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In this article, Yvonne S. Smith, Sharon G. Johnson, and Erik M. Hiller explore a theological view of competition. Competition is engrained in Western economic and social systems and Christians are conflicted about it. Is the God of love also the God of the competitive atmosphere of sports, business, or law? Or does God hate competition and want Christians to avoid it? The answer is surprisingly complex. The authors begin with a literature summary of the theological assumptions of competition, followed by an examination of Scripture. Since much of the Scriptural evidence is implicit, they supplement it with exegesis by three key church fathers: Augustine, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards. Ms. Smith is Professor of Management at the University of La Verne, Mr. Johnson is Professor of Management at Charleston Southern University, and Mr. Hiller is Audit Manager, KPMG.

On December 25, 168 B.C., Antiochus IV entered the temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the god of the Olympic Games, Zeus. In the spiritual contest, the god of the most famous competition in the ancient world appeared to have beaten the God of Israel.

It is easy to think that the god of the Olympic Games is still winning. Competition is so ingrained in western social and economic systems that most people, including Christians, take it for granted. Note for example, the competitive assumptions underlying merit promotion systems at work, amateur or professional sports, or our familiar system of grading. Christian professors routinely use competitive games to liven up classrooms or enthusiastically discuss the latest sports scores.

But we fail to ask a basic question, “Does Yahweh approve of competition?” In His lordship over all things, does He encompass and uphold competitive systems? Even a brief consideration of the question brings up troubling questions about pride, judgment, rivalry, and idolatry. Can the God of peace really approve of “rivalry for the purpose of obtaining some advantage over some other person or group… not involving their destruction?”1 Is the God of love also the God of the games?

Several years ago, several professors set out to explore the spiritual assumptions of competition. Small questions launched this exploration: “If Jesus was in a race, would he race to win?” “Is a competitive strategic simulation the best way to teach Christian business students?” The first task was to find a scholarly definition of competition. This proved to be surprisingly difficult; that process became a paper in itself. Sharon Johnson and Galen Smith reported that they read economic analyses where competition was justified, glorified, and crucified.2 They read sociological treatises where competition was given an almost mystical ability to make people better, or was considered the source of most of society’s ills. The authors had conversations with colleagues who felt that reservations about competition undermined “What Made America Great.” They had conversations with other colleagues who felt that mentioning the rewards of competition defended the worst excesses of American Imperialism. Most of the authors or conversationalists provided what they believed to be conclusive evidence for their opposing positions. It appears that few scholars are neutral about the construct of competition. But that begs the questions that began this paper. Is God neutral? What is His opinion about competition? Should Christians engage in competitive arenas? Why or why not?

The purpose of this paper is to examine some of the spiritual, moral, and theological underpinnings of competition. Our goal is to move towards a theology, a truth system, of competition—though this paper is only a beginning. In pursuit of that goal, we begin by reviewing the limited academic work on the subject and by summarizing contemporary Christian streams of thinking about competition. Following that, we discuss the results of a comprehensive search of the Scripture and outline three of our findings. We then supplement the scriptural findings with discussions from the writings of three church fathers that influenced Christian thinking at key times: Augustine, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards.

First however, it is important to clarify what this paper does not do. This paper does not reach conclusions about the “best” theological perspective on competition. We will present tentative propositions, but our exploration over the last several years has demonstrated that the topic is far too complicated for authoritative pronouncements. Also, this paper touches only briefly on issues that are related to competition such as cooperation, justice, relationship, or grace. The purpose of this paper is to present a broad overview of the Christian views of competition. The more subtle relationships between competition and other constructs are important and are worthy subjects of study, but they are not the subjects of this paper. Finally, this paper is not about conflict or war. Conflict involves parties in battle or in strife with each other. It includes feelings of contention, discord, and anger.3 Competition can become conflict, but our focus here is on the former construct, not the latter.

A Summary of Previous Research

We began our exploration with an extensive literature search on the faith-based and spiritual assumptions underlying competition. We threw the net wide and searched journals, books, and databases in sociology, business, economics, psychology, and theology. Despite extensive searching, our literature search found very little scholarly work in this area. Many scholars have used faith-based arguments for their views, but few have explored the spiritual foundations of competition per se. To summarize the problem briefly: we found that business and economic scholars assumed competition, sociologists deplored it, sports psychologists adored it, and theologians ignored it. With few exceptions, we did not find scholars in any of these fields who discussed the spiritual assumptions of competition.

There was, however, one exception to the statement above. We found a nuanced definition of the construct from a Christian perspective and a model of contemporary Christian thinking in the work of Johnson and Smith.4 These contributions are summarized in the following section.

A Definition of Competition

Competition is a complex construct, defined in different ways in different academic fields. For example, economists tend to think of competition as a macro concept, a market in which firms, products, and people can enter and exit freely.5 In this perspective, competition is a system, an impersonal mechanism for adjudicating choices between aggregated groups of people such as firms or nations. These choices, however, as a sociologist might note, will result in some classes or persons having extensive goods or power while others have little or none. Therefore, Christians concerned with justice or class distinctions might find market competition problematic. Others, concerned with eliminating poverty, might note the competitive market possibilities for creating change.6

Psychologists and some business academics tend to view competition on a micro level of analysis, defining it as a relationship between individuals, set within rules, to gain or keep some scarce and/or valuable thing.7 In this perspective, competition is an active individual choice that creates an effect on the character or personality of the person competing. For example, competition can produce positive effects such as developing individual talents and encouraging people to work harder and excel more.8 It can also increase aggression and foster a tendency for self-concern.9 Micro analysts note both the positive and negative effects of micro competition upon character.

While we understand that competition is both a macro and a micro construct and has both individual and group properties, in this paper we follow Johnson and Smith and discuss it as a unified construct: “competition.” Our intent in the paper is to explore the spiritual and theological assumptions of competition, whether that competition is between two or more human beings or between aggregated groups of human beings. Since there is little work in this area, we necessarily use a broad approach, and so will not overtly distinguish between macro and micro competition.

Johnson summarized the macro and micro themes into a unified definition of competition. Competition requires:
(1) the presence of some limited goal or a market end result that is…
(2) valued and sought by two or more people or social entities (groups, firms, nations)…
(3) who engage in implicit and/or explicit rivalry…
(4) within some set of constraints or boundaries (perhaps rules, perhaps natural geographic territory, perhaps time).10

This is the definition that we will use in the remainder of the paper.

