Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)
“We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden” is a theme coming out of the 1960s era that was encapsulated by the popular Crosby, Stills, and Nash song titled “Woodstock.”1 The implication is something has gone wrong, and we need to find a way back to life in the Garden of Eden. This is a sentiment shared by many Christians. Jeff Van Duzer in his new book, Why Business Matter to God (and What Still Needs to Be Fixed), reminds Christians that pushing forward to the New Jerusalem should now be the focus.
Van Duzer’s book is centered on business while being bathed in theology that follows a classic creation, fall, redemption, and consummation formula. The first chapter discusses creation and life for Adam in Eve before the fall. The reader is reminded that creation was declared “good” by God (Genesis 1:31) and that the material world matters to God (28). It is stressed that humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and that work was part of life in the garden (Genesis 2:15). The author concludes from the first three chapters of Genesis that business has two roles in this world: (1) “To provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish,” and (2) “to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity” (42).
Chapter 2 presents the entrance of sin into the world. A common list of troubling busi-ness issues are covered (environmental damage, wealth inequality, advertising to minors), along with the story of the fall’s consequences for work (Genesis 3:17-19). The chapter concludes that the market system was something that developed after the fall. Market systems primarily function as a rationing device amidst scarcity. Since abundance was the rule in the Garden of Eden, there would have been no need for a market economy.
The author next skips to the end of the story where God restores humanity and the world in a New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-2). God never intended the Garden of Eden to be static. His desire is for humans to innovate and build in an expression of God’s own creativity (87). The author connects the current role that work and business play with the future coming of the New Jerusalem. Christians tend to be in one of three camps: agnosticism, annihilation, and adoption. These three views are presented and a conclusion is drawn that some form of adoption is probably representative of God’s perspective. Thus, part of our work will contribute in some way to the Kingdom of God (91). With this in mind, the role of business through the Christian end-time lens should be to serve.
The author next looks at the “messy middle,” now that the beginning and the end of the story have been presented. Thus, Jesus’ role in redemption is presented in chapter 4. Work is to have a positive role in the transformation of society. It is to provide quality goods and services that allow increased success in the community. It is to provide jobs that help people reach their creative potential.
Van Duzer next presents Richard Niebuhr’s typology concerning culture and Christ and the role institutions play in God’s plan. Five positions are presented, but there is not a clear conclusion on which is most favorable for business. The author does believe that Christians ought to engage the world, but realizes there is tension about how best to do this. The key is that Christians are called to work for redemption and reconciliation.
Much of the remainder of the book deals with issues of profits. Business practitioners and academics are keenly aware that maximization of shareholder wealth is the primary goal of financial management.2 Many believe strongly that there is not another goal superseding this duty of financial officers in the corporate setting.3 Milton Friedman is famous for stating that all members of society should seek to maximize their financial return since it is in everyone’s best interest to have a productive society.4 I admire the author for stepping into the fray in an attempt to challenge this. There are serious concerns about the consequences of such an exclusive focus on stock price. Greed clearly played a role in the economic problems that have occurred during the last several years.
While Van Duzer has approached greed from a Christian perspective, secular writers have also warned of the potential dangers of wealth maximization. A focus on employees, the community, and the environment are now considered. There exists a stakeholder primacy model where corporate managers attempt to balance the interest of all groups involved.5 In addition, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is highly practiced in today’s business environment.6
Many companies have moved to a triple bottom line: financial, social, and environmental. Companies are recognizing the importance of clear, measurable goals in all three of these dimensions. The struggle with using something other than wealth maximization has been the ability to quantify. This book provides ideas to temper the focus on wealth maximization, but it lacks an easy answer that is measurable. Professional managers continue to struggle with this issue.
An implication of Van Duzer’s book is that businesses need to have a statement of purpose that is more than maximizing shareholder return. For those of the Christian faith, perhaps business as mission (BAM) is the best model. While difficult to precisely define, BAM is a movement that uses for-profit business as an instrument to achieving God’s mission. A typical BAM enterprise will set out a statement of purpose ahead of time, where profit is only important in so far as it is a necessary ingredient for long-term sustainability. Clearly, a BAM oriented business can achieve the goals that Van Duzer assigns as necessary from the design of God. A common BAM objective is serving and blessing the community. The hope is to provide a meaningful way out of poverty by providing dignity through work. Those working in BAM would find much of the material in Van Duzer’s book a nice backdrop to their business philosophy and mission goals.
The BAM orientation is a good complement to what is outlined by Van Duzer. The goals for business do seem to fit his theology. When partnered with BAM other critical biblical foundations are covered, for example, that all things should be done for the glory of God and a concern for lost people. A long-term critical element of BAM is bringing those who do not know Christ into relationship with Him. Following the great commission is hands down one of the fundamental requirements of a life of faith, and needs to be part of any Christian in business. It is critical to address when economics is concerned: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
Van Duzer has written a good book that can be read by Christians in business. He has tackled a difficult subject in a positive manner in the tradition of Dennis Bakke or Wayne Grudem. His book should be considered as part of this collection. The book contains some practical application for those working at a for-profit company. Further, it provides help to Christians thinking through their business careers at major corporations. Why Business Matters to God is a great reminder of the hope Christians should have as the world moves toward the New Jerusalem.
Cite this article
- Joni Mitchell, Woodstock, 1969, MCA Records International, Lain Matthews, MCA 6073-015.
- 4Stephen Ross, Randolph Westerfield, & Bradford Jordan, Essentials of Corporate Finance, 5th ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2007).
- John Dobson, “Monkey Business: A Neo-Darwinist Approach to Ethics Codes,” Financial Analysis Journal 61.3 (2005): 59-64.
- 6Milton Friedman, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits,” The New York Times Magazine, (1970): 3.
- Stephen Bretsen, “The Faithful Business as a Publicly Traded Corporation: Testing the Outer Limits of Corporate Law,” The Journal of Biblical Integration in Business 11:1 (2006): 43.
- Neal Johnson, Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 269.