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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Review: Business for the Glory of God


A while ago my friend Matt Hosier asked me if I read this book. I hadn't but I have now. In Business for the Glory of God Wayne Grudem attempts an apologetic for business. Business he feels is under attack and good Christians end up worrying that by being involved in business they are somehow falling short. So Wayne Grudem steps up to give a theological defence for making a profit. He argues that business is neither evil nor even morally neutral but inherently good and created by God.

There are 9 key areas that Grudem examines; ownership, productivity, employment, commercial transactions, profit, money, inequality of possessions, competition & borrowing and lending. He ends with a short review on the effects of the above on attitudes of the heart and the effect of business on world poverty.

Each chapter starts with a phrase: "...is fundamentally good and provides many opportunities for glorifying God but also many temptations to sin" and ends with a sentence like, "But the distortions of something good must not cause us to think the thing itself is evil..."

Grudem does a reasonable job of concisely laying out his reasons why business is good and very briefly raising some of the dangers of greed, envy and materialism. The weakest arguments by far are his argument that inequality of possessions is the way God intended things to be, that this is a good thing that gives glory to God. While extreme wealth and extreme poverty are both considered 'bad things' there's no way of drawing a line, no attempt at working out how some inequality is good but too much inequality is bad. Nor is there a recognition that in the countries that have excelled in competition, profit making and generally getting rich are also the countries with the greatest inequality.

The other weak chapter are his concluding remarks on world poverty. Plenty of people agree with the premise that trade is better than aid (for example here and here) but there is a naivety about his words that are worrying. The reason poor countries are poor are because of poor governance, massively inefficient bureacracies all of which is true but it's not the whole story. No mention of unjust trade practices by rich nations, no mention of corruption in developed nations or crimes such as slavery and colonialism or undemocratic practices in our own institutions. the picture is black and white and suggests the fault for being poor is with the poor.

Finally, the book seems aimed at combating those who think business is fundamentally evil and that it seems is a scheme of the devil. But who are these agents of the devil? Communists? Green eco liberals? He doesn't say, which really makes it seem like straw man arguments are being used. There is also a touching naivity about it, that we the consumers set the price for the goods we pay - or we simply would stop buying them (p41), it seems that despite food riots around the world and rising fears about energy costs at home not everything is subject to Dr Grudem's laws..

So while it is good to be in business, and it is good to equip those who are called to business, this short book is unbalanced by taking complicated issues and making them black and white. The book is not a long one (83 pages) so Dr Grudem has done good business with this book selling at £9.99, although he says a longer book on the subject is planned.

Links
(HT: Justin Taylor)

8 comments:

dave bish on 16 September 2008 at 19:48 said...

Interesting. I was intruiged when I saw this, though not enough to spend a tener on it. I wonder how much his reflections are shaped by an American mindset - not that a British one would necessarily be that different. I've reasoned that some inequality exists because it gives opportunity for generosity (from 2 Cor 8) but that's not a massively thought out position - and clearly human responsibility for what we assume we deserve, how we treat others has got to be par of the equation.

Phil on 16 September 2008 at 22:23 said...

I think he is definitely defending American capitalism (that's clearer when you listen to his talk). I think I and Grudem would agree with you on the equality issue, but to say it gives opportunity to be generous is not the same as saying inequality is a good in itself. I'm not sure God gets glory from things being unequal. Grudem gives the example of the parable of the talents to back his case but he doesn't use the parable of the workers in the vineyard. So that's why I think it's weak.

Matthew Hosier on 16 September 2008 at 22:43 said...

Well those two parables are illustrating different things! They are both useful parables for a parent: one is helpful in teaching my children to make full use of the gifts and opportunities they have - gifts & opportunities that mean they will be 'superior' to some people and 'inferior' to others; the other is useful in explaining grace.

Grudem is clearly well to the right politically, and all of us have our theology flavoured by our politics (and vice versa).

Still, I thought it a helpful book because there can be a sense in the evangelical world that somehow it is dirty to make money, and so entrepreneurial activity can be stifled, which does none of us any good. I imagine this book would encourage the entrepreneurs.

Phil on 16 September 2008 at 22:52 said...

I certainly would agree about encouraging business and making money. Making lots of money has never been the issue, it's keeping lots of money that is the issue.
The point about Grudem on inequality is that he's inconsistent. 'Fairness of reward requires such differences' but there's very little that's fair about the way we remunerate people or that's fair about the distribution of gifts. And the point of the 2nd parable is that God in His grace can clearly be profoundly unfair and incredibly generous and still remain in the right!

Peter Kirk on 16 September 2008 at 23:28 said...

An NFI pastor criticising St Grudem? That makes a nice change! Sadly, it is not just on business that he has a dangerous tendency to stray beyond his areas of expertise and paint everything there as either black or white.

Jeremy said...

Yes, I wonder who these strange Christians are who believe business is evil. Personally I don't think we need a book that justifies or defends business as much as a book that provides a positive vision for it, a 'God's Politics' for the business community.

atlanticwriter on 19 September 2008 at 20:26 said...

Inequality.

Hm.

I've never been able to get beyond the Jubilee principle in Leviticus 25 which (if implemented) would have achieved two things:

1. The opportunity for individuals to advance economically in unequal ways according to a range of factors (hard work, quality of soil, "fortune", shrewdness, etc) and for this advancement (or lack of it) to be felt by their children.

2. The radical and structured redistribution of the means of production (land, in an agrarian society) in such a way as to limit long-term inequality and avoid the creation of a permanent class system.

Not being a reconstructionist, I do not believe that nation states are required to implement a Year of Jubilee every 50 years. I do, however, believe:

1. That the goal of economic equality within the church at both a local and global level was an apostolic goal (ref. 2 Cor 8:12-14) and should remain one today.

2. That the principles contained in the Jubilee law (and elsewhere in Scripture) do provide us with a revelation of God's mind and heart on the issue of equality. Good governance will surely want to take these principles into account when formulating economic and social policy in "secular" nations.

Thanks for the review. Assuming the summary is accurate, it does seem that Grudem has fallen into the common trap of applying one area of Biblical wisdom (freedom to do business) without focusing on another (structures that prohibit class systems).

Hm.

Phil on 20 September 2008 at 08:38 said...

I think if Grudem does write a longer book on this issue, it should be much better because hopefully he'll address all the relevant topics (Jubilee included) and fill in the shortcomings, that to be fair, are pretty difficult to avoid in a short book on a big subject.

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