Business & Economy

LECTURE SERIES: Christianity and Business & Economics

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Marketplace Institute

Introduction to the Series

This series is designed for people interested in exploring what it means for one’s faith to play a role in how they approach their work within the areas of business and economics. The series is intended to help people gain a better sense of both the opportunities and challenges present within today’s business and economic arenas, and how Christians can start to work towards solutions that address many of these challenges. The lectures in this series will draw from various biblical sources and place these in dialogue with current economic and business literature to demonstrate what the Christian faith has to offer to the pressing challenges of today. In particular, they help demonstrate how we might live faithfully within a market economy system while still advocating policy changes that are more conducive to human flourishing. Equally, they demonstrate how we might approach business such that its activities are better aligned with the blessing of society.

The series comprises five lectures as follows:

  1. Curing Capitalism: Can We Afford Another Crisis?
  2. Jesus in the McWorld
  3. Doing Business in the Image of God
  4. Business as Usual
  5. Capitalism, Social Justice and Desire

The first lecture sets the scene for some of the inherent characteristics found within today’s business and economic culture by using the 2008 financial crash as a case study. The second lecture focuses on aspects of business related to the crash and looks particularly at aspects of globalization and some of its effects. The third lecture offers a biblical basis for understanding the nature of work to which humans are called and how business is a good way to express this human creativity. The fourth lecture builds off this biblical basis of work by then analyzing ways in which business falls short of this approach today and offers some brief suggestions on helpful ways forward. The final lecture follows a similar flow to lectures three and four, looking at what a biblical view of justice entails for society and how capitalism measures up to this view. It then shows how Scripture provides some helpful correctives in terms of potential economic policies and goals we might strive for as Christians.

We encourage participants to go through these sessions as a group, listening first to the audio resource and then discussing the material for 15-20 minutes. Guiding questions and a summary of the lectures’ key learning points have been provided to facilitate discussion. Bibliographies have also been provided for those wanting more information on each of the topics raised during the lectures.  

Lecture 1: Curing Capitalism: Can We Afford Another Crisis?

By Paul Williams

In this lecture, Paul Williams introduces us to the topics of business and economics. Looking at the 2008 financial crisis, he asks whether the problems characteristic of the crisis were merely one-off issues or if there is something more fundamental at stake in our economic order. This lecture provides a helpful starting point as it unpacks the dominant narrative within business and economic spheres. Williams draws upon the work of noted international competition economist, Mark Casson, to argue that moral leadership is a more viable long-term approach to enacting change than higher regulation or peer pressure. Williams goes on to show how the Christian story serves as a means of enhancing positive virtues within the narrative of existing business and economic cultures, while also offering alternatives to some less desirable traits within those areas.

Paul Williams has training as both an economist and a theologian. He has considerable experience as an economist at senior levels of business and government before accepting a position as a professor of Marketplace Theology at Regent College.

PLAY AUDIO



Overview of the Lecture

  • After the shift from public to private debt following the 2008 financial crisis, the financial services industry resumed much of their prior behaviour by returning to large bonuses and salary increases despite its contribution to much of the debt taken on by the government.
  • Proposed reasons for the financial crash can be summarized as either individual greed or a lack of sufficient market regulations.
  • Economist Mark Casson suggests that while law and regulation have a certain role to play in changing behaviour, the most viable, long-term approach is moral leadership.
  • We cannot exercise moral leadership unless we have a shared story or explanation of why we are here, where we are going, and how to get there (one must explain the ends to which moral leadership is pointing people).
  • The implicit story shown in modern business and economic theory 1) assumes individuals and companies must have the maximum amount of free choice; 2) sees that the goal is to produce happiness and prosperity through the creation of wealth; 3) believes we achieve the goal by undergoing the practices of profit maximization (firms) and cost-benefit analysis, or “getting a good deal” (individuals); and 4) generates attributes such as efficiency, diligence, innovation, competition, selfishness, and greed.
  • Unless people alter the story it will continue to generate the same characteristics.
  • Christianity offers an alternative story that 1) assumes we are here to steward creation through our work together; 2) sees that our goal is to mature and restore right relationships with God, one another, and creation; 3) suggests we will work towards this goal through worship, the cultivation of our abundant life (including within work); and 4) generates attributes such as thanksgiving, generosity, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, diligence, and responsibility.

