Wealth, Business and Marketplace Reformation

Sometimes over at my blog, where I do brief reviews, annotations or tell stories from the front lines of the book biz, I write that I am answering a specific customer, but posting it so that others can look over my shoulder as I suggest titles to fit the needs of the inquiry. Often, these are larger lists, custom made, recommendations for a certain setting and particular context. Sometimes we know the person who first asked (sometimes we don't.) Usually, though, I have put hours into compiling and describing the titles and want to share that list with others.

I worry, sometimes, though, that casual viewers will see the list and be perturbed---why didn’t he include this one? or, how can they not suggest that one? Of course at the blog, fellow book lovers can post those suggestions themselves, making the recommendation process a bit more feisty and communal. But my anxieties remain, so I will say, here, the following list came from just such a conversation for a certain fellow who wanted certain kind of titles. I gave him a bit more than he needed, and a few he may not want, but as it took on a life of its own, I felt we should offer this list here for the monthly readers to see.

The huge questions floating around behind this---the subtext literary types call it, the backstory, as journalists have taught us to say---are near constants around here: what does it mean to follow Christ’s injunction to be the salt of the Earth, to be leaven in the loaf, a city on a hill. It is our conviction that God’s grace is given so that Christ’s followers can not only be secure in their eternal salvation---gift that it is!---but can live out the implications of that, "working it out" as Paul exhorts, serving the world in ways that anticipate the final consummation of all things in Christ’s promised return in healing judgement. Sure, some day "every knee shall bow" and Christ’s Kingship will be seen as "every tear is wiped away" and we live into the joy of "all things new." But, for now, we read and study, pray and worship, work, and, in love, try to be faithful to this high calling of being "in the world but not of it. " You all know our passion for this whole-life kind of discipleship that brings faith into the daily arenas. We have often said that God cares about how we shop, how we vote, how we birth our babies and how we, well, do everything. Certainly, this entails thinking thoughtfully about being agents of change in the marketplace. We need to recapture a sense of vocation that is at once ordinary and prophetic.

In March, I did an extended review of Shane Clairborne’s exciting little book, about his exciting big life, and the ways he calls us to follow Christ into service of the poor, commune-based living, and prophetic action against the principalities and powers that have deformed our life and times. The Irresistible Revolution means a lot to me, but I suggested (and have discussed this on the BookNotes blog, too) that it doesn't speak quite enough into the real world of jobs, institutions, established careers and day-to-day stuff of most ordinary Americans. This age-old dilemma is this: how best to effect faithful change, reform or revolution? Does Christ want us to serve the poor and be revolutionary troubadours of His Kingdom like, say, St. Francis or Mother Theresa, or culturally engaged, if merely reformist, filmmakers, business executives, school teachers and lawyers, working carefully within the system? Some within our circles call that vision Kuyperian, after the famous Dutch Prime Minister (Abraham Kuyper) who insisted that every zone of life and every legitimate career could be pursued together with other Christ followers in distinctive ways and we could thereby push back the troubles of the Enlightenment’s secularized darkness in a redemptive cultural reformation. Not like the French Revolution ---off with their heads!---or the Leninists, or the 60’s (Don’t trust anyone over 30!) but as leaven in a loaf, a mustard seed, gentle and slow and working within the context of historical givens and complicated institutions that dare not be jettisoned.
Have I told you about the fabulous book by Nathan Bierma called Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: Connecting This Life to the Next (Baker; $13.99) on how our understanding of new creation expectations and hopes can effect our daily life, now? What a wonderful guide to this visionary way of being.

And so, I got this note, seemingly animated by this vision of Kuyper’s, to think Christianly and faithfully even in the world of complex, modern careers, asking me to suggest books that would speak to and be assessable to, a gathering of stock brokers in a major world financial district. I am not fully sure what financiers even do--speculating and moving accounts and wiring stuff---but it was clear that these sharp and deeply Christian young professionals didn't want to be told to give up on their jobs and drop out. They also, it seems, didn't want to read only macro-level analysis (despite my insistence that they absorb, read and re-read, the classic Capitalism and Progress by Dr. Bob Goudzwaard, a Dutch economist who served Parliament in the Christian political party there started a century ago by Abraham Kuyper.) My friend asked me for other kinds of resources, thoughtful stuff about wealth, the nature of money in a consumer society, stuff that well-heeled, hard working, urban professionals might appreciate.


