“Never the twain shall meet.” That is a common refrain (spoken and unspoken) when it comes to understanding business activity and faith identity. Author Lee Camp, in his book Mere Discipleship, discusses a conversation in which he was told that a person was a faithful and “serious” Christian—but one would never be able to tell by the way they do business. Such a description, writes Camp, is a part of a prevailing belief about the relationship between faith and business: “One might be very ‘spiritual,’ one might be a ‘faithful church member,’ but business is business” (Camp, 2003).
To so easily separate our business activity from our faith identity is wrong. But why? Below we provide three assumptions that, if true, would suggest that business activity can, and should be, intricately tied to our identity.
We can begin with the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel who, upon taking notice of the Genesis narrative, questioned why God created a world—and a people to inhabit his world—if he is all-sufficient? While Hegel had his own nuanced answer, he did not necessarily challenge the orthodox belief that humans were made in God’s image.
Asking why God had to create and inhabit a world may be an interesting philosophical exercise, but it risks dismissing another important question: what does creating and inhabiting a world tell us about God? What does this tell us about his nature? For in answering the “what,” we may gain new clarity and perspective as to the question of “why.”
God is Productive and Relational
Among other things, the Genesis narrative reveals two important characteristics about God. First, he creates. He produces. He is, in this sense, active. Second, He is relational. Not only does God create, but He relates to His creation. He is not passive in a relational sense, but participates in the life of his creation. Obviously, the greatest example of this participation was God among humanity in the form of a man, Jesus. This provides us with our first assumption:God is productive and relational.
If one should accept this line of thinking, it provides helpful insight as to who we are as image bearers of God (Imago Dei). In considering and reflecting upon the attributes of God, what does this tell us about mankind? What does this tell me about myself? John Mueller offers some helpful insight from his book Redeeming Economics:
“Jesus once noted (as an astute empirical observation, not divine revelation) that since the days of Noah and Lot, people have been doing—and presumably will continue to do for as long as there are humans on earth—four kinds of things. He gave these examples: ‘planting and building,’ ‘buying and selling,’ ‘marrying and being given in marriage,’ and ‘eating and drinking.’ In other words, we human beings produce, exchange, give (or distribute), and use (or consume) our human and nonhuman goods.” (Mueller, 2010)
These everyday activities can appropriately be understood as economic activities. That is, these activities relate to our choices regarding the mobilization, use, and distribution of scarce resources (both material and immaterial). This provides us with our second assumption: Human activities are inherently economic in nature.
From here, we can link assumption #1 and assumption #2. We see that God is productive and relational. We see that mankind produces, exchanges, gives and uses. To produce and create is, obviously, productive activity. To exchange, give, and use is to exercise a form of relating or relationship. It is individual relating with individual, with institution, and with material. Thus, we may responsibly arrive upon our third assumption given our first two: In producing and relating (economic activity), mankind is both demonstrating and participating in God’s nature. If this is accepted, it should have profound implications for how we conceive of our faith life and our faith activity.
As image-bearers of God, understanding who God is provides necessary direction as it relates to understanding our own nature. As we have argued, part of that nature is bound up in creative work and relational commitments. Part of a faithful Christian life is a coherent Christian life. While it may be culturally appropriate to parse out our various identities, this belief would be rightfully challenged in the faith tradition. With this anthropological makeup in mind, the implications for business become more evident.
“Never the twain shall meet”? More like “Never the twain shall part.”
Post from Kevin Brown, David Bosch, and Mark Gill.