In his brief book (just under 100 pages), Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business, Wayne Grudem asks readers to consider that business is not intrinsically evil, but an important means of glorifying God.
Grudem wants readers to know that business, standing alone, can glorify God — not just when it’s harnessed as an evangelistic tool (though he agrees this is can also be beneficial to the kingdom when used in such a manner). This is a helpful message for both Christians or secularists who believe business is intrinsically evil, and for Christians who have heard that full-time ministry is the only first-class vocation, and business is for second-class Christians wishing to support “ministry.”
The book addresses 9 areas of business/financial matters through which God can be glorified, each of these making up a short chapter, and then 2 additional chapters dealing with heart attitudes and the effects of business on world poverty:
- Commercial Transactions
- Inequality of Possessions
- Borrowing and Lending
- Attitudes of Heart
- Effects on World Poverty
In each chapter, Grudem makes clear that each of these areas can be used for evil, but that he believes that when done/viewed properly, are inherently good. (Usually each chapter begins with ” ___ is fundamentally good and provides many opportunities for glorifying God, but also many temptations to sin.” At least once per chapter, Grudem clarifies with this helpful statement, “But the distortions of something good must not cause us to think that the thing itself is evil.” Both of these are helpful and important reminders.
Grudem draws from various Old Testament texts to “prove” that each of these areas is inherently good and part of God’s plan. Here’s where the problems in the book enter. Frequently, the author states that a principle is drawn from Scripture and then moves on to build his argument in such rapid-fire succession that many readers may not take time to examine whether or not this is truly what the Scripture is saying. In some cases, I believe his assessment of Scripture is accurate. In other cases, it would seem that it is a valid argument, but his method of arriving at his conclusion was faulty. In other cases, he seems to be cherry-picking and proof-texting his personal opinions. While some may look at such conclusions and remark, “Wow! I never saw that text in that way,” I hope many more will be discerning enough to wonder that they never saw it that way (or heard/read it explained it that way), because that’s not what the text is saying.
In the first area of consideration, ownership, Grudem draws his readers to one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:15, “Thou shalt not steal.” He quickly rushes to conclude that because God commanded His people to not steal, it is implied that stealing indicates that there should be personal property and ownership. Based on that foundation, he concludes that God ordained ownership, as opposed to communal sharing. Yet, someone could just as easily look at the same text, and quickly say that if God tells us not to steal, then He clearly intended government to own all property.
In other chapters, Grudem appeals to passages in Deuteronomy and Leviticus to indicate God’s design and the inherent goodness of various of the 9 areas. Again, this can sometimes be a confusing approach, particularly when not rounded out by other reasoning. For example, using the same line of thinking that is used in the book, one could look at Deuteronomy 24, see that it discusses the “how to’s” of divorce, and conclude that God instituted divorce. I know that Dr. Grudem would not agree with such a conclusion. (And, clearly, this is not the best example because we have New Testament passages further rounding our certain aspects of divorce.) While there is a difference between the moral laws we consider to be binding today and the laws God gave Israel as theocratic law, this is not delineated in the book, even though conclusions are drawn from both. This makes the logic and argumentation weak, in my opinion.
In another section of the book, Grudem asserts, “Competition seems to be the system God intended when he gave people greater talents in one area and gave other people greater talents in another area.” To this and similar statements, I also raise an eyebrow.
I also read the book while reminding myself that it is difficult to have a well-rounded perspective on the use of wealth, when we live in a land where our commonplace excess can easily impair our perspective. To round out such a perspective, it is helpful to also read the writings of Christians in other cultures, times, and places.
Helpfulness of the Book
Overall, the book has a helpful perspective on business, though it is broader than just business, since much of it also applies to personal finances. In this regard, Grudem provides constant reminders of the temptations involved with finances, but also explores the many ways in which they can be good and used for good. He also emphasizes that it is the love of money, not money that the Bible calls evil.
This book would provide a slightly different perspective than books such as Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, or David Platt’s Radical. Yet, taken in together and with perspective, I believe each of these books adds helpful insight into the way we should live as Christians. Books like Alcorn’s would state that Christians should not put money into savings or invest financially long-term, while Grudem’s book would push towards doing so. I believe we need both types of Christians (as well as those who fall somewhere in between), and that the Church thrives with members who have wealth, as well as those who are willing to give up all material possessions and live a life of radical faith.