational community; and lastly (4) observable outcomes including equitable relationships (men and women for example), sharing when it comes to basic needs and sustenance economic practices.

Dyck also integrates a thought-provoking interpretation of salvation in Part IV in suggesting that people in communities are “saved from” oppressive structures and systems and are “saved for” work in liberating organizational structures in KOG managed systems. With an expanded consideration of the term, Dyck argues that salvation is evident in these organizational systems when people manage to create environments that reduce overall suffering. The essence of Dyck’s discussion in Parts III and IV is an argument for an alternative approach to management which, as he himself points out, is similar to an increasing number of scholars who are suggesting a variety of nonconventional management considerations in response to the continually deteriorating management system in today’s world.

Also of particular interest in this work was Dyck’s synthesis of Luke’s Journey Narrative into a four-phase process model for change. The Journey Narrative (a chronicling of Jesus’ travel to Jerusalem leading up to his death) is found in Luke 9:51 – 19:40 and, according to Dyck, contains the bulk of the references to management contained in the Gospel of Luke. Although not formally introduced until Part V in the book, Dyck has very creatively integrated this process model throughout the text and it is one of the major usable tools that practitioners may access from this work.

The four-phase process model, as Dyck himself points out, shares similarities with the concept of triple loop learning described by Argyris.3 Individual phases include: Problem recognition – identification of problem associated with current practice; Action response – actions undertaken to resolve problem; Changed way of seeing – a new insight or perspective is achieved; Institutional change – social norms and structures giving rise to the problem are altered.

The application of this process model as well as the other major concepts in the text to modern-day management is addressed in detail in Part VI. In this section, Dyck addresses modern internal organizational management issues such as motivation, organizational structure (specialization, centralization, and departmentalization), and leadership through the management lenses that were developed earlier in the text. In like manner, following the consistent format found throughout the text, he suggests alternative perspectives in modern finance, economics, and accounting, as well as alternative perspectives in managing relationships between organizations in areas such as marketing and supply chain. Of particular importance in all of these application areas is his detailed description and use of practitioner examples to relevant modern organizational issues and problems.

In summary, Dyck’s accomplishment with this book serves as a significant contribution to the growing body of literature calling for the serious consideration of nonconventional forms of business and management. His quality and depth of research as well as his strong voice make this a credible piece of work in the academic arena. However, although Dyck’s scholarship and research evidenced in this work is impressive, it was the detailed real-world applications of the concepts, often missing in similar academic works, which make this publication stand out among similar works.

Cite this article
Craig Hinnenkamp, “Management and the Gospel: Luke’s Radical Message for the First and Twenty-First Centuries”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 43:1 , 83-86

Footnotes

  1. J. Van Duzer, R. Franz, G. Karns, D. Daniels and K. Wong, “It’s Not Your Business: A Christian Reflection on Stewardship,” Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion 4.1 (2007).
  2. Robert A. Giacalone and Kenneth R. Thompson, “Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Education: Shifting the Worldview,” Academy of Management Learning and Education 5.3 (2006): 266-277.
  3. Chris Argyris, Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1990).

Craig Hinnenkamp

Whitworth University
Craig Hinnenkamp is Associate Professor of Business Management at Whitworth University.