And so, I offer this month’s column. It starts out with some discussion in reply to the ongoing conversation I had with this good leader. I hope you enjoy listening it to my half of the discussion and that it offers some context for the books I recommended. If you know anyone who cares about economics, the global marketplace, relating faith to the big-time business world, who owns stocks and bonds or wants to honor God in their approach to work, finances and such, I hope this serious list is useful. Let us know what you think.


Dear friend,

I thank you again for the good challenge to suggest books that would be most helpful for your friends who work in the financial district. Your concerns were well put----both the need to have resources for them as financial workers (Wall Street traders and such, I imagine) and the concern that some of the questions about the just acquisition and use of wealth may not be written in a way that serious "masters of the universe" (as Tom Wolfe called them) would be able to relate. Although any young Christian in the workforce could benefit from some of the general books on worldview and workplace, I understand that these aren’t precisely what you're looking for.

If someone reads, though, Transforming Vision, including the call for interdisciplinary scholarship, and Steve Garber's Fabric of Faithfulness---love that subtitle about "weaving together belief and behavior" and then something like Your Work Matters to God or Loving Monday (with the spiffy new cover from IVP, to match the newly released, and even more basic, Mastering Monday) I think the young professional would have a solid foundation from which to pursue marketplace fidelity. Maybe with the sad little caveat that these are pretty basic and generic they would still be willing to knock off a couple of those kinds of books. You know the ones I mention on the website, and I will mention a few more of these sorts below. I know it isn't what you asked for, exactly"¦

To wit: I’m stuck. So many of the "Christian perspectives on" economics are just that---foundational texts for economists, which may be too "macro" in their approach, and overly abstract. Not to mention that they may be pretty critical of capitalism in ways that may resonate with solidarity activists with the poor, campaigners for Jubilee debt relief or Bread for the World, but simply may offend the sensibilities of those who work in the Financial District. I sympathize fully…in a less academic way, it is the problem I have selling those kind of books to ordinary middle class folks in the pew--we all shop at Wal-Mart and arrange our lives around the themes of the American Dream, and go to work each day doing whatever, but it is a stretch to ask them to read a book about global economics or the theology of work and calling. So I know your concerns.

Still, I’ve pondered the quick reply I wrote earlier, and think that (if I may be so bold) it could be that your leadership role in their development at this stage in their discipleship may be to encourage them (can you insist?) that they read up both on the philosophical basis of the very field they work in---economics---and that they be willing to host the possibilities that a Biblical worldview will be to some extent counter-cultural. I am sure that that doesn’t mean they must talk like leftists or look like hippies; Shane’s good work and important contribution and pirate persona isn’t exactly for everyone (although, I think that that in itself is a good conversation to have; how do people of means and workers in higher class places follow faithfully the Lord who said so little positive about the accumulation of wealth and often battled the establishment? I surely haven’t followed St. Francis or Dorothy Day or, now, Shane Claiborne, into that kind of lifestyle, and do not feel (too) badly that I have not. Ron Sider has been an ally in this journey, his books holding my feet to the proverbial fire, but always aware that he often says we are to--and he himself fully intends to---enjoy the fruits of God’s good creation, relish and celebrate the gifts of God and live simply but not ascetically. Given the truly radical call coming from those who take Jesus literally, Sider is really pretty balanced and moderate. God bless his balanced, prophetic call to work for justice without opting out in a monastic call to simplicity that cannot be sustained in the real world of jobs, production, consumption and such. And so I return to my earlier recommendation of his newest edition of the classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Word; $15.99.) Everyone really should read it from time to time, especially those whose livelihoods are somehow connected to the global economy, even if they don’t feel that in a daily way…