Contemporary Christian Views of Competition

Using the definition above, Johnson and Smith summarized contemporary Christian views about competition into four worldview states, based on H. Richard Niebuhr’s worldview differentials in Christ and Culture.11 The full model is illustrated in Figure 1. The two dimensions used were: 1) whether competition was considered to be positive or negative, and 2) whether competition should be ignored, challenged, or embraced. These dimensions create four states that together capture the majority of contemporary Christian perspectives on competi-tion. Briefly summarized,the states are as follows.12

State 1: Christ resists competition. Christians who take this perspective feel that God condemns competition, and that it is an evil entrapping the Christian. Christ-likeness and competitive desires are inherently opposed and irreconcilable. In this view, Christians who advocate competition do so as a pretense to sanctify their desire for worldly pleasure and success. The role of the Christian is to avoid

the corruption of competition; therefore Christians are either to remain separate from it, or actively to challenge it.

State 2: Christ reforms competition. Christians with this perspective assume that God views competition as neutral or positive, though it can have evil effects. In other words, competition is not in itself evil, but it has evil effects. Many competition-induced behaviors such as “cheating, a win-at-any-cost mentality, and seeking to exploit others” are sinful. Christ comes to the competitor as a transformer. Christians should seek to reclaim competition for His glory. Scripture offers a variety of insights on how to do this.

State 3: Christ and competition in partnership. Christians who argue this perspective feel that God has created competition to be good, that it drives excellence in both personal and community development. Thus, Christianity and competition are mutually supportive—competition helps us grow spiritually, physically, socially, and economically. It allows us to experience God’s delight. In this perspective, the existence of competition in the world is a testimony to God’s common grace for His kingdom.

State 4: Christ and competition in paradox. This perspective focuses on the tensions that Christians experience in competitive situations. In this view, the role of the Christian is to engage in the paradoxical call to be “in,” but not “of,” competition—to participate in competition when called to, but to understand that this may bring conflict as the demands of the contest raise issues about loyalties to God in ways that are not easy to resolve. The Bible does not specifically embrace competition nor does it condemn it outright; however it does repeatedly caution the Christian about it. Competition is an uneasy condition that needs to be subordinated to God’s priorities and principles. However, to the degree that competition provides a platform for a Christian’s witness, it may prove to be helpful.

Emerging Streams of Thinking

Recently, several important streams of thinking have emerged that create a more robust understanding of the complexity of Christian perspectives about competition.

Christians and the Culture of Sports. One arena that has generated thoughtful analysis of competitiveness and Christian principles is that of sports. For example, Shirl Hoffman speaks to the divided world in which many evangelicals exist: “The daily world of commitment and earnest application of their faith, and the world of sports in which faith seems to lose its referential power in the face of fierce [competitive] partisanship.”13 Her experiences in personally seeking to integrate collegiate sports and Christian sensitivities led her to a realization about “how reticent the Christian community was to think critically about sports or to explore seriously how the sporting culture intersects with the spiritual path Christians claim to follow.”14 Hoffman characterizes the attempted melding of Christianity and sports as

sport-ianity…a concoction of triumphal evangelism blended with Darwinian competition… [Combining] locker room slogans, Old Testament allusions to religious wars, athletically slanted doctrines of assertiveness and sacrifice, and a cult of masculinity, backed up by cherry-picked Bible verses pre-screened to ensure that they don’t conflict with sports’ reigning orthodoxies.15

Robert Higgs juxtaposes two symbolic themes to discuss what he determines to be the odd alliance between sports and religion: the knight to whom winning, victory, and public prayer are key with the shepherd where wisdom, peace, and private prayer are key.16 His indictment of modern “muscular” (knight-dominated) evangelical Christianity is sobering:

Our culture… has become warped in the direction of the sword, so that the knight remains the most visible archetypal model in the world today, either as soldier, athlete, corporate executive, televangelist dressed for success, or all of these at once. Lowly shepherds every-where are trying to clean up the mess that knights… have made over the face of the planet, but we must remember that we are merely talking about ourselves or distorted sides of our collective self. What is needed is not a flip-flop of interests or values but a balancing… which means constant evaluation of the heroic and divine ideal, strength and wisdom, that beckons and eludes forever.17

Competition as Pathology. In The Competition Obsession, Steven Homel argues against competition from a natural selection basis. His fundamental argument is that competition pits one being against another in a zero-sum game which must produce a winner and a loser. “Competition is the law of the jungle,” says Homel, “and no civilization can be built on that.”18 Ultimately both winner and loser stay trapped in a static world with limited resources. The opposite of competition, Homel argues, is initiative and cooperation, which seeks through imagination, innovation, learning, and growing to broaden the resource base.

Towards a Theology of Competition: Scripture

The discussion above demonstrates that sincere Christians have dramatic differences about competition.Some of the differences arise because the Scripture seldom speaks directly about the construct—there is no verse that says, “You shall not compete.” Other difficulties arise because much of the scriptural support for a perspective tends to be of the “proof text” variety—that is, the Scripture used supports a position already taken. For example, a writer who emphasizes the negative nature of competition tends to focus on the issues of justice, peace, and relationships in Scripture, and a writer who emphasizes the positive nature of competition tends to discuss Paul’s sports metaphors or the property rights portions of the Jewish Law. Therefore, we acknowledge that there is a genuine danger of bias, and that we strive to minimize our own as much as possible.

Research Techniques

Our first step in moving towards a theology of competition was to search the Scripture. We began the study by doing a search of a Bible and commentary database using a variety of words that have to do with competition: “competi-tion,” “compete,” “strive” (as in a contest or in court), “plead” (as in pleading a case), “contend,” “fight,” “game,” and “contest.”19 When we found different Hebrew or Greek words for these English words, we searched each word. Using a database, we consulted eight translations and paraphrases of the Bible, four commentaries, four Bible dictionaries, Naves, Vines, Strongs, Youngs, and selected commentary from Martin Luther, John Owen, John Calvin, John Wesley, John Bunyan, and Andrew Murray. We also consulted the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia in hard copy.

From this research we reached three conclusions about what Scripture says in reference to competition. First, on balance, competition is neither moral nor immoral per se but is a neutral force that can be turned to good or evil. The second conclusion is that Christians need to be careful about the goals of competition. The third conclusion is that Christians need to be careful about their attitudes or motivations when competing. We will examine each of these conclusions in turn.

Conclusion 1: Scripture Sees Competition as Neutral

Scripture does not seem to assign a moral value to competition—that is, we could not find any indication that competition is inherently good or evil, positive or negative, moral or immoral. Nor, contrary to our expectations, did we not find that Scripture indicated positive and negative positions that netted out as neutral. Rather, Scripture seemed to assume that competition is embedded in the nature of things and is value-neutral.

