Thursday, August 03, 2006

The moral goodness of business 2

On my previous post on Grudem's book Business for the Glory of God, étrangère asked...

"Would it be good also for someone convinced that business is glorifying to God and whose church is pushing that God's inheritance for us includes material blessing to be pursued through business? Does it address or would it inadvertently confound that false teaching?"

Here's my reply:

Hi Rosemary,

I find that question quite difficult to answer, which is why it's taken me a couple of weeks! Grudem does not address that particular brand of teaching. His aim is quite modest. It is not, for example, “a book on ‘how to decide the hard ethical questions in business.’” – although incidentally he is working on such a book. The aim is to affirm the moral goodness of various aspects of business activity. I suppose then that it is written to persuade Christians who either think that business is morally dubious or who are not sure, uncertain whether Christians can engage in business with a clean conscience or not. In addition, it has probably been written to encourage Christians involved in business that their activities can be used to glorify God, and to encourage them to do so.

I think that the book does present an alternative (and better!) Christian vision of business than the view that teaches that God wants to bless our wallets etc. For one thing, the emphases are God-centred and other-centred.

But whether this would be a good book for someone in the situation to describe to read, well, I think that depends. Books can be misread, can’t they? Iain Murray, for example, has expressed dismay that his book The Puritan Hope has, in his view, been misused by certain people to back up a certain kind of postmillenialism related to theonomy.1 Business for the Glory of God could be read without due care and used to bolster one’s own ‘health and wealth gospel’. As I say, Grudem is not aiming to correct that particular error. However, read thoughtfully and with help from someone else, the book could be profitable for a person in your scenario. It may help destroy false dichotomies. If the person is (a) convinced that business can be used to glorify God, (b) hears the goodness of business affirmed by those teaching a ‘wealth gospel’ (c) has heard others say that the ‘health and wealth gospel’ is unbiblical and (d) therefore associates (c) with saying that business is bad, then to hear an alternative, positive vision of business that is biblical and not about ‘material blessings are our inheritance’ could begin to drive a wedge between the conviction that business can be used to glorify God and the material wealth teaching. But this is not necessarily evident from reading Business to the Glory of God since Grudem is not addressing that issue and there would therefore probably be a need for a helpful Christian friend (you?) to help him/her think through it.

So I think Grudem here does “inadvertedly confound that false teaching”, but subtly.

Dunno if that helps; I certainly welcome further comments!

1. Listen to Murray discussing the book with Mark Dever here, from approximately the 20th minute to the 25th.

1 comment:

étrangère said...

Thanks for that thoughtful reply, Jonathan, that's really helpful. On the basis of that, since I'm now in a different country to the person of whom I was thinking so can't discuss it with them so effectively, I'll not send them the book. I'll certainly keep it in mind though for those with the more likely attitude that business is a not particularly holy/God-glorifying thing to do.