Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the MarketplaceWritten by Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae Reviewed By Grant Olewiler
Many Christian businesspeople know of no other pattern but to bifurcate their vocation into two separate worlds: “Christian” and “businessperson.” Wong and Rae's Business for the Common Good provides a vast array of practical insight and theologicallyinformed application to bridge these two worlds in the workplace. The book's premise is that a “thoroughly Christian . . . approach to education” (p. 10) must provide this vital aspect of training to offer relevance in the marketplace, which is supported consistently throughout the book with compelling arguments. Whether one is just beginning a career, well-seasoned in business, or providing counsel to others regarding issues in the workplace, this book is not merely academic. It offers clear biblical insight in ways that can really help businesses today.
After a rather lengthy but helpful introduction, Wong and Rae argue that work is more than a means to fund kingdom work, it is an altar, designed for each individual to “devote time, energy, gifts and skills in service to God . . . to accomplish God's work and purpose in the world” (pp. 41-42). Solid biblical texts back up most of their assessments. Verses such as Eccl 2:22-23 (“What does a man get for all his toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief, even at night his mind does not rest”) give foundational support to warnings for workaholics, putting work into perspective (p. 111).
Most companies (and employees for that matter) establish (or should establish) company or “mission” or “purpose” statements intended to guide company life and practice. Wong and Rae assist this analysis with great questions to challenge road-meeting-rubber issues that Christians should not overlook. Are we really creating businesses that serve to benefit mankind? “Is our communication [i.e., marketing] honest and directed toward constituents to enable them to make informed decisions, or does our communication mostly spin half-truths in our favor without regard for the well-being of others?” (p. 86).
Having worked for the same company for over thirty-five years in almost all positions, I had always heavily weighted “redeeming the time” for maximum value both from employees and from myself. The writers helped me understand that for me, this “actually means slowing down, not speeding up” (p. 109). Too easily opportunities for relationship get overlooked completing a task. The means of accomplishing the task is often far more important. Wong and Rae stress the need to be more intentional about taking advantage of relational opportunities God brings for service to others in the workplace. It is that which earns us the opportunities to share with others the hope that is within us.
For decades our company resisted sourcing labor in lower-cost countries. For that reason,the biblical perspective Wong and Rae provided on global responsibilities of benefitting God's creatures worldwide and not just in one's local city proved to be very helpful. Over the past ten years when visiting foreign companies that my company works with, I have seen firsthand the quality of life improvements made to foreign workers and have also been able to find opportunity to explain the gospel in ways that the writers have argued as possible.
Additional chapters in this book on wealth, ethics, leadership, marketing, and stewardship all very practically apply to both employers and employees. Throughout the text, however, while points are developed and Scripture is set forth to support the authors' positions, the book lacks any straightforward studies from the biblical text. Unfortunately, this does leave a few points undersupported. One such perspective is the authors' interpretation of Rom 8:19-21, where earth sustainability is important because they do not believe it will be literally destroyed by fire (p. 237), which other passages seem to suggest (e.g., Rev 9:18; 19:20). This is an interpretive issue, but the writers do not sustain enough engagement with scripture to be able to set forth a coherent biblical theology of business.
Positively, at the root of most chapters was a continual thread that business itself and businesspeople are created by God for relationship. This purpose must be sustained above all other purposes that business may embody.
The timing for this book was excellent as our company has been re-inventing itself in the “new economy.” Staffing role-changes, new quality control measures, greater customer focus, and other vital issues, which have all been on the mind of company leadership, were addressed in ways not found in any other book that I am aware of. Practical businesspeople who desperately need to know how to integrate their faith into their workplace will not find this book to be a step-by-step manual but rather a means to solidify their foundational worldview for where they devote most of their time and energy.
Wong and Rae have addressed important issues that have serious practical implications for the church and, in particular, local churches. The gems of insight provided in this book will definitely serve to facilitate “business for the common good.”
M.D. Manufacturing, Inc.
Bakersfield, California, USA