Discussion Questions

  1. Williams notes that business behaviour within the financial sector returned to existing payment practices despite being the culprit behind much of the debt taken on by the government. What are some of the reasons why this behaviour continued as it had before?
  2. Mark Casson writes that moral leadership has a lower transaction cost for implementing change than the alternative models of regulatory enforcement or peer pressure. If this is true, what might be some ways of encouraging greater moral leadership within the business and economic areas?
  3. Is it viable to embrace this alternative approach towards moral leadership within the business and economic arenas? Why or why not?
  4. What might be some alternative “practices” that Christians adopt both personally and within business that fit within the Christian narrative Williams advocates (e.g. what might look differently in how people conduct cost-benefit analysis)?

Additional Resources

Lecture 2: Jesus in the McWorld

By Paul Williams

How would Jesus respond to today’s globalizing trends? In this talk, Paul Williams articulates the purpose—or moral vision—of capitalism, compares it with a biblical view of markets, and offers a few suggestions on how Jesus might respond to the current economic climate. Williams highlights Jesus’ assertion that Sabbath was made for the good of humankind rather than humankind for the good of Sabbath. In similar fashion, markets should be designed for the good of humanity. In order to achieve this, Williams suggests that some of the structures and practices within the current expression of markets (e.g. capitalism) must change if individual choice is not longer to be elevated as the supreme good. This talk offers a quick introduction to ways Christianity offers a critique of capitalism while still embracing a market-based economy.

This talk builds off the first lecture by unpacking some examples of how the Christian story can offer a further critique of the market, and in particular, globalization. It also further establishes an overview of the current economic and business context in which people find themselves, many aspects of which will be assumed in subsequent talks in this series.

PLAY AUDIO



Overview of the Lecture

  • Globalization magnifies relationships and connectedness across countries in all our lives.
  • Just as the Sabbath was created for the good of humanity (Mark 2:27), it is important to recognize that markets were created for the good of humankind, not the other way around. As such, we should make adjustments to the market to ensure it continues to serve humankind well.
  • All our market transactions are affected by a moral vision; it is not optional whether we follow one or not.
  • Globalization is driven by a particular moral vision, which is the moral vision of capitalism.
  • There can be various moral visions while still maintaining markets as the means of exchange.
  • Capitalism’s moral vision is that human happiness results from increasing individual freedom and economic growth.
  • The biblical moral vision sees happiness as based on giving and receiving love by persons in relationship. In other words, it cares more about how people go about producing economic growth than it does about the amount of growth itself.
  • Much of the moral vision of capitalism encourages a form of markets that dehumanizes us.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is globalization and its increased connectedness a good thing? What might some Christian reflections on it include?
  2. How would you distinguish between what Williams describes as the moral vision of capitalism and the moral vision of the bible? What are the similarities?
  3. What might an alternative moral vision of the markets entail in light of the bible’s moral vision?

Additional Resources

Lecture 3: Doing Business in the Image of God

By Rikk Watts

In this lecture, Rikk Watts expounds upon what the Christian story entails from a biblical perspective, and offers a biblical framework for understanding how Christians might approach business in a way that is consistent with God’s character. Watts begins by reminding people that meaning is not inherent within the world around us and that we must, therefore, derive it from somewhere else, which for Christians is the bible. Watts then goes on to unpack what the character of God entails, and how humanity can work to emulate it. He also highlights some helpful correctives to bear in mind as people seek to pursue an imagination for innovation that aligns with a biblical vision, and offers some examples of how this has happened within history. One particular point Watts draws out is how Christianity is primarily about bringing life to the world, and, in order to do this well, we should see creativity and enterprise as helpful expressions towards this endeavour.