I’m rambling here for two reasons: you have hit a nerve I have struggled with all my life about the questions of materialism--less now, I suppose, than ever before. (Good thing our business is’t very successful and we are not very well off. Ha!) And, because I so badly want to be a resource for those in the marketplace, including the task to "think Christianly about the specific practices of particular careers and jobs" and you are searching for what is an underrepresented field in the Christian literature. (As you said, there are plenty on work and business, but little specifically on investment banking, being a stockbroker or high financier and such.) So I ramble and worry, avoiding the truth that I don’t have much to offer that exactly fits the bill of your request. I am anguished by this, I really am, and yet so happy that you care about these things, that you have thought well about it yourself, and that we are the kind of friends who can be candid about this. Maybe eventually one of your young disciples will publish an essay or collect some thoughts that can be put into a book. In the meantime, here are some to consider.

A FEW ON ECONOMICS AND WEALTH

The Economy of Grace Kathryn Tanner (Fortress) $16.00 Tanner is a elegant theologian, a bit left of center, it seems, who wants to offer a Christian vision of economic life, rooted well in the doctrine of grace. As Douglas Meeks (God the Economist) writes on the back "In a money-driven global economy in which the rules of the market appear incorrigible and the consequences for the poor appalling, Tanner boldly develops a realistic alternative economy of grace." This is no less than attempting to develop a fair and viable alternative to capitalism. Very important.

The Business Corporation and Productive Justice David Krueger et al (Abingdon) $17.00 With a good forward by Max Stackhouse, and a great chapter by Laura Nash (who understands well the particularities of middle management and workers in the corporation, calling for "viable entry points") this could be very useful.

A High Price for Abundant Living: The Story of Capitalism Henry Rempel (Herald Press) $14.99 This Mennonite economist and professor has good experience both in the North American classroom and third world development projects. He studies Adam Smith (etceteras) and while I insist that Goudzewaard’s Capitalism and Progress is the definitive history of economic thinking, this is very practical, assessable and useful in posing prickly questions. It presumes that God calls us to accountability and raises helpful concerns rooted in "shared values" that he draws from Christianity (and other sources.)

Christianity and the Culture of Economics edited by Donald Hays and Alan Kreider (University of Wales Press) $32.95 Not only is this the only book we stock from the University of Wales Press (how cool is that?) it is a superb collection of a variety of thoughtful Christians offering informed debate on the key issues involved in the relationship of markets and spiritual values. Donald Hay is a leader in financial work in England and writes from a balanced and experienced perspective; other significant leaders are here too (Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, whatever that is, and is an advisor at Goldman Sachs!) David Nussbaum has a chapter called "Does shareholder value drive the world?" which is good for thinking about corporations.

On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary Resources for Ethics in Economic Life Edited by Max Stackhouse, et al (Eerdmans) $39.00 This fat paperback could easily cost twice the price and still be worth it if one wants a compendium of the best stuff written on economics and business. What a great collection of important documents, theological statements from the world religions, and excerpts of the best books written on this…a few of the most contemporary chapters are about recent corporate cultures and one on the world of trade and exchange.

Socially Responsible Investing: Making a Difference and Making Money Amy Domini (Dearborn) $19.95 I suspect that you know that not everyone is interested in this, and not all young workers in their field can demand only the most righteous of projects. Still, I would think that anyone working for the Biblical mandate for justice and wanting to make a different for the good in the world of high finance will want to be fluent in this conversation. This is a good place to start. The author is one of the foremost experts on socially responsible investing (SRI) . She has been cited by Barron’s as one of the mutual fund industry's 25 most influential people of the century.

Cash Values: Money and the Erosion of Meaning in Today’s Society Craig Gay (Regent College Publishing) $15.00 Gay is a thoughtful sociologist, using Biblically-framed insight into the nature of consumerism, the ways capitalism effects how we think and a description of how complex it is to be faithful in our times. Certainly not an uncritical apologist for the market as meaning-provider, yet it is appreciative of much of the achievements of modern capitalism, too. Really thoughtful and insightful.

