A Quick Guide to Christian Business Theology
When I attended theology school (2008-2010), the professors never discussed business. (Although most of my former seminary classmates are now working in for-profit companies, in seminary, we were instead becoming prepared for pulpit ministry or to become seminary professors.)
When I attended business school (2010-2011), the professors never discussed the Bible. (Although I didn’t attend a “Christian” business school, I have learned that one could scarcely tell the difference of the teaching in a Christian business school classroom from that of a secular business school. Usually, Christian universities are simply content to find someone who can teach business who will identify as a Christian by signing a “statement of faith”, ensuring that the professor is at least a Christian in name only.)
I can’t blame my professors for not helping me to develop a well-formed theology of business. In most cases, they simply didn’t have one themselves. Their own professors probably didn’t have one, and their pastors likely didn’t have one either.
It wasn’t until after my theology and business schooling that I realized I had not yet done the deeper work of discovering what the Bible says about business matters. Since then, I have written two books, recorded over 110 podcast interviews, written dozens of blog posts, and produced an entire course to highlight what the Bible teaches about business.
During this time, I have discovered that many others share this same hunger to know God’s will for the marketplace and for our individual assignments within it.
How we see God is how we see business
Richard Hooker, a prominent 16th-century Anglican priest, defined “theology” as “the science of things divine”.
Augustine of Hippo defined the Latin equivalent, theologia, as “reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity”.
Theology literally means “the study of God”, and none of us will completely figure God out on this side of eternity … no matter how much we study Him. What’s important is that we never stop our pursuit of knowing Him. We must never settle for assuming we’ve reached some sort of enlightened nirvana state where we don’t need to keep learning and growing.
The Bible says “we know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9a). This limited “part” is what you know about God and how you view the world in relation to Him. As a Christian, this “part” is your theology, and my “part” is my theology.
Within the framework of your theology, there is a certain way you view the issues of life in relation to God (e.g. business, politics, parenting, education, congregational worship, etc.). The way you view God focuses (or distorts) the lens through which you view all the issues of life.
This is why medieval scholars viewed theology as the “queen of the sciences”. Logically, they believed they couldn’t master any other fields of study in creation, whether commerce or otherwise, apart from knowing our Creator.
And neither can we.
Elements of a Well-Formed Theology of Business
While we all have a theology of business, far fewer of us have what could be considered a “well-formed” Christian theology of business in relation to the Bible.
A well-formed theology of business must include a robust, Bible-based perspective on issues such as these:
*The purpose of business
*How marketplace Christians fit into church structure, government, and mission
*How spiritual gifts apply to the marketplace
*The intrinsic value of work
*A biblical framework for all business disciplines: economics, innovation, management, marketing, sales, accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, human resources, strategic planning, business law, technology, negotiations
*The Holy Spirit’s activity in the marketplace
*Evangelism and apologetics strategies/methods for the marketplace
*Church history that highlights key marketplace Christians, Christ-centered companies, and marketplace movements
*How to approach ethical quandaries in business from a Holy Spirit-led, Bible-based perspective
*Biblical teaching for business owners, managers, customers, investors, advisors, consumers, and all other stakeholders of a company
*The role of business in shaping culture
Modern Expressions of Business Theology
If you were to interview Christian business professionals and ask them how God, the Bible, and the Christian faith relate to business, many different concepts would emerge–whether explicitly or implicitly.
Going further into the interview, you might be able to categorize the Christian’s predominant theology of business into one or more of these seven categories, which tend to emphasize certain element(s) of business theology over others:
1. Evangelism focused: business as mission, business as/is a ministry, marketplace ministry
2. Ethics focused: ethical capitalism, biblical business
3. Philanthropy focused: strategic philanthropy, Kingdom builders (typically a ministry of an institutional church aimed at increasing donations to the local church)
4. Goodness-of-work focused: the theology of work, work as worship
5. Social-justice focused: social entrepreneurship, community capitalism, liberation theology
6. Culture-shaping focused: Seven mountains mandate, Kingdom business
7. Employee-care focused: servant leadership
Certainly, there are more, but these are some of the categories that seem to be most commonly espoused by Christians. As you will notice, some of their expressions are more consistent with orthodox Christian theology than others.
How would you categorize your personal theology of business?
Factors That Form a Person’s Theology of Business
Even if we’re not aware of it, we all have a theology of business, which is shaped (or warped) by many different factors. Here are a few of the major ones:
-Religious, denominational, and church background
-Political affiliation and background
-Negative experiences in business
-Positive experiences in business
-Presence (or absence) of an admirable or dishonorable Christian business owner in a person’s life
-Socio-economic and cultural context
To be sure, one’s theology of business also makes a reciprocal impact on many of the items listed above.
The academic field of business theology is both fertile and somewhat uncultivated at present, and the People of God (aka., the Church) are in great need of Christians who are equipped with a robust Christian theology of business. I am not aware of an area with a more urgent need for disciple-making than the marketplace.
Currently, the aim of the Theology of Business Institute is to present a biblical framework for every major topic that is taught in MBA programs today.
We are also focused on developing a more robust perspective on the courses being taught in today’s seminaries and Bible schools to ensure that the marketplace receives the theological attention it so desperately needs.