This lecture provides a strong biblical foundation from which to think creatively about ways to improve existing business and economic practices that exist within society. Rikk has an extensive background as a biblical scholar alongside his former training and experience as an engineer.

PLAY AUDIO: PART 1 PLAY AUDIO: PART 2





This lecture can also be purchased as part of the "Business for Good: Imagining, Designing, and Launching Transformational Enterprises" Conference through Regent Audio.

Overview of the Lecture

  • Creation is God’s Temple (Isa. 66:1-2) and is destined for redemption (Rom 8:21; Rev 21:1).
  • Humanity is made in God’s image, and being in His image means that humans must reflect the function and character of God.
  • Just as God was creative and brought peace-shalom into the world, so are humans to act in the world and bring into being new things for the good of shalom.
  • Because creation is God’s temple, we should see creation care as an inherent part of how we are to live (i.e. we wouldn’t dump toxic waste in our living room, so why do it to God’s temple?).
  • God takes up both city and culture into his purposes for the redemption of creation (Rev 21). In response, humans should also see the goodness of creating cities and forming cultures.
  • Humans are not merely thinkers, but are embodied agents who act in the world as expressions of their image-bearing.
  • Creativity is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. The goal is to use it in a way that reflects God’s character.

Discussion Questions

  1. How might seeing all of creation as God’s temple change the way we interact with it?
  2. What difference does it make if we see ourselves as image-bearers of God who are representing the presence of God within His temple?
  3. What does Rikk mean by seeing Christianity as being primarily about life instead of “being good”?
  4. What might be some examples of how to bring life to creation?

Additional Resources

  • Beale, G.K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. IVP Academic, 2004.
  • Stevens, R. Paul. Doing God’s Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.
  • Volf, Miroslav. Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001.
  • Watts, Rikk. “Making Sense of Genesis 1”.
  • Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne, 2008.

Lecture 4: Business as Usual

By Paul Williams

Building off of Rikk Watts’s lecture on a biblical basis for doing business, this lecture by Paul Williams examines current business practice to see in what ways our human sinfulness is still present in business and how we might begin to articulate ways of redemption within it. To do this, Williams begins by unpacking what it means to take account of the Fall within the realm of business. He highlights some of the ways sin becomes manifest through the various relationships inherent to business. From here, Williams follows an approach similar to his previous lectures by using Alasdair MacIntyre’s story framework to look at the existing narrative within business today. Williams then tackles various objections to his critique such as the possibility of giving away profits or the emergence of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Williams concludes by suggesting that social enterprise provides a framework wherein Christians are able to reimagine and redesign the nature of business so that it aligns more fully with the Christian narrative of redemption.

This lecture builds off of the first two lectures by unpacking the story of business more fully while also addressing various challenges to his argument and offering more concrete expressions of an alternative way forward. It also draws considerably upon the third lecture’s articulation of how a biblical view of business informs the behaviour within it. As noted earlier, Williams’s background as both an economist and a theologian proves quite helpful in his analysis of how the inherent expressions of business can best contribute to human flourishing when properly oriented.

PLAY AUDIO: PART 1 PLAY AUDIO: PART 2





This lecture can also be purchased as part of the "Business for Good: Imagining, Designing, and Launching Transformational Enterprises" Conference through Regent Audio.

Overview of the Lecture

  • Business is best understood theologically within the category of work and what it means to exercise the creative mandate to have dominion over the earth.
  • It is important to recognize that “The Fall” alienates all our relationships. It is equally important to be aware of how this alienation can manifest in our various relationships within business.
  • Operating within the story of “business as usual”—and its goal of profit maximization—inherently leads to virtues of ruthlessness and pragmatism in order for a company to achieve its goal.
  • Philanthropy within business is a good thing, but giving away profit does nothing to change the fundamental nature of the business (i.e. how the profit is made).
  • Likewise, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) does not solve problems inherent to “business as usual” as it does not alter the core of the story (i.e. to maximize profits).
  • Social enterprise provides a better framework from which to reimagine and redesign business practices and goals in a way that aligns more closely with the Christian story.