Few will dispute that the Bible assumes that micro competition is embedded in the human condition. The biblical writers give many examples of people competing, from the wrestling contest between Jacob and the angel (Genesis 31) to the argument of Jesus’ disciples over who was the greatest among them (Mark 9). However, the conclusion that competition is value-neutral is more controversial. While many passages in Scripture encourage or command love, co-operation, harmony, and peace, we could not find an implied or overt moral value for the act of competing. That is, rivalry per se did not appear to be an ethical issue. This conclusion was unexpected for us. Therefore, to test the assertion further we formulated two propositions:
1) Scripture says that competition is inherently evil.
2) Scripture says that competition is inherently good.

Proposition: Scripture says that competition is inherently evil. Some writers argued that the Edenic state was one of complete cooperation, and that micro-competitive rivalry entered the world when Adam and Eve fell.20 If this position is correct, competition would be a byproduct of sin and inherently immoral; the Christian should avoid it or seek to reduce it along with other sinful effects of the fall. However we did not find the arguments to be convincing or Scripture to be clear on this point.

In Eden there was harmony between Adam, Eve, the Earth, animals, and God and the harmony was broken when Adam and Eve disobeyed God.21 However we could find no scriptural basis for thinking that harmonious competition could not have been present in Eden before the Fall. For example, Adam and Eve might have raced each other (to win), played dunking games in the water, or vied to see who tended more trees that day. That the Fall corrupted the competitive motivations of the human race is without doubt. Goals were also corrupted; the Fall itself came about because Eve wanted to be as wise as God, to be equal to Him—to be her own goal.22 However, to us Scripture implies that the corruption occurred in the motives and goals, not in the competitive mechanism itself.

There are other arguments. For example, the first recorded act of competitive rivalry is the story of Cane and Abel, and that competition ended in murder.23However the scriptural indication is that God was interested in the offerings the brothers presented, not in their rivalry. He did not censor their rivalry and no commentary we could find said otherwise. The writer of Hebrews, commenting about this incident, said that Abel made his offering through faith and that was why God accepted it.24 It was not rivalry that created evil in the situation; it was the motives and attitudes of the rivals that created the evil.

Proposition: Scripture says that competition is inherently good. On the other hand, neither did we find in Scripture the notion that competition, micro or macro, is a virtue or that it is a gift from God. There are many examples of God desiring his people to cease competing. For example, Paul discourages rivalry in spiritual gifts between church members and specifically forbids pride.25

Those who suggest that competition is a gift from God frequently tie their exegesis to the capitalistic economic system or to sports.26 Economic competition can indeed be a force for good. In a competitive market, many buyers and sellers trade similar products and the price of goods is market driven. This creates a system where goods can be produced and sold at lower prices, firms have incentives to produce products that buyers want, and product and process innovation is encouraged.27 These are positive things. Furthermore, a competitive market encourages freedom of information which allows the Gospel to be spread more easily.28 Nevertheless as John Boersema notes, when God designed an economy for the Israelites, it was only minimally based on competition. Elements of capitalism, such as respect for personal property, were present as in, for example, the Eighth Commandment. However, while Scripture does recognize private ownership of property, it does not necessarily mandate it. As Richard Chewning reminds us, “One cannot automatically extrapolate from the property arrangements of an agrarian and tribal culture the specifics that should be applied to a complex modern arrangement.”29 Furthermore, throughout Scripture, God emphasizes that He, not the invisible hand of market competition, is the power behind all things(Psalm 24:1) and He is in charge of economic as well as spiritual life.30

Regarding personal or team competition, some argue that Paul’s metaphors comparing the Christian life to a race for a prize (I Corinthians 9) or the writer of Hebrews talking about a wrestling contest (Hebrews 12) show that competition creates or enhances the blessings of God.31 However, the biblical use of sports metaphors to describe the Christian life does not necessarily mean that God blesses competition. Paul used many metaphors in his writing: the human body, marriage, a soldier’s armor. Christ also used many metaphors: farmers sowing seed, businessmen buying land, women baking bread. The fact that Paul talks about soldiers, or Christ about farmers, does not imply that God is partial to the military or agricultural sectors. Paul’s use of sports metaphors does not imply that God is partial to athletics either.

There are Christians who have a vocation in sports and feel that God has blessed that vocation.32 Sports are, by definition, competitive; it is necessary that the successful athlete deals skillfully with rivalry. However, it is not necessary to assume that God blesses competition, in order to acknowledge that Christians can flourish in sports. God blesses each Christian as he or she follows Him faithfully in the vocation to which he or she is called. It is the faithfulness, not the industry, that is blessed.

The point here is that though competition can be a personal motivation to-wards excellence, or a major aspect of an economic system that encourages freedom, there is no scriptural evidence that God sees it as inherently good. Contrarily, competition of all sorts can foster selfishness, conflict, pride, and other ungodly attitudes, but we could find no evidence in Scripture that God sees it as inher-ently evil. Rather, competition seems to be neutral construct, a part of the human condition that can be turned towards either good or evil, depending on the goals and the motivations of the persons involved. The individual’s use of competition, like other areas where power is present, makes it good or bad.

Conclusion 2: Christians Need to be Careful about the Goals of Competition

According to the definition we are utilizing, competition requires the presence of some limited goal or a market end result.33 Nevertheless, when speaking of goals that Christians pursue, Scripture is often very specific. Some goals are unquestionably inappropriate: illegal goals, goals that harm others, or goals that are sinful. For example, contests with a prize of a sex tour to Thailand should be avoided. However, even contests with appropriate goals can create subtle dangers.For example, Proverbs describes wisdom as a goal of godliness, yet God censored Eve for desiring to be as wise as God—His objection was that she was trying to be “as God.”34 A great danger occurs when humans want to take the place of God. This danger has three implications. First, Yahweh, the God who rules the games, reserves the right to be pre-eminent in all things. Second, He also reserves the right to glorify the person whom He chooses to glorify. Finally, He desires that his people see Him as the ultimate goal. We will discuss each of these issues in more detail.

Implication 1: God reserves to himself the right to be pre-eminent. This theme resonates throughout Scripture. The first of the Ten Commandments given to Moses was, “You shall have no other Gods before Me.”35 “I am a jealous God,” declares Yahweh. “I will not share your affection with any other god.”36 God is so serious about this that when Lucifer set himself up as a rival, the Lord threw him out of heaven.37 When the Israelites worshiped other gods, God sent them into exile.38 Possibly the ultimate statement of God’s pre-eminence is the vision Paul gives in Colossians of Christ holding all things together and all things being summed up in Him.39 The God of the games is more important than any rival and in control of all competition.

