Business Modules in Curricular Workshops

Seminary Curriculum / Produced by TOW Project

This the latest in a series of articles sharing insights from a joint curricular development initiative of the ON, the Theology of Work Project and three ON schools (Asbury, Assemblies of God and Western). It was originally published at the Oikonomia Network.

In our curricular workshops, we only had one conversation with a business school faculty member. However, business issues also arose in our discussions about course modules with a number of seminary faculty; business is a topic that already has a presence in the theological curriculum, and could have a larger one. These discussions centred around four main themes.

The Purpose of Business

Faculty have different perspectives on the main purpose of business. How do we promote useful thinking and discussion about this for students? We discussed one way Will Messenger and I have found useful in teaching. We set three readings that promote different perpectives and use these as the basis for a vigorous debate in class. The three readings we use include:

  1. “How Then Should We Do Business,” Chapter 7 of Jeff Van Duzer’s book Why Business Matters to God
  2. The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” by Milton Friedman
  3. Excerpts from Laborem Exercens, encyclical from Pope John Paul II (including Sections 3, 6, 7, 11-15 and 17)

Each of these tends to emphasise a different priority – community service, making profit for shareholders and concern for workers, respectively (although van Duzer’s view of service does include workers, too). Grouping class members in teams that must defend one of these points of view with some clear biblical and theological support has proven to offer a fun and effective learning experience.

Among other resources, the faculty of the business school at Seattle Pacific University have produced a Statement on the Biblical Purposes of Business; Andy Mills offers A Businessman’s Perspective on Work in the Bible and then expands on this in a series of podcasts.

Business as Mission (BAM)

The BAM movement looks at the purpose of business from another perspective. Their focus is on how Christians involved in business understand both their personal working lives and their businesses to have a role in the missio Dei.

Jay Moon and Fredrick Long, both of whom are on the faculty of Asbury Theological Seminary, were two of our conversation partners. Moon has a special interest in offering training “that promotes entrepreneurial approaches to form communities of Christ followers among unchurched people through the formation of businesses in the marketplace.” Long is a biblical scholar who has recently done some valuable work exploring connections between work and business in the Bible, especially in the Gospels, Acts and Pauline epistles. I have referred in a previous article to the book they have edited together, Entrepreneurial Church Planting: Engaging Business and Mission for Marketplace Transformation. Moon can be seen talking about Economics and Mission in an ON video.

David Gill has also written in a previous ON newsletter about a course he teaches at Gordon-Conwell Seminary with Larry Ward that promotes church-based entrepreneurship. Ward spoke about the course at the 2014 Faith at Work Summit.

BAM includes a variety of movements with different understandings and priorities. A concise and useful summary of some of this variety can be found here; this BAM website also includes a host of other useful downloadable resources. BAM also has critics worth attending to.

Business Ethics for the Marketplace

This was another important topic we talked about, and we identified a number of useful resources. I wrote about these ethics issues in a previous article.

Finding God in Business

Discussions inevitably move from questions about theology and ethics to personal spirituality. For many Christians in business, the marketplace feels remote from the presence of God. Many of us have never been taught practices to help make us alert to recognise the presence and activity of God in “secular” settings. Chuck Conniry seeks to address some of these issues in his Faith and Spirituality in Business course at George Fox University and also provides us with a brief glimpse in this 90 second video clip.

Dallas Willard also talks about Finding God in Business in a 7 minute video clip, and Taking Theology and Spiritual Disciplines into the Marketplace in an hour long video, both from presentations at a Biola University faculty retreat. David Miller of Princeton University has developed a widely-used framework called The Integration Profile (TIP), which has proven very useful with business students and workers of all kinds. The ON includes TIP and another instrument, Discipleship Dynamics, among its recommended assessment tools.

There is a lot of talk about spirituality in the marketplace today; just Google “mindfulness.” However, Christians typically are not the leaders in promoting most of these discussions. Is this just a distraction promoted by advocates for alternative spiritualities? Or is it a challenge for Christians to start speaking to needs in the marketplace that we are not adequately addressing? The next article in this series will talk further about the critical issue of spiritual formation.