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Business for the Glory of God, Book Review Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1324

Book Review

Wayne M. Grudem’s Business for the Glory of God is an attempt by the author to justify capitalistic business practice through an appeal to Christian scripture and his individual reading of sacred texts. Grudem suggests that contrary to some commonly held views, business and capitalism is not incompatible with living a Christian life, but is rather a way of “glorifying God.” Grudem attempts to ground his argument in two primary theses: how business practice is an imitation of God and an account of the notion of sin and morality. Accordingly, Grudem provides an analysis of various facets of modern business practice and interprets them in light of their apparent Christian value. In essence, Grudem attempts to synthesize modern American capitalist and neoliberal ideology with a Christian perspective, in order to justify business practice to what appears to be a target audience of American Christians. In the following essay, we shall summarize some of Grudem’s key arguments and provide a critical engagement with them. In particularly, we will describe how Grudem attempts this ideological maneuver of using religion to provide justification for a political and economic ideology through a criticism of his various readings of Christian sacred texts and doctrines. The point is not to claim some dogmatic significance to the biblical texts, but to show the incoherency of his logic and the ultimately political ideology that informs the entire text. In essence, we will reverse Grudem’s founding thesis. His book is not an attempt to glorify God through an appeal to business, but rather uses God and Christianity in an attempt to justify business.

Grudem initially claims that many perspectives on business from a Christian or a general religious view emphasize the negative aspects of business. For example, Grudem notes that: “very few people think of business as morally good in itself.” (Grudem, 2003, p. 11) In this regard, Grudem cites various recent business “scandals” in America, such as Enron, and how these may lead people to believe “that there must be something in business that inherently tends to do wrongdoing.” (Grumden, 2003, p. 11) Grudem’s emphasis on the term inherently is crucial here: this suggests that there is something in business itself, as viewed by the majority, which necessarily suggests some lack of morality to business. In contrast, Grudem is to argue that “many aspects of business activity are morally good in themselves, and that in themselves they bring glory to God.” (Grudem, 2003, p. 12) The emphasis on in themselves corresponds to the emphasis on inherently previously used by Grumden: business in its very essence has positive moral qualities. One must note, however, that Grumden qualifies this statement with the prefatory remark “many aspects.” Grumden himself here acknowledges that the entirety of business is not morally good in itself. Rather, only certain parts of the essence of business are positive. We can thus ask the following question: what are the aspects of business that are not morally good in themselves? And does this “not morally good in itself” perhaps override the positive qualities that Grumden claims business upholds? For example, some of the negative aspects of business such as profit, exploitation of the workers, aspects that Grumden concedes in his very remark, are not given a thorough analysis by the author.

One of Grudem’s key arguments describes how the practice of business is an “imitation” of the works of God. To bolster his argument, Grumden considers the act of creation and God’s grace as reflected in business. Certainly, this argument has been used in the past, particularly in the Protestant tradition and its close relation to the phenomenon of capitalism. In this regard, Max Weber’s seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism remains a relevant point of reference. Unlike Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity, it was precisely Protestantism, through an emphasis on individuality as opposed to community, which was perfectly compatible with capitalism. For example, Weber emphasizes that for Protestantism “waste of time is thus the first and in principle the deadliest of sins.” (Weber, 2003, p.157) This waste of time corresponds lucidly to the very notion of business and its mantras. Weber traces this fundamental link back to Benjamin Franklin’s edict “that time is money”. (Weber, 2003, p. 157) The waste of time becomes the waste of money, and as the waste of time is considered the foremost sin, the waste of money becomes this same sin. Grumden squarely fits into this tradition with his proclamations, and essentially his argument is a repetition of these standard approaches of Protestantism and capitalism. Whether time can be considered as a fundamental sin according to doctrinal tradition is not as important here as understanding Grudem’s own ideological background in the composition of the text.

With this ideological background in mind, we can note how Grudem explicitly overlooks the Christian tradition’s antagonism to various typical capitalist business practices, such as the charging of usury or interest. This is clear, in for example, the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa, as cited by J. O’Callaghan, who wrote: “The prophet explodes and eradicates from society the poisonous branch of usury.” (O’Callaghan, 1825, p. 21) This traditional Christian hostility to usury has a clear foundation in scripture such as, in Deuteronomy 23:19 where it is written that “Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury.” (Deuteronomy 23:19, KJV) The scripture thus explicitly forbids one of the key mechanisms of capitalist and business ideology: the phenomenon of interest. Thus, in order to argue for the Christian essence of business, one would have to ignore the clear statement of Deuteronomy and the interpretation of scripture: from a Christian perspective, it would appear that this is incompatible with teachings. In essence, this demonstrates how Grudem offers a highly selective reading of Christian texts, which not only makes his argument weak, but also shows how the primary interest of his book is not to glorify God, but rather to use God in order to provide some justification for capital. Moreover, it demonstrates his lack of a thorough critical engagement with the negative aspects of business and capital, emphasizing selective points from a closed perspective of the business owner.

In conclusion, Grudem’s book does not attempt to glorify God, but rather tries to glorify business. This is a crucial distinction in Grudem’s book that subverts the entire point of his argument. While Grudem sees aspects of living a Christian life reflected in business practice, Grudem’s discourse does not start from the point of view of living the Christian life, but how the Christian life can be viewed as conforming to business. Thus, he essentially subjugates Christianity to a particular political and economic ideology, an ideology that has been historically defined according to various connections between individualistic capitalism and re-interpretations of Christian doctrine that emphasize the individual.  The almost absurd extent of Grudem’s conceptions renders the book theoretically and theologically vacant, a piece of populist justification for a certain ideology as opposed to a text with any commitment to God. That is to say, the problem is not related to any dogmatic authority of the scripture, but rather how Grudem both manipulates and is ignorant of the very scripture he claims is central to his account. In essence, we can understood from Grudem’s book that Christianity is just another commodity to be manipulated by capital. Grudem’s book is an apologia for business practice, using a Christian front to further a clearly biased agenda.

Works Cited

Grudem, Wayne. (2003). Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

O’Callaghan, J. (1825). Usury, or Interest: Proved to be Repugnant to the Divine and Ecclesiastical Laws and Destructive to Civil Society. 1825. London: C. Clement The Holy Bible: King James Version. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 2001.

Weber, Max. (2003). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York. Dover.

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