Grudem, Wayne. Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching On the Moral Goodness of Business. Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers/Crossway Books, 2003.
Guest review by Wayne Elliott.
Why, we may wonder, would one of today’s most respected evangelical theologians care about the world of business, much less be moved to write a book analyzing the theological basis for business? After all, isn’t business far removed from the halls of the theological academy? Wayne Grudem is a graduate of Harvard University (BA), Westminster Seminary (MDiv), and the University of Cambridge, England (PhD). He has served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society and recently as general editor for the ESV Study Bible. Many of us at Mount Vernon are familiar with Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which has been taught and studied here for many years. So what would move Grudem to think and write about business?
This short (83 pages) book reveals a surprising answer. Grudem understands that all aspects of business, including ownership, profit, money, competition, and borrowing and lending glorify God because they reflect God’s nature and His provision for man. Rather than seeing business as inherently evil or an enterprise fueling the fallen nature of man, Grudem understands that business activities (like all activities of man) sometimes are manipulated or misused as a means to sin, but that the inherent nature and practice of business is a God-given blessing to mankind.
Grudem begins by acknowledging that “few people instinctively think of business as morally good in itself” (11). When young people ask, “How can I serve God with my life?” they don’t often hear the answer, “Go into business.” Why is that? Probably because much of today’s news and reports about business tend to stress misuse, wrongdoing, and manipulation. But are these sinful activities inherent in the business enterprise? Not at all. As Grudem explains, “Many aspects of business activity are morally good in themselves, and that in themselves they bring glory to God—though they also have great potential for misuse and wrongdoing” (12).
In Business for the Glory of God, Grudem explores the following aspects of business activity:
- Commercial transactions (buying and selling)
- Inequality of possessions
- Borrowing and lending
- Attitudes of heart
- Effect on world poverty
Although this reviewer graduated from business school and law school, and for many years worked in, led, and advised business enterprises, and although I can defend the enterprise system from a viewpoint of economic theory, I found Grudem’s explanation of the theological underpinnings of business to be very refreshing, encouraging, and instructive. I only wish this little book had been available to me as an undergraduate in business school.
How often do liberal commentators and politicians, steeped in Marxist theory, decry the inequality of possessions that may result from competition? This anti-competitive attitude appears not only in reaction to business but in those schools where grades are no longer awarded and in youth sports where everyone gets a trophy.
It may seem surprising to us to think that some inequality of possessions can be good and pleasing to God. However, although there is no sin or evil in heaven, the Bible teaches that there are varying degrees of reward in heaven and various kinds of stewardship that God entrusts to different people…So we should not think of all inequalities of possession as wrong, or evil. In fact, inequalities in possessions provide many opportunities for glorifying God…[T]he Bible does not teach a “health and wealth gospel” (or at least not until heaven!). In this present age, there are inequalities of gifts and abilities, and there are also evil, oppressive systems in the world, and because of these things many of God’s most righteous people will not be rich in this life. As for those who have large resources, they also are to be content in God and trust in him, not in their riches… (51, 55, 56)
We know from economic theory that the very nature of barter or exchange in a free society is good in itself because through such transactions we do good to other people. As Grudem explains:
This is because of the amazing truth that, in most cases, voluntary commercial transactions benefit both parties… Buying and selling are activities unique to human beings out of all the creatures that God made…We can imitate God’s attributes each time we buy and sell, if we practice honesty, faithfulness to our commitments, fairness, and freedom of choice. (36, 37)
Indeed, “because of the interpersonal nature of commercial transactions, business activity has significant stabilizing influence on a society” (37).
Grudem provides a helpful illustration of the interpersonal growth which can come from commercial transactions:
An individual farmer may not really like the auto mechanic in town very much, and the auto mechanic may not like the farmer very much, but the farmer does want his car to be fixed right the next time it breaks down, and the auto mechanic does love the sweet corn and tomatoes that the farmer sells; so it is to their mutual advantage to get along with each other, and their animosity is restrained. In fact, they may even seek the good of the other person for this reason! So it is with commercial transactions throughout the world and even between nations. This is an evidence of God’s common grace, because in the mechanism of buying and selling, God has provided the human race with a wonderful encouragement to love our neighbor by pursuing actions that advance not only our own welfare but also the welfare of others—even as we pursue our own. (37-38)
In his clear and concise manner, Grudem explains how the “process of borrowing and lending multiplies the available wealth in the world more times than it is possible to calculate” (71). Imagine that—borrowing and lending is not only not evil in itself, but is a God-given gift to provide for mankind.
From a Christian perspective, one of this short book’s most impactful chapters deals with the effect of business on world poverty. Grudem asserts: “I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business. That is because businesses produce goods, and businesses produce jobs. And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year” (80-81).
Grudem notes that excessive government red tape and obstacles to the enterprise system effectively destroy economic growth. Many oppressive government systems stifle individual enterprise and commercial exchange, thus robbing citizens of realizing the fruit of their God-given talents and work. Grudem decries “evil governments that confiscate a country’s wealth and thus prevent business from helping people overcome poverty. Yet another [obstacle] is repressive governments that hinder and destroy businesses in order to enhance their own power” (81).
As Grudem writes, a “large reason business activity has not yet solved world poverty is negative attitudes toward business in the world community” (82). Of course, beyond widespread economic and theological ignorance, a major reason for negative attitudes toward business is the abuse and misuse of commercial transactions by sinful men. That, of course, is potential in every human endeavor. For similar reasons—the misuse and abuse by a few practitioners—the public perception of such inherently worthwhile and traditionally respected vocations as the ministry, politics, and the law, have fallen in respect in recent years.
Scripture teaches that all good things come down from the Father of lights. We should be thankful for His gifts and responsible in our use and exercise of them. Man should create reasonable systems of law to minimize abuse and misuses, and then take joy and pleasure in the good gifts our Lord has blessed us with, business included.
I highly recommend this short and accessible book. It would be particularly helpful for young people who are considering career directions and who would benefit from a better understanding of God’s provision of business enterprise. Grudem’s book serves as a reminder that God has provided for us in every conceivable way and that His common grace blesses all creation.