Implication 2: God reserves the right to glorify whom He chooses, whether a person or nation. Christ clearly said that His followers should not compete to become important. “Anyone who wants to be the first,” says Jesus, “must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”40 Speaking about this passage, Matthew Henry comments: “Aiming at the monopoly of honor and respect has been in all ages the bane of the church, and the shame of its members and ministers… We must leave it to God to choose, employ, and honor his own instruments as he pleaseth.“41 John the Baptist understood this plainly. “God in heaven appoints each person’s work,” he said. “[Jesus] must become greater and greater and I must become less and less.”42 Paul uses the metaphor of potter and clay to show that God, the potter, has the right to shape a Christian without argument from the “clay.”43 The Holy Spirit dispenses gifts to Christians as He chooses, the writer of Hebrews reminds us.44 The choice is His, not ours.

Implication 3: God desires to be the ultimate goal of the Christian. The point of God emphasizing His pre-eminence is that He desires his people to make Him the ultimate goal in life. Throughout Scripture, the saints have responded to this. “Who do I have in Heaven but you?” asks David. “I desire you more than anything on earth.”45 Moses “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.”46 “Those things which were advantage to me, I esteemed loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord,” declares Paul.47 As William Law points out, a true Christian is one who “considers and serves God in everything and who makes all of his life an act of devotion by doing everything in the name of God and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.”48 If God is consistently the ultimate goal of the Christian, any competition that the Christian engages in can add to the glory of God.

Conclusion 3: When Competing, Christians Need to be Careful about Attitudes and Motivations

Another area where competition can be misused is in the human attitudinal and motivational process. The sin nature can use competition to strengthen many harmful character traits. “What causes quarrels and fights among you?” asks James. “You want… you are jealous… you want it for your own pleasure.”49 Among other things, competition, micro or macro, can promote feelings of aggression, improper rivalry, conflict, cheating, and discrimination.50

Therefore, when a Christian engages in competition, he or she must be care-ful not to violate scriptural admonitions to love God and love one’s neighbor as oneself. Below we briefly outline some of the spiritual tensions that can be present in different parts of the competitive process. For ease of discussion, we have framed these tensions around the definition of competition given earlier.

Competition requires:
1. The presence of some limited goal or a market end result—In order for a Christian to be balanced in his or her competitive endeavors, the goal of the competition must be spiritually healthy. This has already been discussed above.
2. …valued and sought by two or more people or social entities (groups, firms, nations)—Competition occurs between two or more people; it is not an individual construct but a communal one. As such, it falls under scriptural admonitions about community and sensitivity towards fellow believers.51 For example, Paul’s use of Greek sporting events to illustrate the Christian life would have been controversial in some churches. Orthodox Jews saw gymnasium events as evil, partly because the contestants competed nude, and partly because the games were dedicated to the Greek or Roman gods. On the other hand, Hellenized Jews freely joined in the activities of the gymnasium either as spectators or participants.52 Paul was sensitive to this potential for offence, so he used illustrations, such as racing, that were part of the Hebrew as well as the Greek culture, and he was careful to which churches he wrote such metaphors. Likewise, we must be sensitive to those believers who genuinely believe that competition is bad, or who are not convinced it is not bad, and find ways to accommodate them in our churches and classrooms. We also are enjoined to maintain community even when competing.

3. …who engage in implicit and/or explicit rivalry—Rivalry is a part of competi-tion and rivalry can promote aggression. Many of the games and sports mentioned in the Bible, such as wrestling and archery, were used to prepare young men for the extreme rivalry of warfare.53 Even riddle games could be used aggressively.54 Samson, for example, used a riddle game to deal with the Philistines who questioned his right to marry into their community.55 According to Bernie Schock:

Studies have concluded that competition nurtures ‘me-ism’ and a…tendency toward self-concern. If you and I are striving for the same prize, I don’t expect you to act generously in my behalf….Research [also] has confirmed that unfriendly acts between participants increase during competition….Research indicates that sports are frequently a stimulant to, rather than a repressor of, aggressive feelings. Even watching some sporting events can increase a person’s aggression.56

Therefore, when competing, the Christian must consistently check his or her attitude by the standard of the Scripture—which is agape love for the other. It is, arguably, possible to compete with an attitude of agape, but it is not always done.

4. …within some set of constraints or boundaries (perhaps rules, perhaps natural geographic territory, perhaps time)—Christians might be free to engage in competition, but they must do so within the rules. For a man to be crowned in a contest, says Paul, he must strive lawfully.57 The rules of the game or endeavor must be followed; it is not appropriate for a Christian to win by cheating or by seeking to circumvent the rules.58 Spurgeon comments that economic exchange is good as long as it is based on the just and right principles set by God.However, he says, the tendency is to concentrate on selfish principles, to monopolize, to crush rivals. The cause of that tendency is covetousness. Covetousness is a great evil, he says, which violates the Hebrews 13:5 directive that we are to be free from the love of money and content with the things we have.59

For reasons of personal integrity and the glory of God, the competitor must keep to the rules of the contest. However, a Christian has a larger mandate; he or she must also keep within the character that God expects of one of His children, and maintain agape love for the other.

Towards a Theology of Competition: Church Fathers

Since the construct of competition is so controversial among Christians, we decided that in addition to searching the Scriptures it would be useful to examine the thinking of key church fathers on the subject. It was beyond the scope of this paper to trace competition through two millennia of church history, therefore as proxy we chose three persons who influenced Christian thinking at critical times: Augustine, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards.

Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, wrote extensive apologetics and exegesis, culminating with the City of God. His training in Greek philosophy and rhetoric allowed a skillful defense of the Gospel that influenced Church counsels and theologians into the Middle Ages and even further.60 Possibly no one other than Paul and Martin Luther has had such far-reaching effects on Christ’s church.

John Calvin (1509-1564) was the second most important figure in the Protestant reformation after Martin Luther, and some say he had even greater influence than Luther in creating the thought patterns that subsequently dominated Western culture.61 Trained in Renaissance humanism, theology, and law, he was the first person to attempt to model a large social organization (Geneva) entirely on Biblical principles. Some call him the father of modern capitalism.62 His Institutes of the Christian Church remains influential to our day.63

onathan Edwards (1703-1758), the Puritan preacher, is widely regarded as the one of the most original American philosophical theologians. His work focused on two main themes: the absolute sovereignty of God, and the beauty of God’s holiness,and he influenced much of the Christian thinking in what became the United States.64 In addition to Edwards’ ideas regarding competition, we will consider other Puritan views on competition. The Puritan movement flourished during a time of great economic change, the Industrial Revolution. Since the Puritan goal was to do everything to the glory of God, they developed, among other things, an extensive theology of business.65

Augustine: “Rightly Ordered Relationships”

Augustine is widely considered to be one of the great theologians of the Christian church. He became the Bishop of Hippo in 395 A.D. and remained in that influential position for 34 years. One of Augustine’s well-known arguments is that Christianity is not an external religion of rules and rituals, but rather a matter of the Spirit and the heart. Those who believe in Christ will obey Him; obedience reflects what is in the heart.66