Christ and Consumerism: A Critical Analysis of the Spirit of the Age edited by Craig Bartholomew & Thorsten Moritz (Paternoster) $20.99. This British book is doubtlessly the best thing done on this topic. A variety of pieces by various scholars, it explores consumerism from the vantage point of philosophy, ethics, economics, Biblical scholarship, etc. (One chapter, "The Old Testament and the Enjoyment of Wealth" illustrates the balance and moderate tone of these thoughtful pieces.)

Having: Property and Possession in Religious and Social Life edited by William Schweiker & Charles Mathewes (Eerdmans) $36.00 This is a magisterial and hefty collection of essays and articles on economics and ethics, asking what it means to "have" and what the proper role of wealth and property ought to be. Very academic and meaty, provocative work.

The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class David Matzko McCarthy (Brazos) $13.99 Only a portion of this nicely-written book is on work, wealth and materialism, so it resembles, in some ways, the wonderful, new IVP release, The Suburban Christian by Albert Ysu. Still, this pleasant and balanced critique of both extremes---the simple lifestyle movement that would appear to not appreciate a God-created world of good goods as well as the idolatry of unbridled economic growth---is a wonderful and insightful approach. This is an important book, I think, for anyone who dares to allow God's disruptive grace to shape our lifestyles, habits, practices and consumerist views.

The Rest of Success Denis Haack (IVP) $5.00 We have some of these out of print books available for this cheap price…a shame, in a way, as it is worth so very much. This is a reminder, especially to the ambitious, that there can be an idolatry to success. However, it is a solid reminder, too, that we need to fear success, wealth, although calling for just and ethical use, is not bad, and that there can be a proper rest to be celebrate for those who are faithful and fruitful in their high-powered careers. Lovely and very wise.

Doing Well & Doing Good: Money, Giving and Caring in a Free Society Os Guinness (Trinity Forum/NavPress) $15.00 These thoughtful resources (there are others in the series) are designed for small group discussions and enrichment for professionals and executives, leaders and people who need more than a small group Bible study. Drawing on the richest resources of the literature and philosophy, these readings are selected to help frame important conversations about deep things. This one on finances and philanthropy is wonderful, especially for people of means. Highly recommended.


A FEW ON BUSINESS AND WORK

I am sure you have resources on calling and vocation, books on work and general books on cultural engagement and whole-life discipleship. For beginners, don’t forget, for instance, Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing by Quentin Schultz or the more sophisticated, brilliantly-written classic by Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life which I think are very, very foundational. I previously noted Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness; the new subtitle when the new cover comes out will be "Weaving Together Belief and Behavior" (dropping the phrase about the university years)since it finds readership in the corporate world as much as among college students. There are great books by Paul Stevens and William Banks, too, that continue to raise the questions of how lay folk can do theology in their workplace, find God in the ordinary, and live out Christian conviction in the public, vocational aspects of life. Call us if you want more suggestions…

Church on Sunday, Work on Monday: The Challenge of Fusing Christian Values with Business Life Laura Nash and Scotty McLennan (Jossey-Bass) $23.95 Although most beginners may not find this research-based report the place to begin, it is an excellent study for those of us looking for ways to advance this movement, equipping churches to care and workers to bring faith into their jobs. The empirical study has uncovered great information and stories at the intersection of spirituality and economic life.

Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life Michael Novak (Free Press) $25.95 As I think I said on the website, many consider this to be one of the classics writing in favor of democratic capitalism and exalting the value of the businessperson as an agent of social good. As Guinness says on the back, it "rehumanizes capitalism and remoralizes business. " Exceptionally important.

Business Through the Eyes of Faith Shirley Roels, Don Eby, Richard Chewning (Harper) I think this is excellent, although not everyone cares about all the various areas this covers, from wages to advertising, etc. Good stuff, though, so I wanted to remind you of it.

Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace Alexander Hill (IVP) $14.00 I take it you know Hill, formerly the dean of the school of business at Seattle Pacific. Not a full-blown study of economics or work, but specifically about various aspects of business ethics. Not a bad place to start, though, eh?

Serving Two Masters? Reflections on God and Profit C. William Pollard (Collins) $19.95 Pollard made his fortunes in ServiceMaster, about which he told in The Soul of the Firm. Here, he puts his views of money and profit into the context of his desire to be faithful as an executive in a large corporation. Inspirational and practical and honest.

Saving the Corporate Soul (& Who Knows?) Maybe Your Own David Batstone (Jossey-Bass) $26.95 I get his ezine (WAG) and his ability to speak wisely with language that incorporates Christian values without sounding overly religious or moralistic, is a gift which I greatly appreciate. Here, he offers eight principles for creating and preserving integrity and profitability without selling out. With what one reviewer called "easy-reading eloquence" Batstone contends that integrating personal and public morality is essential for thriving and healthy workplaces and redemptive business enterprises. Very nicely done.

God in the Pits: Confessions of a Commodities Trader Mark Ritchie (Macmillan) $18.95 Although it is out of print, we have one left; it is the memoir of a guy who lived his faith on Wall Street…said to be very moving and interesting, from a very successful trader. Maybe you’ve heard of this guy?

Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job Dennis Bakke (PVG) $24.95 With endorsements from folks as diverse as Bill Clinton and Jack Kemp, Peter Block and Peter Woicke (International Finance Corporation) this exciting book has made a big mark in the conversation about values in the work-world. Bakke, as you know, is an evangelical who is renowned for his extraordinary work in the global energy market. When writers such as Peter Block says that this is "simply the best book I have read about integrating human values and economic success" and that he has "changed the nature of the game of business forever" you know that this is a work that must be considered.

Shades of Darkness, Points of Light: Calling, Professionalism, and Shalom Carroll Guen Hart (Institute for Christian Studies) $10.00 A handsomely designed small paperback, this was a speech given upon her inauguration as Chair of Worldview Studies at Toronto’s ICS. Very provocative and thoughtful, on the history of the notion of the professional.

The Transforming Story of Dwelling House Savings and Loan: A Pittsburgh Bank’s Fight Against Urban Poverty Robert Wauzzinski (Edwin Mellon Press) $119.95 This is a book about an absolutely stunning story about one of my favorite people I have ever had the privilege to me, Mr. Robert Lavelle, founder of the African American, inner city bank, Dwelling House S&L. We have known Mr. Lavelle for years, and know him as a kind and sharply-dressed gentleman, a mover and shaker in civil rights and economic reform in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and a savvy business man who lives his faith in the most radical of ways. This book documents how his efforts to re-think the very foundations of banking, re-forming rules and practices, principles and payments, so that the poor can get low-interest loans, enabling home ownership in an otherwise decaying urban ghetto. It is a nationally-known story, how these neighborhoods have been restored and how Mr. Lavelle’s innovative, Presbyterian principles for alternative loan structures have made the difference. This is a serious, academic book, written by an old friend who knows as much about Mr. Lavelle’s story as anyone, and who has great passion for using this story to forage into studies of wholesome economic development, racial justice, city life, the multi-dimensional nature of good theories and creative business practices that allow a financial institution to exude a different spirit. Sadly, this publisher serves mostly the library market, issued the book in a heavy hardback, and sells it for the ironically unrighteous price of $119.95. With a glowing forward by Dutch economist, the esteemed Bob Goudzewaard, this book is well worth tracking down at a library. Or call us, and we can offer a half-off deal (we lose money even on that, selling it for $60.00.) Still, if you know anybody that has influence in savings and loans, credit unions, banks or other lending institutions, or who wants to learn how to faithfully develop a life-long career being a truly Christian business person in the urban environment, this story is unlike anything you've ever heard. Let’s all pray for some miracle that would allow Dr. Wauzzinski to reclaim the rights and get it published nicely in a re-done, affordable paperback.