Conclusion: 2 Competing Ethical Visions
We’ve covered a lot of ground over the previous few chapters. No doubt you’ve identified with at least some of the workplace tensions that we’ve dealt with. We hope that your interaction with them has helped stimulate plenty of thinking and discussion. Over time we also hope it will assist you to be even more faithful to Jesus in the marketplace.
It seems to us that most, if not all, of the struggles and challenges raised in this book can be gathered up into one over-arching question: “What approach should we adopt as we interact with the business world that we’re part of? How should we operate as the people of God in the world?”
There seem to be two different answers … two biblical visions … two contrasting, even contradictory, approaches. And we seem to be caught between them.
Alistair was confronted with this recently when he was asked to speak at a church service. In the Old Testament reading that day, this verse caught his attention:
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
The New Testament reading drew on the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:
No one can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve God and wealth . . . Don't worry about life, about food, or drink, or your body, or clothing . . . Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
The first reading seems to encourage us to get involved in the world, to participate in its systems and organizations, not to stand self-consciously apart from it. In contrast, the second tells us to retain our distinctiveness, to make Kingdom values our priority, to reject worldly enticements, not to get sucked in.
The Jeremiah reading relates to that time when Israel had been overrun by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, and many of the people had been dragged off to live as exiles in Babylon. They couldn't understand why God had allowed this to happen, nor how they should live in this new and pagan environment. Israel was God’s own country – they understood what it meant to live as the people of God there. But … Babylon? That was enemy territory.
Hopelessly outnumbered in Babylon, they were forced to play according to someone else's rules. It was so hard to see where God was in these new circumstances, with all the familiar landmarks gone. No wonder we hear the Psalmist lamenting: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down, and we wept when we remembered Zion.” They prayed for God's deliverance. Why was he taking so long?
But Jeremiah saw that God's purposes were quite different. God’s message for these people was: “Don't be so alarmed. God is at work in Babylon too. Make your homes here and get on with the job. Seek the welfare of the city for if it prospers, so you will prosper.”
Here, then, is a word for those of us who feel out of place in the modern marketplace: “Even in Babylon, God is still at work. Don't give up! Get on with the job!” We mustn’t let circumstances paralyze us just because they're different and difficult. They’ve been difficult before. But God was in them then, and he still is. Get on with your daily tasks, believing that we can still catch a glimpse of God and still be part of his great purposes.
However, we also need our critical faculties intact, because we have this other word from Jesus. It emphasizes that whatever our circumstances, we must also live in the light of another vision: the glimpse of a redeemed marketplace, where truth and justice and care for people are valued as much as profit-making. And where commercial realities are considered in the context of building community for the good of all. Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
So which should shape our ethics? Immersion in Babylon? Or this vision of the Kingdom of God? The Bible seems to leave us torn between the two. And we think that’s the way it’s meant to be – a tension that can stimulate the birth of new creative possibilities.
And so we come back again to those seven creative tensions between personal faith and capitalism that Laura Nash identifies – and that we’ve been exploring these past several chapters:
How do we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land? Not by living tension-free. Not by pretending these tensions don’t exist. Not by running away from this tangle of belief, human failings and economic realities that surrounds us.
When we walk into our workplace each day, we wrestle with Christian conscience on the one hand and business responsibilities on the other. We are forced to be realists rather than just idealists – but realists dependent on the grace of God. For we will get things wrong sometimes. So we need to know where forgiveness is found, or we will become paralyzed and afraid to act for fear of doing the wrong thing.
But we also need to draw encouragement from Laura Nash’s point. If Christian people can learn to live more consciously at the intersection of the worlds of faith and business, some very creative solutions to ethical dilemmas are possible.
There’s another awareness we require. If we want to show the dynamic connection between faith and economic activity, we are in a delicate position. Trying to maintain a traditional biblical worldview while participating in the modern culture of the corporation … neither constructing an invisible wall between the two (as the “generalists” do), nor suggesting that they are wholly complementary (as the “justifiers” want to say) … is not easy.
And so Christian “seekers” must maintain some distance – but not too much distance – between the opposing forces of belief and business.
If faith and economic thinking are too close, then they will collapse into each other and become indistinguishable. Our Christian values will no longer be a floodlight with which to examine and critique our work practices – just a candle flickering fitfully.
But if faith and economic thinking are too distant, then our workplaces will become a separate world. Our Christian values will be restricted to our private lives and what we do with our weekends. Our faith will turn its back on our working lives, and wander off to its own self-absorbed pursuits. We may profess to be Christian, but we will no longer venture into the world as Christians.
Our dream is that we will see a whole generation of Christian “seekers” who will have that combination of biblical insight and business acumen, of lively idealism and earthy realism, who will provide marketplace leadership with integrity and creativity. We look for people who have earned the right to speak persuasively both from the church and to the church because they have heard and understood both of those challenges from the Bible:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city,”
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
1. Discuss the two “competing biblical visions” and reflect on how you see this tension evident in your own workplace.
2. Looking back over the last seven chapters, which of the creative tensions identified in the chapter titles have been:
3. What specific insights have you gained through reading this book?
4. Are there any particular ways in which your decision-making in the marketplace has already changed, since beginning this book?
5. Pray for each other.