Today, Confessions is probably Augustine’s best-known work, but the towering, multi-volume City of God is, arguably, his most influential.67 In City of God Augustine compared the earthly city of sinful, fallen men with the city of God inhabited by righteous beings and ruled by God. His association of political power with all that is destructive in man, the idea of man’s utter dependence upon divine grace, and the idea that a commonwealth must be united by a common worship of the true God influenced theologians and political thinkers into the twenty-first century.68

In his writings, Augustine did not speak directly about economic competition. He was certainly familiar with the mercantile economy of his day, with caravans of goods traveling the Roman trade routes.69 However, he felt that the role of the Christian was to accept current political/economic regimes and find God’s purpose within them (City of God, Book 5). Augustine’s works, however, provide some clues to his possible views about other forms of macro and micro competition. One such clue is his definition of peace. Augustine took Plato’s idea of peace as rightly ordered relationships and extended it into the Christian world. He wrote,

The peace of an irrational soul lies in the rightly ordered disposition of the appetites; the peace of the rational soul lies in the rightly ordered relationship of cognition and action … peace between mortal man and God is an ordered obedience, in faith, under an eternal law; and peace between men is an ordered agreement of mind and mind …. The peace of a household is an ordered concord, with respect to command and obedience, of those who dwell together; the peace of a city is an ordered concord, with respect to command and obedience, of the citizens; and the peace of the Heavenly City is a perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and of one another in God …. The peace of all things lies in the tranquility of order, and order is the disposition of equal and unequal things in such a way as to give to each its proper place.70

The law that all parts of nature seek peace is always true for Augustine, but he argues that some individuals or nations pervert this law through sin and try to find peace through unrighteous means. For example, he contends that the source of competition among humans is the desire for peace on our own terms; for example, if we were in control, we would have peace and we gain control by overcoming those who oppose us. Augustine uses the example of a robber who finds peace with those he bands together with in order to rob his victims and who finds peace at home by using force over the members of his household.71 That is, competition can become a means through which evil people attempt to gain control.

Augustine also suggests that “the lust for mastery,” whether personal or political, is a wrong reason for competition. The princes in the earthly city, he says, “are as much mastered by the lust for mastery as the nations which they subdue are by them; in the Heavenly, all serve one another in charity.”72 The earthly city is divided against itself in competition – “lawsuits, wars and strife” – and in those activities men seek lower goods, rather than the ultimate good of peace in God.73

This is a strong indictment of competition. Augustine suggests that when humans pursue good and goods through rivalry, even the just rivalry of the court system, misery will increase and peace will be extinguished. In contrast, Christians who pursue the things of heaven will not be involved in the rivalry that consumes so many of the ungodly in the search for more property, wealth, power, or prestige.74

Interestingly, there is at least one example that may counter the claim that Augustine categorically rejects competition. This is the general method of his writings, which is one of debate with his opponents. Throughout the City of GodAugustine is continuously quoting or summarizing his opponents’ arguments and making counter-arguments, as would be expected from a person trained in rhetoric. Though not as structured as a formal debate with a winner and a loser, this activity can be seen as competitive. But if this form of competition is good for the Christian scholar, presumably because its end glorifies God, might not other types of competition be acceptable if the actors seek to glorify God? We have no way of knowing whether Augustine would think so. We do conclude however that Augustine categorically condemns any attempt to usurp the glory or the position of God and sees a prideful, contentious, or disputatious spirit as evil.

John Calvin: “Using the World as God Intends”

Almost a generation separated Martin Luther and John Calvin, but Calvin’s influence on post-Reformation thinking is, arguably, as strong as Luther’s.75 Jean Calvinus was raised by Catholic parents but came under the influence of the “new learning” when he studied law at the University of Paris. He was particularly influenced by Ulrich Zwingli’s literal reading of Scripture—anything not explicitly and literally in the Scripture was to be rejected; anything explicitly and literally there was to be followed.76 He wrote the first edition of his massive work on Protestant doctrine, The Institute of the Christian Church, while in exile in Strasbourg but was invited back to Geneva in 1540.77 There, he and others who thought like him organized the government so that the clergy were involved in municipal decisions, particularly discipline. This involvement was not always successful; nevertheless Geneva became the most important Protestant center of the sixteenth century.78

Calvin took significant theological positions that can be applied towards a discussion of competition. He is probably best known for his views on God’s sovereignty and the predestination of man; this latter doctrine significantly influenced his understanding of history. He saw history as a dynamic, teleologically ordered state that will culminate in Christ’s second coming.79 By extension, God is intimately involved in every event of history and orchestrates each detail according to His own glorious desire. As a result, the Gospel is relevant in all areas of life including the structures of society, the economic realities of everyday life, and the personal character of the Christian.

Calvin argued that Christians must not be so “insolent” as to reject the advantage of government of the people but should be thankful for and involved in their own government.81

According to Calvin, the Christian is to be just and show love in the social and economic systems in which God places him or her. Christians have, for example, no right to deride “losers,” or to take advantage of an advantageous competitive position to oppress others. Rather, they have obligations of love to those who have lost in the competitive economic game, or have become distressed by it. Calvin says that

Christ says that those are happy, who are not only prepared to endure their own afflictions, but to take a share in the afflictions of others, — who assist the wretched, — who willingly take part with those who are in distress.82

In addition, Calvin would completely disagree with the idea that it is acceptable to use competition for personal gain. In The Institutes he discusses human efforts to attain worldly sustenance and luxury.

He who makes it his rule to use this world as if he used it not, not only cuts off all gluttony in regard to meat and drink, and all effeminacy, ambition, pride, excessive shows and austerity, in regard to his table, his house, and his clothes, but removes every care and affection which might withdraw or hinder him from aspiring to the heavenly life, and cultivating the interest of his soul.83

Calvin does not condemn economic competition, but he does condemn using it for personal ends and having inappropriate motives and attitudes in competitive situations—ambition, pride, or excessive displays in victory. He states, “there is no other remedy than to pluck up by the roots those most noxious pests, self-love and love of victory.84 He would also condemn the fact that competition is sometimes used as an excuse for deceit. He argues: “Christ does not at all agree with carnal reason, when he pronounces those to be happy, who take no delight in cunning, but converse sincerely with men, and express nothing, by word or look, which they do not feel in their heart.”85

Many people, including Christians, become obsessed with competitive situations and these “noxious pests, self-love and love of victory” are often the culprits behind the obsession. Calvin asks that these individuals turn their energy toward what God says is important, namely the state of our soul and love towards others.

