Just Business

Written by Alexander Hill Reviewed By Mark Greene

One of the biggest pressures on Christians working in the secular marketplace is, according to research done at London Bible College, the pressure to be dishonest. In the ‘good old days’, about forty years ago or so. stockbrokers and bankers used to operate on the principle that a gentleman’s word was his bond, now the word on the stock exchange floor is that his bond is junk. It isn’t true in every company, it’s certainly not true of everyone, but it’s remarkably widespread—from the little white lies that subtly undermine trust to whopping great deceptions that ruin careers and lives. So Just Business arrives in British bookshops at an opportune time. Alexander Hill teaches in the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University and this book is characterised by both the thoroughness of research one can expect from Americans and also by the plethora of real life case studies that tend to mark US teaching method.

Just Business is a helpful introduction to business ethics from a Biblical perspective. Hill’s concern is to provide a framework to explore a number of overall issues rather than to look at the particular challenges that face Christians in particular industries—it’s not the place to look for everything you always wanted to know about environmental ethics but it is a place to start.

Hill lays his foundation on the three Biblical concepts of holiness, justice and love, arguing that they need to operate together—an over-emphasis on holiness leads to legalism, an over-emphasis on love can lead to what he calls ‘altruistic sinning’—sinning to protect someone else from the consequences of their dishonesty. For Hill, holiness is fundamentally about pleasing God—I will honour those who honour me—and this makes pleasing God the number one priority in any context—business or otherwise. While other business ethicists consider stakeholder approaches to the problem and wonder who should be included in the model—customers, staff, suppliers, future generations, shareholders, etc.—Hill’s emphasis on God as in effect the primary stakeholder is helpful. That said, he is under no illusion as to the possible consequences of making a stand, citing research that indicates ‘that up to two third of such “ethical resisters” suffer job loss, demotions, personal harassment, punitive transfers and/or negative reviews that affect their employability at other companies’.

The book moves on from its foundational principles to examine a variety of issues: dual morality—one rule for the office, another for the home; the law as an incomplete guide to appropriate behaviour; issues to do with ‘agency’—what if my boss tells me to do it; honesty and deception; concealment and disclosure; employer-employee relations; affirmative action: environmental ethics and property. Hill provides a discussion case at the end of each chapter plus a summary of the major concepts with questions linked to scripture references. You may not agree with all his conclusions but the book provides a useful grid to consider business challenges and it is well grounded in the character of God and in a respect for Scripture. Hill knows you can’t make a simple leap from the agrarian economy of the OT or the Imperial economy of the New into the high-tech global economies of the turn of the millennium. Importantly, Hill is untainted by a disdain for business, rightly recognising business’ role as a steward of resources, human and material, for the benefit of humanity and to the glory of God. Still, a slightly greater measure of pastoral empathy or even advice on how to cope with the emotional impact of the struggles Christians face would have been welcome. That said, here’s how Hill concludes the book in the following way:

This is why even our ethical failings can have a silver lining. Recognising our imperfections, we are drawn to the grace of God, which in turn leads us to assess ourselves modestly and to treat others with tolerance.

Grace, humility, empathy—not a bad place to end—or start, for that matter.

Mark Greene

London Institute for Contemporary Christianity