While there are, no doubt, scientific aspects to business-absolutes that are inviolable, such as general accounting principles and profit margins related to expenses-there is also an essential philosophical aspect. Every successful commercial enterprise is a marriage of the two: sound business science wedded to a given business philosophy or vision. The difference between success and mediocrity or failure lies not so much with the quality of science-for these principles are nearly universal-but in the strength of vision or purpose that drives the enterprise and its employees. The Bible underscores this principle in Proverbs 29:18 (AMP), which says, “Where there is no vision … the people perish.”
The question ultimately becomes, “What purpose drives your business?” Suffice it to say, the vast majority of American businesses are no longer guided by a consciously Christian conception of reality (a Christian worldview), in which business is understood as a redemptive instrument that either serves to fulfill the dominion mandate or advance Christ’s kingdom. And, given the fact that only 4 percent of Americans (77 percent of whom claim to be Christian) possess even a rudimentary understanding of the Christian worldview, according to recent research, the church is presently doing very little to reverse this condition.
Presently, and by every measurable account, this former depth of theological wisdom applied to public life has been largely forgotten. As a result, many Christians have come to understand the role of their faith in the marketplace in overly simplistic terms. Today, being a Christian businessman is almost always reduced to nothing more than personal piety and evangelism in the workplace: “Be good and try to convert your coworkers.” Others may feel that giving a portion of their profits to missions fulfills their business’s missional purpose. While these activities are indeed good, this worldview of business remains inadequate in advancing the all-encompassing redemptive mission of Christ, that is, the kingdom. The fact is, there is often little operational difference between Christian and non-Christian owned businesses, meaning the Christian-owned business doesn’t offer a substantive glimpse of what life looks like under the reign of God.
Here, I want to be very clear. The root cause of this deficiency is not found in the mere absence of worldview knowledge. Simply teaching the Christian worldview of business and economics alone won’t solve the problem. No, the weakness of the contemporary Christian understanding of business originates in a larger, more fundamental issue: a failure to understand the biblical gospel. Today, when evangelicals speak of the gospel, they almost always mean, simply, the personal plan of salvation. This is generally limited to an activity in which we present people with some facts about Jesus, ask them to agree with these facts, and if they do, instruct them to invite him into their lives, or pray the sinner’s prayer. Once they do this, we tell them, “You are saved!” and look for the next prospect. And this, we teach, is the Christian’s highest calling in life.
We’ve heard this version of the gospel so many times that we don’t even bother to question it-we simply accept it as “the gospel.” However, when we put aside our culturally induced conceptions and study the scriptures, we discover that we have unwittingly embraced a truncated version of the gospel whose implications are almost entirely personal. In truth, the gospel, according to Scripture, focuses far less on Jesus’ substitutionary death for us and much more on His kingdom (not that these two are mutually exclusive).
According to the Scripture, Jesus enters history proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Throughout the New Testament Jesus speaks and teaches about the “good news of the kingdom,” the announcement that God’s long awaited reign has finally broken into our world in a new and decisive way to restore God’s lost creation. The unmerited gift we receive is admission into his kingdom; his mission is now our mission. And that mission isn’t the expansion of the church, it is the expansion of the kingdom-the loving rule and reign of God that has come, is coming, and will one day be complete when all things are finally and forever made new.
The Messianic expectation throughout the Old Testament underscores the coming of God’s reign over the whole world, as N. T. Wright notes:
They were not thinking about how to secure themselves a place in heaven after they died. The phrase “kingdom of heaven,” which we find frequently in Matthew’s gospel where the others have “kingdom of God” does not refer to a place called “heaven,” where God’s people will go after death. It refers to the rule of heaven, that is, of God, being brought to bear in the present world. Thy kingdom come, said Jesus, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. Jesus’ contemporaries knew that the creator God intended to bring justice and peace to his world here and now (Wright, The Challenge of Jesus [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001], 36–37).
Can you see the difference? If we think of the gospel only in terms of personal salvation, then our natural tendency is towards rescuing individuals from this world. The emphasis centers more on evacuation to a better place after death. Practically speaking, this view teaches that this world really doesn’t matter. If, however, we understand the gospel in relation to the kingdom of God coming into the world, then we see that the world does matter to God-and he calls us to occupy and redeem it as ambassadors of the King and his kingdom. This kingdom is not a country or place, neither is it a future heaven or the church. The kingdom, or basileia (Gr.), is about the dynamic of God’s kingship being applied here and now in every aspect of society and culture. By narrowing their view of the gospel, many Christians don’t see their daily work as a holy calling because it doesn’t directly advance evangelism. By divorcing the kingdom from the gospel, we don’t see that our vocations and businesses can and should serve to advance the kingdom of God on earth.
This is the purpose of the Kingdom Project-to help Christian business leaders leverage their business as a redemptive instrument that transforms the culture and gives evidence of God’s in-breaking reign. This is very different than trying to leverage the principles and values of Christianity for the benefit of your business.
If you are a business owner or executive who desires to deepen your vocational calling and purpose by seeking to serve the kingdom, I want to encourage you to apply for the Kingdom Project. There is no cost and no commitment. Once you apply, I will personally speak with you about how “corporate discipleship” may serve you so you can better serve the kingdom.