Both macro and micro competition must remain edifying to the community. Calvin feels that the individual’s edification is secure only when the church has been edified. All should work together for the common good; no member should be lacking while another finds personal prosperity. For, he says,

no member has its function for itself, or applies it for its own private use, but transfers it to its fellow-members; nor does it derive any other advantage from it than that which it receives in common with the whole body. Thus, whatever the pious man can do, he is bound to do for his brethren, not consulting his own interest in any other way than by striving earnestly for the common edification of the Church.86

This implies that competitive relationships in the Church are inappropriate, a sentiment that echoes Paul and James. Even so, Calvin does not condemnation competition; rather, he requires that what is done between Christians should be done for collective advantage. Calvin would certainly agree that one Christian university should not steal students from another by denigrating the other, but he would likely see nothing wrong with the music department putting on a multi-university band contest, as long as all concerned conducted themselves “in love.”

In summary, Calvin felt that human activity, carried on in obedience to God’s law, was an expression of His will as it related to the coming of the new heavens and earth.87 We extend this to argue that competition, a human activity, has a place in God’s plan and the Christian can freely participate in it, but must be careful to so in love. In individual competition, the Christian is to edify the other person first and be free from pride, vindictiveness, and the love of victory. In macro or micro competition, the Christian must be careful to heed God’s highest calling—to live a holy life, humbly, and with charity for all.

Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans: “The Beauty of Virtue”

The British Industrial Revolution completely transformed British and European society.88 Commerce changed from a community affair, participated in by individuals who had known each other most of their lives, to an international, impersonal, and complex system driven by the “invisible hand” of the market.89 These drastic changes stretched the fabric of society to the limit. The challenge to Christian morality was immense—not unlike the drastic changes occurring in the twenty-first century.90 During this time, those who dissented from the Anglican Church were forbidden to participate in government, university teaching, preaching, or law. In order to live, the Puritans (as the dissenters became called) were forced to move to commerce. The Puritans actively attempted to integrate their saving faith in Jesus Christ into every part of life; thus, they had a great deal to say about the ethics of commerce and, by extension, competition both in England and in the New World.91

The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards is regarded as one of the greatest American theological thinkers. His extensive writings demonstrate his original thoughts on classic Christian themes such as the freedom of the will, original sin, and the knowledge of one’s own salvation. It is difficult to find any explicit pronouncements on competition in his works, but a few themes allow us to make inferences on the subject. We will also briefly discuss some of the common Puritan views on the subject of commerce and competition.

One of Edwards’ most extensive ethical treatments is titled The Nature of True Virtue. This work contains one of Edwards’ important themes, the beauty of virtue. He explains:

True virtue most essentially consists in benevolence to being in general. Or perhaps, to speak more accurately, it is that consent, propensity and union of heart to being in general, which is immediately exercised in a general good will…Beauty does not consist in discord and dissent, but in consent and agreement.92

Edwards defines “benevolence to being in general” as general good will to oth-ers. Good will is an attitude of the heart that is beautiful. In other words, when an individual is acting in virtue and benevolence, his or her soul exhibits moral beauty. Edwards notes that this “beauty” is agreeable and peaceful. Each individual participates in the great “universal system of existence” that God created, and when one being peacefully coexists with the rest of “being,” the result is beauty.93

However, this does not necessarily mean that Edwards is against competition. Rather, he is describing the mind and attitude of the Christian’s heart toward others. It is possible to compete while acting in peaceful coexistence (when playing table games, for example) but the Christian must be careful not to move out of peace with the competitor.

Another important theme for Jonathan Edwards was the proper goal of human affections. His book On Religious Affections focuses on the American Great Awakening and Edwards’ desire to determine how some could appear to find salvation only to revert to old habits and attitudes.94 There is much that could be said about this work, but because we are discussing competition we will only focus on a small part of Edwards’ thesis: that “those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the loveliness of the moral Excellency of divine things.”95

It was Edwards’ contention that a Christian’s affections become visible through his or her will or actions, a principle consistent with contemporary psychological thinking. Therefore, “a true saint, when in the enjoyment of true discoveries of the sweet glory of God and Christ, has his mind too much captivated and engaged by what he views without himself, to stand at that time to view himself, and his own attainments.”96 In competitive terms, this means that a Christian whose affections are set on God would not be distracted by the thrill of competition or the pride of victory.

Edwards may not condemn competition but he sets a high standard for the competing Christian. Humans commit sin when they are not finding pleasure in God’s beauty. Therefore, the state of heart and conduct of the individual in competition must always align with moral standards of purity, charity, and honesty; his or her heart must remain focused on God.

Other Puritan writers engaged competition, particularly economic competition, more directly. It is integral to competition that there be a set of rules, and in the Industrial Revolution, as in our day, the British Common Law outlined the rules of commerce. Nevertheless, the law did not keep up with the rapid societal changes. As a result, there were many loopholes and markets were essentially unregulated; neither the government nor the market itself could be relied upon to regulate prices or protect consumers. Markets were easily dominated by monopolies or oligopolies; there was little external check on unethical behavior.97 This left personal, internal moral control as the only option for buyers or sellers who wanted to be ethical. Therefore, the Puritan preachers continuously pointed to God’s law as the ultimate regulator of morality.

The best laws may be abused and perverted to purposes contrary to the general design of laws, which is to maintain the rights and secure the properties of mankind. Human laws have a regard due to them, but always in subordination to the higher laws of God and na-ture. Therefore when it so happens, that we have an advantage by the law, to gain what the laws of moral honesty allow not, it is an oppression and violence to take the advantage.98

The Puritans taught that the purpose of Christians competing in commerce was first to glorify God and, secondly, to serve their neighbors. Personal behavior such as fraud, taking advantage of the ignorance of a buyer, or selling and buying without concern for the well-being of the other person was prohibited.99 For example, in Boston a trial was brought against a businessman who was accused of overpricing his products. In a public lecture, John Cotton used the trial to lay down some business principles. He denounced as false the following premises:

That a man might sell as dear [expensively] as he can, and buy as cheap as he can….That he may sell as he bought, though he paid too dear, etc., and though the commodity be fallen, etc. That as a man may take advantage of his own skill or ability, so he may of another’s ignorance or necessity.100

In a sermon on theft, Jonathan Edwards carried the principle even further. He said that theft is usurpation:

They usurp that which belongs to their neighbor…when men break their promises because they find them to be inconvenient, and they cannot fulfill them without difficulty and trouble; or merely because they have altered their minds since they promised.101

Like Christ, the Puritan preachers went beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of it. Cutting corners might make things a little easier for the businessman, but it defrauded his neighbor. People can conjure up a thousand excuses for unethical behavior in competition; the servant of God should not do so.

