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Doing God's Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace Paperback – August 10, 2006
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"Why wasn't this book available when I started out as a young businessman fifty years ago? It would have given me a much needed theology of the workplace at a time when the notion of having a 'calling' to the workplace was considered a heresy!" - William E Diehl, author of Thank God Its Monday
From the Back Cover
Christians have likely been struggling with the place of business in the life of faith ever since Paul's days as a tentmaker. Just how do the spheres of private devotion and public business intersect in a meaningful way?
Paul Stevens has been exploring this question since his earliest working days in his father's steel business. His "Doing God's Business" tells how readers can find lasting and satisfying meaning for marketplace involvement in the light of the Christian faith and tradition. Stevens explores the potential of business as a location for practicing everyday spiritual disciplines and as a source of creativity and deeper relationship with God.
Top customer reviews
I wonder if the "Old Soul" who reviewed "Doing God's Business" read the same book I did! IMO, this is one of Paul Stevens' best works. It is thoughtful, thorough, and extremely affirming for a blue-collar business guy like me who has been trying to serve God in the manufacturing arena for 20 years. As a former pastor who felt called back to the family business, I've read literally dozens of marketplace books and this one is definitely one of the best.
For one thing, it was hard to get through. The structure of the book is haphazard: one chapter doesn't lead into the next. It is organized more like a compilation of individual lecture notes than a coherent essay. And regardless of structure, it's much longer than it needs to be. Stevens fills the pages with all sorts of intellectual litter: Greek words (bet you didn't know that 'oikos' means 'household', did you?), lengthy quotations, rigorous footnoting, etc. Throughout the whole rambling, cluttered journey you're kept tedious company by the author's plain and unengaging writing style.
More seriously, you have to put up with his ignorance of economics. Which is rather inexcusable in someone who spends a good deal of space in his book commenting on globalization, trade, prices, and distribution of goods and services.
For example, he introduces the reader to 'Bob', a car dealer who sees unfairness in a price that is negotiable: "It turned out that the lowest price was paid by lawyers and executives with advanced negotiating skills, while the highest price was paid by women, young people, and minorities. He developed a 'one price-fair price' policy at his dealerships, giving incentives of time-saving services to lawyers and executives, to whom saving time was worth paying a little more to buy a car. That is kingdom work!"
Perhaps! But it's really, really bad economics! Bob can do whatever he likes with his cars, and I won't object to his little gimmick. But Stevens should know better than to hold this up as 'kingdom work' in a way that implicitly wags a finger at dealers who choose to negotiate with potential buyers. In particular, he should have the humility to recognize that Bob is not in a position to say what a 'fair' price is. How could he know? A price is a feature of a market economy that emerges only when a transaction is completed between a seller and a buyer. It isn't some great eternal fact. If you're not convinced of this then try figuring out what the 'one price-fair price' is for your own car, or better yet, your home. You will find this to be especially fun if you own a house in a city like Vancouver, where Stevens teaches, or San Francisco or San Diego. Except in cases of obvious exploitation, people negotiate the prices of goods and services that they are selling not because they are greedy but because they honestly don't know what, exactly, the price should be. It changes constantly, and so they test the market to see what it's going to be like today.
Stevens also pulls out the 'poor getting poorer and rich getting richer' canard, as well as the one about the world having enough goods to go around to everybody but just lacking the right distribution system. As if there were some great big ol' money tree down in Florida with plenty of low-hanging fruit for everyone, but - gosh-darn it - the shipping lanes to Zimbabwe just keep being frustrated by bad currents. A little sober reflection on the matter might yield the observation that production and distribution of wealth are not independent processes.
Finally, in large portions of this book, Stevens seems to be justifying Christian involvement in the marketplace by pointing out all the opportunities for advancing the causes of 'social justice', 'economic justice', and the like. Which really isn't much of a step at all beyond the traditional justification: "work hard so that you'll have lots of money to give to the church, and to missionaries, and to the poor!" We've heard enough of that - and fortunately many of us already do that. What's needed is a more focused treatment of the inherent value of good work, done well. Too many Christians - and especially the young - see a vocation in say, electrical contracting or banking or homemaking as second-rate and unrewarding. And this book - unintentionally, I believe - furthers that misconception by spending too much time offering what are essentially justifications for work.
