Christian business lecture lacked practical examples


I will admit that I entered Jeff Van Duzer’s talk slightly late and slightly skeptical. I held the idea that business was at best bland and at worst evil. If anything, the talk helped me look at business through different eyes. Although I didn’t run to the registrar to change my major, I was reminded why some people are passionate about business. Participating in business can too easily be viewed as selling one’s soul to bureaucratic mediocrity, but it can also be a very real chance to change the world.

Van Duzer laments the belief that the “most Christian” professions are that of the pastor and missionary, then nonprofit jobs — which leaves business as a second class citizen. Furthermore, he reminded us that being a Christian businessperson means more than just being “nicer” than a normal businessperson. Instead, business is one of the many Kuyperian spheres that ought to be radically suffused with the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit. As an avid Kuyperian, it didn’t take me long to guess what the answer would be to the question posed in the title of the talk. I was just hoping that the rest of it would include interesting, enlightening, and inspiring stories of Christians who are bringing about the kingdom via business. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Van Duzer truly transported the coals all the way to Newcastle, lecturing on Creation-Fall-Redemption at John Calvin’s college. Of course, it had been a while since the majority of the audience had Developed their Christian Minds, so perhaps a refresher did them some good. I don’t personally mind CFR as a succinct way of expressing my personal World and Life View as informed by Reformed Christianity, but it’s a rather dull (and beyond cliche) device to employ in the organization of a January Series talk. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I did appreciate the unintentional Radiohead reference in his definition of “shalom” (everything in its right place).

The lecture wasn’t bad (the powerpoint, however, was). It would probably get an ‘A’ if presented as a final project for a DCM class. But that’s just it — any Calvin student could have given a similar lecture (and it was a lecture). It could have been a success if he had added flavor by way of practical examples and stories about people who have made a difference through lived theology. As the dean of a Christian business school, he must have plenty. But theory alone is bland — especially so when you are already familiar with it.

Though the talk was predictable, it did make a good point. The market is not God and won’t save us. Interestingly enough, this was also the message of Peter Diamandis’ talk. Van Duzer remarked that some Christians have difficulty distinguishing between the invisible hand and the hand of God. The market, however, is another fallen area within the kingdom of God that we must work to redeem. Van Duzer did shoehorn in some real-world problems at the end of his talk, like the number of childhood deaths due to preventable diseases. Unfortunately, he did little more than suggest that this was a problem that could be solved via business. Diamandis, on the other hand, gave us practical ideas (hacking the market via X Prizes).

To Van Duzer’s credit, he takes the relationship between work and human identity far more seriously than Diamandis. This stems from his belief that humans are created in the image of God to “engage in creative, meaningful work.” Scripture teaches us that there was work before the Fall, so there is no reason to believe that it won’t be a feature of Heaven or that is something that we should “redeem away.” He commented on the dearth of American workers who feel enthused about or feel any connection through their work to the goals of their company. This could suggest that Diamandis’ view of a culture without work where our needs are provided for might function. After all, if most work isn’t meaningful now and society continues to hold together, perhaps meaningful work isn’t necessary for society. But when Diamandis tries to take a leaf from Thoreau, suggesting that having been freed from finding identity through our work we might become philosophers, he forgets that it might get too crowded up at Walden for us all to find our identities there. Yet, too many workers waste hundreds of thousands of hours of their lives doing meaningless work. Van Duzer’s answer is not to take their jobs away, but to give them new purpose. His optimism lies not in the promise of new technology, but in mending what we already have — redeeming the distorted relationship between employer, employee, work and business.