As for goals, the Puritans agreed with Calvin that the goal of competition was not self, but rather the glory of God and love for one’s neighbor. Calvin, following Luther, argued that there was no division between sacred and secular work, but rather, all honest work was sacred and holy to God. God assigned people to their task; this made each Christian a steward personally responsible to Him. In addition, work was a means by which a Christian showed love to his or her neighbor.102

The Puritans agreed that in economic competition, the Christian was responsible to be biblically ethical and faithful to his or her task. It was proper to do good work because the work would benefit the neighbor. Goods and services of quality would reflect well on God and his people and that would create the beauty of virtue. God might or might not choose to bless the worker’s effort with financial success—the choice was His.

Discussion: Towards a Theology of Competition

On the front cover of the book The Competitive Paradigm,a blindfolded juggler dances on a tightrope that is secured only on one end—the remainder of the rope is suspended in mid-air. The author says that this picture “symbolizes the extent to which the competition paradigm involves a similar precarious balancing act.”103 One purpose in writing this paper was to bring the questions about God and competition into the open. As academics, it is our aim to question the unquestioned, to analyze the assumed—in short, to poke the juggler and throw him off-balance.

However, it is a failing of academics to gather information forever and never reach closure. Therefore we have gathered our courage, gone against our inclinations, and set down some tentative propositions. These are not definitive or exhaustive, or even in order of importance. They are the small beginnings of a theological system on competition. We invite our colleagues to utilize these for comment or critique, to the benefit of us all.

Proposition 1: Competition is Irreducibly Complex

Through this study, we come to the inescapable conclusion that thinking about competition requires complex thinking and that is no bad thing. Consider the following:
• Competition is simultaneously a noun (a state of affairs), a verb (a state of activity), an adjective (describing a state of being) and an adverb (describing a state of doing).
• It is individual (a biking enthusiast seeking to better her own best time over a given distance), interpersonal (two wrestlers probing each others’ strengths and vulnerabilities), institutional (universities vying for the best US News and World Reports rankings) and international (nations seeking to land the Summer Olympics in their major cities).
• It can involve both a contest between two teams and cooperation among members of each team.
• It can encourage or discourage, build bridges or barriers, create greater respect for rules, and trust or foster a “winning at all cost” cynicism. It can spur achievement and anxiety, leading to growth or destruction.
We encourage fellow believers to embrace the delicious ambiguity of competition as an opportunity to explore clashes and paradoxes and to examine both old perspectives and new hypotheses. Our God is the Lord of the complex, as well as the simple. Wherever we go in this issue, God is there before us.

Proposition 2: Competition is a Part of a Worldview System

Views of competition are not held in isolation but are part of a larger value system. An individual’s values are shaped by his or her worldview and they in turn shape that worldview. Our ancestors in the Faith approached competition from their worldview system and the ways they saw God and His people. Our theology of competition must arise from the same source.

Table 1 below illustrates the cause-and-effect relationship between competition and the Christian’s worldview. The left side of the table outlines seven questions that a worldview raises.104 The right side is a listing of some of the questions and implications that the serious researcher must consider as he or she works through this complex issue.

Proposition 3: We Live with Competition and Deal with it by Nuance

Whatever a Christian answers to the worldview questions, competition is embedded in our society and economic system. It is something that we must find practical ways to live with. One of the easier ways to deal with competition is to reduce a complex subject to a simple answer: to say that God rejects competition and embraces cooperation, or the opposite. This temptation is to be resisted but what, then, are the alternatives?

David Midura and Donald Glover suggest three possible models to deal with competition: (a) the military model where the competitive opponent is seen as the enemy; (b) the reward model where the competitive opponent is seen as a target; and (c) the partnership model where the competitive opponent is seen as comrade, ally, or encourager to excellence.105 Thinking through these different models can be useful for the person endeavoring to find a Godly way to live with competition.

There are other nuanced approaches to competition. For example, some distinguish between other-referenced competition, where the competitor is striving to prove him or herself to be superior over another, and task-oriented competition, where the competitor is competing to do well at something without seeking to best another individual. In the second mode, the competitor becomes a surrogate teammate, encouraging the best for each participant.106 This is similar to distinguishing between interpersonal competition, where the purpose is to beat others, and goal competition, where the competitors seek excellence for its own sake. Obviously, some of these approaches lend themselves more readily to loving the other person than others.


We leave this broad examination of the theological roots of competition with renewed optimism. Competition is embedded in our society and economic system, but there are ways for the Christian to honor God and serve the neighbor even in those circumstances. We need to be cautious about our attitudes and our goals when we engage in competition, but we need not fear it. Competition is servant rather than master. The God of love is also the lord and master of competition and He will guide us as we compete. Our God is the God of the games!

Cite this article
Yvonne S. Smith, Sharon G. Johnson and Erik M. Hiller, “The God of the Games: Towards a Theology of Competition”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 41:3 , 267-291


  1. American College Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1962).
  2. Sharon Johnson and Galen Smith, “Perspectives on Competition – Christian and Otherwise,” CBFA national conference (Boise, ID: October 2002).

  3. American College Dictionary.
  4. Sharon Johnson, “Competition: Teaching Tool or Teaching Tension?” Working paper (Cedarville, OH: Cedarville University, 2003); Johnson and Smith, “Perspectives on Competition – Christian and Otherwise.”
  5. See Brian Griffiths, The Creation of Wealth: A Christian’s Case for Capitalism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984).
  6. See Steve Rundle and Tom Steffen, Great Commission Companies (Downers Grove, IL: In-terVarsity Press, 2003)
  7. W. Buskist and D. Morgan, “Method and Theory in the Study of Human Competition,” in Human Operant Conditioning and Behavior Modification, G. Davey and C. Cullen, eds.(New York: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 1988), 171-184.
  8. K. Wiersma, “Competition,” Christian Editors Journal 24.4 (April-May 1985): 16.
  9. See Bernie Schock, Parents, Kids and Sports (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987).
  10. “Competition: Teaching Tool or Teaching Tension?”

