Review: Why Business Matters to God (And…)

By David Gill, reprinted from The 313.

Jeff Van Duzer served as professor of business law and ethics, dean of the School of Business and Economics, and provost at Seattle Pacific University. SPU has one of the largest and most successful business schools of any Christian college or university. Few faculties have worked harder and more intentionally at pursuing a biblical Christian view of business.  

Why Business Matters to God (and What Still Needs to Be Fixed) has become a widely-praised and recommended “classic” in the decade since it first appeared. Van Duzer confines his attention to business – for-profit, commercial enterprises active in markets around the world.  Drawing on his understanding of Creation, Van Duzer says that “there are two legitimate, first-order, intrinsic purposes of business: as stewards of God’s creation, business leaders should manage their businesses: (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” (p. 42). Van Duzer considers other purposes such as building relationships and caring for the environment as significant but not quite at the level of the other two purposes. So too, maximizing profit is an essential though secondary aspect of the purpose of business. Right at the outset then, Van Duzer offers an alternative to the Chicago-school, “market fundamentalism” of Milton Friedman (and more than a few of his Christian acolytes). Frankly, if you want a biblical perspective on profit you have to go with some version of Van Duzer’s description. There is no way to rehabilitate “the love of money” as the primary, sufficient purpose of life and work after what the Bible has to say about it.

Van Duzer unpacks the character of God’s creativity to provide insights for our own. His chapter on the impact of the “fall” (“Broken”) is a good review of the downside of business though I prefer a tighter, more textually-based, account of how good work and business go bad. Van Duzer next considers the End, the “eschaton.”  Does our work have a place and value in the final, ultimate, future kingdom of God – or does it all disappear in fire and dust? He worries a bit through the interpretive options of annihilation and adoption of human works. For myself, I have never quite understood why our work would have less value if somehow it doesn’t survive forever. Most of our most valuable products and services have only temporary value and that doesn’t make them worthless. The instrumental vs. intrinsic value distinctions Van Duzer and others worry about apply to all people but not to all our work. “Redemptive work” is a fourth great theological theme used to shed light on good business and Van Duzer gets closer to doing this theme justice than have many commentators.

Van Duzer’s chapter applying H. Richard Niebuhr’s tired old Christendom typologies regarding “Christ” and “culture” will be of interest to Niebuhr experts and people who like typologies but it doesn’t seem to me that it sheds any light on either the truths of Scripture or the realities of business. Time to move on people:  those five ideal-types are rooted in historical milieux that have not existed for over a century. By contrast, Van Duzer’s final two chapters bristle with relevance, reality, and wisdom: “How Then Should We Do Business?” and “Making it Real.”

Final grade:  A- (A minus).  Aside from the Christ and Culture excursus and a few thin spots in the theological discussions (not wrong, just thin), this is an excellent book. Thoughtful Christians in business and in business school should devour these chapters and debate their implications.  Pastors would be tremendously strengthened in their capacity to understand and support their workplace disciples if they studied Van Duzer’s book.

Image: RightNow Media

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