Michael Kruse: Business People 1

Michael Kruse: Business People 1 February 18, 2019

This post is the first in a series by this blog’s good friend, Michael Kruse, who has his own very active blog.

Tina Turner once asked “What’s love got to do with it?” Today, many businesspeople are asking “What’s God got to do with it?” For some, the question is a facetious way of saying that God really has nothing to do with business, but for many Christians it is a very real question … a question for which the church is of little help.

What barriers do you see to living out your faith in the workplace?

Is it unrealistic to expect that the church could aid businesspeople with the decisions they make?

One December Eerdmans published a book called How the Church Fails Business People (and what can be done about it), written by Dr. John Knapp. Dr. Knapp is the founding director of the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership at Samford University. He has also done adjunct work at Columbia Theological Seminary. (He is also a fellow PCUSAer.) Over the next several days I will blog my way through his book and I invite you to join me for conversation.

A central piece of Knapp’s book is a survey his doctoral students at Columbia Seminary gave to 238 people from all walks of life. There were five questions:

1. Can you describe at least one moral or ethical concern that has affected you personally in your career or work life?

2. Was the church helpful to you in addressing the concerns(s)? If so how? If not, what might have been helpful?

3. Can you recall specific sermons, classes, or other ways the church has offered practical guidance or help in your business or professional life? Please describe these.

4. Have you ever sought advice or counsel from a pastor regarding business- or career-related concern? If so, was it helpful? If you have not done so, what consideration might help you determine whether to seek pastoral counsel about a work-related matter?

5. On the whole, do you think the church does enough to help members integrate their faith with their lives at work? If so, how? If not, how might we do better? (166)

Knapp writes:

“Despite a widely shared belief that faith should inform ethical decisions at work, a mere 18 of 230 respondents had ever consulted a pastor for advice about a work-related matter. Of these, six were dissatisfied with the experience, including the entrepreneur who angrily moved his church membership when a pastor made light of his concern that his product might be bad for children; nine others had sought advice only when looking for a job. More revealing were the view of more than 200 people who had never looked to a pastor for counsel in business or career matter, a reluctance we will examine in the next chapter.” (12)

The results of the survey are consistent with other research. There is widespread disappointment with the church among businesspeople. Why is there such a disconnection? Knapp identifies aspects of both the business world and the world of the church as contributors to the problem. Chapter 1 looks at the world of business and Chapter 2 (the next post) looks at the world of the church.

Throughout human history, home life and work life were tightly woven together. Over the past two hundred years we have seen a steady separation of the two, with seemingly different sets of ethical standards emerging for each sphere. Adding to this separation has been the evolution of economics. What we typically think of as economics was studied within the context of philosophy and political economy prior to the Twentieth Century. The idea of economics as an empirically based study of human behavior free of value judgments emerged in the Twentieth Century. Along with it came the notion of homo economicus, human beings reduced in essence to rational self-interested utility calculators. Ethical considerations were pushed to the margins.

Knapp points to a Harvard Business Review article written by Albert Carr in 1969, called “Is Business Bluffing Ethical?” as emblematic of the present mindset. Carr proposed that business be seen much like a poker game with its own set of rules that might run contrary to traditional values in other aspects of our lives but that are acceptable inside the game. University level business ethics have tended to reinforce this perspective and have tended more toward helping students avoid creating the next Enron versus really grappling with deep moral issues. And while we have seen a move in recent decades to make the workplace more diverse along a number of demographic lines, religion in the workplace is still seen as something that should stay at home. Knapp writes:

“Our point here is that the cultures of many workplaces effectively relegate faith to the private, off-hours sphere, contributing to the individual’s inner difficulty in holding these two worlds together.” (7)

Heightening the tension is a reversal in the trend of the past two centuries toward compartmentalization. Work and business lives are becoming more integrated and there is growing hunger to know how to integrate them. Based on what I’ve observed, I suspect the younger you are the more acutely this is felt. Unfortunately, Knapp observes:

“Princeton researcher Robert Wuthnow finds that individuals’ faith actually ‘plays a more important role in guiding work than has generally been acknowledged,’ but he sees that this influence is diminishing as Christianity becomes less a guide for living than a ‘way of making us feel better about ourselves.’” (16)

On the whole, I think Knapp has summarized the landscape well. There are nuances I would add at places but that would go beyond the scope of the book. The world of business and economics creates barriers to the integration of faith and work. And that sets the stage for the next chapter, “The World of the Church.”


What barriers do you see to living out your faith in the workplace?

Is it unrealistic to expect that the church could aid businesspeople with the decisions they make?


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