  11. H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1956).
  12. Perspectives on Competition – Christian and Otherwise.”
  13. Shirl James Hoffman, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 4.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Robert J. Higgs, God in the Stadium: Sports and Religion in America (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1995), 3-4.
  17. Ibid., 333.
  18. Stephen H. Homel, The Competition Obsession: a Philosophy of Non-Competitive Living (San Diego, CA: ACS Publishing Company, 1981), 37.
  19. We used the Study Bible Software, P.C. version 4.2 (Biblesoft, Inc, 2004); hereafter, P.C. Study.
  20. See Brian Griffiths, The Creation of Wealth: A Christian’s Case for Capitalism.
  21. Genesis 3.
  22. Genesis 3:6.
  23. Genesis 4:4-13.
  24. Hebrews 11:4.
  25. Hebrews 11:4.
  26. For examples, see J. P. Tiemestra, “Christianity and Economics; A Review of the Recent Literature,” Christian Scholar’s Review 22.3 (1993): 227-247.
  27. See John Boersema, Political-Economic Activity to the Honor of God (Manitoba, Canada: Premier Publishing, 1999).
  28. Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: The Free Press, 1993); Virgil Smith, “Christian Business Ethics: Examples from the Puritans,” Faith in Busi-ness 2.1 (June 1997): 5-11.
  29. Richard C. Chewning, Biblical Principles & Economics: The Foundations, ed. R. C. Chewning, Christians in the Marketplace Series, Vol. 2. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1989), 61.
  30. For example, note James 4:13-18.
  31. Royce D. Sadler, “Competition and the Christian Ethic,” Journal of Christian Education 391 (April 1996): 45.
  32. See for example, M. McDuffe, “Coach Erwin’s Three Steps for Success,” Fellowship for Christian Athletes (August 2004), <>
  33. “Competition: Teaching Tool or Teaching Tension?”
  34. Genesis 3.

  35. Exodus 20:3.
  36. Exodus 20:4.
  37. saiah 14:12-15.
  38. Hosea 9.
  39. Colossians 1.
  40. Mark 9:24.
  41. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition. P.C. Study.

  42. John 3:27, 30.
  43. Romans 9:21.
  44. Hebrews 2:4.

  45. Psalm 73:25.
  46. Hebrews 11:26.
  47. Philemon 3:7, 8.
  48. William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1728 [1955]), 17.
  49. James 4:1-6.
  50. Griffiths, 10-11.

  51. Romans 15; I Corinthians 8.
  52. T. Nelson, Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, P.C. Study (1986).
  53. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.
  54. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
  55. Judges 14:12-14.
  56. Parents, Kids and Sports, 14.
  57. II Timothy 2:5.
  58. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.
  59. C. Spurgeon, “A Lesson and Fortune for Christian Men of Business,” in Spurgeon’s Sermons, P.C. Study).
  60. As one of the reviewers of this paper pointed out, rhetoric is a discipline that is often highly competitive. See also R. W. Dyson, “Introduction to Augustine, City of God,” trans. R. W. Dyson(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 3.
  61. Robert Knudsen, “Calvinism as a Cultural Force,” in John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World, ed. W. Stanford Reid (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 13-32.
  62. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. T. Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1958 [1920]), 76-92 and 204-216.
  63. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1-IV, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997).
  64. William J. Wainright, “Jonathan Edwards and the Language of God,” The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 48 (1980): 520-530.
  65. See J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990).
  66. J. J. O’Donnell, “Augustine the African,” <>, accessed August 12, 2004.
  67. Augustine, City of God, trans. R. W. Dyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  68. R. W. Dyson, “Introduction to Augustine, City of God,” x-xxxiii.
  69. Ibid., xxiv.
  70. Augustine, City of God, Book 5, Ch. 13, 212-213.
  71. Ibid., Book 5, Ch. 13.
  72. Ibid., Book 14, Ch. 28, 632.
  73. Ibid., Book 15, Ch. 4, 638.
  74. Augustine, Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Ch.1.3, <>
  75. Calvinism as a Cultural Force,” 13-32.
  76. Richard Hooker, “Reformation Glossary: John Calvin<> (accessed Aug. 18, 2004).
  77. ohn Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; hereafter cited from <> (accessed January 17, 2012).
  78. Reformation Glossary: John Calvin.”
  79. R. T. Kendall, “The Puritan Modification of Calvin’s Theology,” in John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World, ed. W. Standford Reid (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 199-217.
  80. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Ch. 20, 652.[/efn_note The same principle applies to economic systems. Christians live in the economic world where God has called them; they are to reflect God’s glory there. For example, in the twenty-first century, countless Christians work in industries that are corrupt. Calvin would argue that, given God’s sovereignty, an individual might find herself called to a corrupt industry in order to provide an example of an honest businessperson conducting herself according to scriptural standards. This might involve competitive behavior, but that competition would be a means of honoring God. David Holwerda notes:

    Calvin uses biblical imagery of Christian life as a pilgrimage toward the heavenly kingdom. It is a pilgrimage in which one must use the world as God intends. So Calvin does not advocate a rejection of the present life as such … only a rejection of what is evil.80David Holwerda, “Eschatology and History: A Look at Calvin’s Eschatological Vision,” in Exploring the Heritage of John Calvin, ed. David Holwerda (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976), 119.

  81. ohn Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke, Vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Clas-sics Ethereal Library).
  82. Calvin, Institutes, Book 3, Ch. 10, 4.
  83. Ibid., Book 3, Ch. 7, 4.
  84. Ibid., Book 3, Ch. 5, 8.
  85. Ibid., Book 3, Ch. 5, 8.
  86. Calvinism as a Cultural Force,” 13-32.
  87. Roughly 1550-1750.
  88. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (New York: Random House, Inc., 1776/1937), 22.
  89. “Christian Business Ethics: Examples from the Puritans,” 5-11.
  90. 1Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 23-36.
  91. Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue, Ch. 1 <> (accessed August 8, 2004).
  92. Ibid.
  93. Jonathan Edwards, On Religious Affections (Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1792/2001).
  94. Ibid., 179.
  95. Ibid.
  96. Fiona F. Scott-Morton, The Problems of Price Controls <> (accessed June 20, 2001).
  97. Jonathan Edwards, “Sermon on Dishonesty or the Sin of Theft and Injustice,” in Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. II, ed. Edward Hickman (The Bath Press, 1774 [1995]), 223.
  98. “Christian Business Ethics: Examples from the Puritans,” 5-11.
  99. Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, 29.
  100. Jonathan Edwards, “Sermon on Dishonesty or the Sin of Theft and Injustice,” 219.
  101. Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, 23-36.
  102. Pauline Roseneau, The Competitive Paradigm (Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003), xiii.
  103. See James Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004).
  104. Daniel W. Midura and Donald R. Glover, The Competition-Cooperation Link (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999), 6-7.

  105. Jacques F. Richard, Ada Foni, Franca Tani, Fulvio Tasi, Giovanna Tomado, and Barry H. Schneider, “Cooperation and Competition,” in The Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Social Development, eds. Peter K. Smith and Craig H. Hart (London: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), 517.

Yvonne S. Smith

Ms. Smith is Professor of Management at the University of La Verne

Sharon G. Johnson

Mr. Johnson is Professor of Management at Charleston Southern University.

Erik M. Hiller

Mr. Hiller is Audit Manager, KPMG.