P.S. The Kindle Edition formatting was mediocre: lots of errors and words run together.
As a brief background, I am getting my doctorate in a scientific field; I value evangelism and have found the opportunity to share the gospel with a few of my colleagues and continue to discuss faith with them; and I'm in the process of figuring out how exactly God wants me to be a steward of my life, talents, and relationships. I mention the last part, because it's not a fixed theology I have out of which I disagree with what Stevens says. Actually, I'm excited to find a theology which could help validate the passion I have for my research work, and help me to more fully understand God's calling for my life. But I was a little unsettled by some of Stevens' arguments from Scripture.
Let me start with a paragraph on page 35. Stevens is addressing the question of whether business can be a specific calling from God:
"Nevertheless, Paul envisions our ordinary work being taken up into the new order of things under Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 he says, 'In the Lord your labor is not in vain.' Our activity is not just our own effort but is carried on 'with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power' (1 Cor. 2:4-5). So rather than setting up a dichotomy of sacred and secular work, Paul sees all work directed to the new life in Christ and the advancement of Christ's kingdom."
I take issue with his interpretation of both of these passages from 1 Corinthians. Stevens considers 15:58 to refer to any work we do (if done in a God-honoring manner, or so). Part of his justification from the previous chapter is that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, so anything we do that creates or sustains, is God's work. I agree with the intrinsic value in work that creates or sustains, and that those activities are honoring to God. But I'm not convinced that "the work of the Lord" Paul refers to is any vocational work we do, and not specifically "soul work" (whether full-time missionary or pastoral ministry, or the everyday relational interactions which have an impact on people).
His treatment of 15:58 might be defensible, but 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 is worse. Let me provide some context for the Bible passage: "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. . . . my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." Paul is not writing about secular work, he is writing about his evangelism to the Corinthians! God may show the Spirit's power through our secular work, perhaps, but this is not what Paul is writing about. However, Stevens claims that both of these passages are about all work, including secular work.
I'll just mention one other Scripture passage which I have a problem with. (I know I'm being long-winded here.) On page 206, Stevens is describing the process of vocational discernment, starting with our motivation and passion, then considering our gifts, talents, and personality, then circumstances, and finally the direct leading of God:
"Finally, sometimes God gives us a direct, even audible word of direction or brings us someone who has a prophetic message. We need to consider these supernatural words, however, in the light of who we know ourselves to be, as Moses did when he was called (Exod. 3:11; 4:10)."
Exodus 3 and 4 is Moses' encounter with God in the burning bush, when God commands Moses to lead the Israelites in confronting Pharaoh. You'll recall that Moses protests repeatedly, on the basis of his lack of self-confidence and lack of eloquence (3:11; 4:1,10,13). But these protests are not a sign of Moses' wisdom and self-knowledge -- they are a sign of his fear and small faith! God promises success (3:8), His own presence with Moses (3:12), gives Moses miraculous signs to prove it by (4:2-9), and reminds Moses that it is He who made his mouth (4:11). And when Moses continues to doubt, "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses" (4:14, ESV). In his mercy and faithfulness, God allows Moses to partner with his brother Aaron; but this is not the ideal scenario because Aaron later leads the nation to construct the golden calf to worship (Exodus 32:3-4). I don't think there is any room to argue that Moses was justified in protesting his role as God's spokesman, yet this is what Stevens claims.
I admit that these are minor verses in the grand scheme of Stevens' discourse. And there are many other verses which I think Stevens exegetes well, and several of them challenge my faith and my understanding in a good way. I don't necessarily disagree with his overall conclusions. But I'm disinclined to trust an author who I feel has mishandled the Word of God even in minor points. I'll look elsewhere for a theology of work that I can trust -- a comment on another review suggested Why Business Matters to God: (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed), which I will check out soon.