Discussion Questions

  1. Williams mentions a few examples of how sin affects relationships within business. What are some other ways sin manifests itself?
  2. The etymology of the word “company” was used to highlight a more biblically aligned purpose for business. Why do you think current business practice has drifted away from this understanding?
  3. What makes the focus on profit maximization so compelling for many businesses?
  4. Are there other ways of changing the inherent story of ‘business as usual’ besides fostering social enterprise? What might those include?
  5. What are some examples of how Christians might reimagine or redesign businesses in light of the alternative framework Williams proposes? How might Christians encourage these types of alternative approaches more broadly in the business world?

Additional Resources

Lecture 5: Capitalism, Social Justice, and Desire

By Paul Williams

In this lecture, Paul Williams begins by offering a biblical view of justice. In particular, he emphasizes the bible’s focus on right relationships and argues that justice is concerned with an ordering of our whole lives such that there is at least a minimum level of relational harmony within society. He then illustrates how this view of justice is carried out in the Old Testament through property rights and markets. Williams spends some time discussing the extent to which modern day capitalism measures up to this biblical view of justice. He then moves on to challenge some of the utilitarian assumptions that underlie capitalism, and shows how these assumptions are at odds with Christianity. Williams concludes the lecture with some thoughts on how to move forward today in light of a biblical view of markets, which include aspects like limited capital mobility, aligning ownership and risk within businesses and the banning of advertising in public spaces. The lecture is followed by a question and answer period where Williams addresses challenges against his critiques of capitalism on topics such as scarcity, individual choice, GDP, distribution, and urbanization.

This final lecture in the series helps to demonstrate how a biblical view of work has clear relevance for how we might consider economic life today. Williams’s background as an economist comes across as particularly helpful in this lecture, as he is able to account for the various complexities within economics and, therefore, offer a credible critique applicable for adaptations in economic policy.

PLAY AUDIO



Overview of the Lecture

  • The bible views justice in relational terms—how we relate to God, other people, creation and ourselves. It focuses on what is due to you in relation to others.
  • The biblical goal for society goes beyond justice to what it calls “shalom.” Shalom is not simply about having minimally right relationships; it is about enjoying, delighting in, and celebrating those relationships, it is about relational peace and harmony.
  • One way this relational justice is expressed in the bible is in developing a market economy for property rights (Lev 25). In particular, it creates a leasehold (versus a freehold) market for property so that all people have access to means for creating wealth.
  • While the bible affirms markets, it does not affirm all expressions of it. The current expression of markets via capitalism is one that it critiques.
  • Capitalism seeks to maximize individual choice so people can choose what will make them happy. It advocates for policies that remove any constraints to choice (including constraints like morality, traditions, etc.).
  • Capitalism is problematic because of the way it models human behaviour: 1) it assumes that people only behave out of individual selfishness and encourages this for the good of society; and 2) it assumes that people always do what they want (i.e. there is never a weakness of the will).
  • The result of these assumptions is a society that does not take seriously the benefit of interpersonal relationships and altruism and sees no need for the banning advertising efforts that seek to undermine people’s self control.

Discussion Questions

  1. Williams argues that the bible is primarily concerned about right relationships with God, humanity, creation, and oneself. Do you agree with this argument? Why or why not?
  2. Using texts from Leviticus and various prophetic books, Williams argues that one concern of right relatedness is providing all people with the means of creating wealth, which in that time was land. What might the basic means for creating wealth in today’s society include?
  3. Williams notes that Scripture models an economy that ensures people have the means to create wealth, as opposed to giving them wealth outright. Why is this an important distinction? In what ways have both capitalism and socialism deviated from this principal?
  4. One of the suggestions for changes in today’s society included the banning of advertising in public spaces (e.g. parks, bus stops, airports, etc.). What are some ways that Christians might help in supporting an effort like this?
  5. What are some practices the church can adopt as a way of fostering an alternative view of desire and right relationships within society?

Additional Resources

Source: Marketplace Institute



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