Here are short reviews of two books I read recently about Christian business.
Business for the Glory of God, Wayne Grudem
To his credit, Grudem argues that business, possessions, money, profit, competition, and all the rest are not evil or even morally neutral, but fundamentally good. As in, blessed by God. (Exempli gratia: the commandment against stealing implies private ownership; the Proverbs 31 woman is commended for earning profit.) Grudem admits that all created goods can be used for evil, but he goes to bat for them, which is commendable.
I part ways with him in two places. First, he says that the free market produces love of one’s neighbor because you have to get along in order to do business. I don’t think so. Quashing your hatred of the local mechanic so that he’ll fix your car is not a good thing. Your hatred needs to be dealt with. I do think that business and trade are good things that will flourish in a place full of confessing Christians. I just don’t think the causation works the other direction.
Second, Grudem has far too much faith in the free market to solve the world’s ills. He tells a story of firing a painter who botched the job of painting the Grudems’ living room. Don’t worry, he says, I did that man a favor. Eventually, market forces will tell him that he’s a terrible painter and he’ll find something else to do, something he’s good at. Listen to the market and the market will reward you. It will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Now, a businessman should not feel guilty for firing a bad employee. In some situations, it is a favor to everyone. But the way Grudem explains it here makes it sound like the best thing you can do for someone who’s struggling financially is tell them they need to work harder. That’s not always true. The market is not kind to everyone. People do get caught in the riptides and go under.
Works of mercy require more than telling someone what they’ve done isn’t good enough. Sometimes you have to step in and show them how to do better next time. And, sometimes, you just pay the man and repaint the living room yourself.
Acres of Diamonds, Russell H. Conwell
I read these books because I do not have a head for business. This one was useful in encouraging me to look for talents hidden in my own backyard, so to speak. He’s so positive about the fact that anyone (everyone!) can make themselves rich that you almost believe him.
On the negative side, I discovered an upstream tributary of Wayne Grudem’s book. Conwell (a Baptist minister) has this bizarre blind faith in the free market. Don’t leave an inheritance to your children, he says. They won’t experience the benefit of amassing wealth for themselves. Don’t give money to the poor. It will just make them lazier than they already are. Yeesh.
One last thing: he notes that ninety-eight out of one hundred rich men are honest. Being honest is what made them rich. I think he’s probably right about that. But that doesn’t mean that honesty and riches always go together. God’s world isn’t that cut and dry.