How The Church Fails Businesspeople

An increasing number of cultural observers are recognizing the sizeable gap that exists between our faith and our work. In his book, How The Church Fails Businesspeople, John Knapp brings his insightful analysis to bear on the problem as well as some helpful reflection on making positive strides forward. In diagnosing the church’s theological failure, Knapp rightly points out that “…the moral terrain of our work lives is mostly defined by law and economics rather than theology, leaving us with an uninspired ethical pragmatism lacking in wisdom and heart.”

Knapp’s research is based on the interviewing of 230 people by doctoral students at Columbia Theological Seminary regarding the integration of faith and work. The conclusion of this research revealed an overwhelming majority of the respondents reported, “The church had done little or nothing to equip them for faithful living at work.”

In the first main section of the book, Knapp devotes a good deal of thought on several factors that contribute to the large gap between the world of faith and the world of business. One factor is a business culture that often discourages personal faith entering the workplace by nurturing a “park-it-at-the-door” attitude. For many business cultures, ethical pragmatism reigns and faith is restricted to the private sphere. Another factor is a church culture that often employs dichotomous language of sacred and secular falsely reinforcing a compartmentalized view of the world as well as elevating some work over other work. Knapp rightly points out that much contemporary theological education is not addressing the gap between faith and business so that trained clergy are ill prepared to teach and model a robust theology of vocation. Yet Knapp either is unaware of or simply fails to mention a growing number of Evangelical theological institutions that are beginning to seriously address a theology of vocation both in their curricula and institutional priorities.

A helpful contribution to the broader conversation on faith and vocation is Knapp’s extensive reflection on the church’s longstanding ambivalence about money itself. Though I didn’t find Knapp’s historical survey as comprehensive or compelling as I would have liked, his historical survey was helpful and adds an important dimension all too often overlooked in the contemporary discussion about faith and vocation. Knapp’s summary regarding money is worth pondering, “The problem of money has troubled Christians since the earliest times. The church has never quite found a consensus on how to reconcile the biblical injunctions to give thanks to God for wealth and also to renounce any desire for it.”

In the second main section of the book, Knapp encourages the reader to ponder ways forward that will minimize compartmentalization and maximize vocational coherence. His move toward greater coherence begins by laying out a biblical theology of vocation. Knapp’s theological endeavor is helpful, but I did not find it as comprehensive as I would have expected. A particular strong point of Knapp’s theological reflection was the emphasis on the integral nature of the Christian faith. I also found instructive and illuminating the exposition of Micah 6, verse 8 and its application of “doing justice,” “loving kindness” and “walking humbly” as the life of true Christian discipleship lived out in a business context.

Perhaps the most insightful and helpful contribution of the entire book is the five facets of church community. According to the author, the local church as God designed it is: 1) A community of moral discernment 2) A community of moral discourse 3) A community of moral influence 4) A community of moral encouragement and 5) A community of moral example. Knapp presents more of a communal call of the Christian faith and thus offers a helpful corrective to the rampant individualism of popular “me and Jesus” Christianity. Each of the five facets is accompanied by helpful reflective questions that were very applicable and stimulating.

Knapp concludes his book by pointing out several organizations that are doing good work in the areas of faith and vocation. He also calls the local church to step up to the plate and make the changes necessary to be a more faithful presence for Christ in our world.

One thought on “How The Church Fails Businesspeople

  1. Pingback: Eerdmans All Over: A Weekly Roundup of News from Eerdmans and Elsewhere « EerdWord

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