Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Television Show Review: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season FourMad Men: Season 4 created by Matthew Weiner (Lionsgate Television, Weiner Bros., and American Movie Classics)

Starring Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Ross, Vincent Karthieser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, and John Slatterly.

"The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice." — George Eliot

Self Help. Shelves upon shelves are dedicated to this topic in libraries and bookstores across America. Daytime talk shows hosted by professionals with large personalities and larger degrees find popularity by focusing on this subject. It is the magical panacea capable of granting health, wealth, and relational success. You make the difference in the world and you are weak if you request help.

Is another offshoot of Chicken Soup for the Soul capable of curing the turpitude of humanity? The AMC original series, Mad Men seems to think that a positive self-outlook lacks the features needed to cure an ailing individual.

Winner of four Golden Globes, Mad Men receives high praise from most critics. Best known for its dark portrayal of a 1960s advertising agency based on Madison Avenue in New York, the show's narcissistic characters smoke, drink, and sleep their way to financial success.

Such loose living over the previous three seasons, however, brings serious consequences. Broken families, lost client relationships, and poor health frame the beginning of Season 4, as does the recently created firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Grab a Martini and Take a Seat

The show's protagonist, Founding Partner and Creative Director Donald Draper (Jon Hamm), conceals a spiraling personal life. Marital strife leaves him alone in a New York City apartment; the pressures of a stressful work environment drive him to the bottle; and he seeks whatever pleasure he can find in the comfort of a woman's touch.

Inevitably, his home life influences his professional life, which creates unwanted stagnancy. Sensing the moribund direction of his life, Draper implements self rules such as a limit of three drinks a day and a steady romantic relationship. For a short period, his newly structured life decreases his depraved tendencies. Both his personal and professional lives begin to flourish.

But, as with most addictive propensities, combating them alone typically results in failure. A myriad of detrimental circumstances pushes Draper's life toward the brink.

Sometimes You Just Need a Friend

Mad Men evocatively depicts human frailty. Draper's narcissism launches him to the peaks of the advertising world, leaving colleagues strewn in a path of wreckage. But the same selfish nature humbles him as his walls tumble around him.

In light of this portrayal, our businesses can also present opportunities for gain at the expense of others, occasions for living in excess, and chances to act as lone wolves. A community of friends and colleagues who have the opportunity to speak directly and truthfully into our lives makes a big difference. Lives lived without meaningful connection — similar to Don Draper's — suffer similar solitary and deleterious results.

Don Draper's character illustrates the fact that Christians and non-Christians alike are prone to self-deceit, and in turn, self-destruction. Our weaknesses and moral failings only become amplified when we combat them alone. 

Community, then, is a vital aspect of a functioning individual; it catches people when they fall, and it encourages people to act selflessly.

In a culture marked by individualistic philosophies espoused in self-help books and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps success stories, the power of community is a valuable asset. Mad Men reminds us of the perils existing in solitude.

Much Better Than a Self-Help Book

On the whole, Mad Men is a show of subtlety, unafraid to engage in the complex dilemmas of the unsettling 1960s era. Like a dense book, the show sometimes requires time for the themes to fully digest. Yet, when viewed as a whole, Mad Men is a masterfully produced show depicting the struggles of the business world. Although slow-paced (it's worth it; I promise), I strongly recommend picking up and watching this season and previous seasons of Mad Men on DVD.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood BibleThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (New York: HarperFlamengo, 1998. 560 pp)

Born in 1955 in rural Kentucky, Barbara Kingsolver earned biology degrees from DePauw University and the University of Arizona. Beginning in 1985, Kingsolver began writing as a freelancer and author. Starting with The Bean Trees in 1988 and Lacuna functioning as the most recent bookend in 2009, Kingsolver’s works have been translated into more than two dozen languages and adopted into high school curriculum. Kingsolver contributes essays and reviews in many renowned newspapers and magazines. She has received numerous awards including, the national book award of South Africa, the James Beard Award, and the National Humanities Medal. Kingsolver lives on a farm in Southern Appalachia with her husband, Steven Hopp.

A Equals ~A

Philosophically speaking, cultural relativism is a myth. Defined as an ethical position praising the moral goodness of societal differences, cultural relativism stakes claim as a dominant worldview. Yet, the foundational premise of relativism is invalid.

More specifically, when someone states “cultural morals are relative – what is ethical in one society is not ethical in another. Thus, both positions can be held as equally moral.” However, such a statement requires universal footing. The position, “cultural morals are relative” is an absolute statement intended to govern humankind. But, the content of the statement assumes that all positions are relative. Therefore, such a position states, “a equals not a.”

At the same time, merely rejecting cultural relativism a priori dismisses some crucial elements surrounding this invalid assumption: the cultural relativist understands that his or her cultural mores are not necessarily the way life ought to be.

The Mission Field

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible illustrates the damaging effects of assuming that your way of thinking is the true way of thinking. This tome follows the life of Nathan Price, a Baptist missionary from Georgia, told through the lens of Orleanna Price, his wife, and his four daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May.

From the day the family arrives in Belgian Congo, cultural clashes become common place and a sense of impending tragedy settles over the pages. Nathan Price believes that the pagans need Jesus – an American Jesus to be specific. The natives of Congo, however, have lived in this harsh jungle for centuries, learning how to survive with the land.

Terrify the Children!

The differences in culture are no more pronounced than in Nathan Price’s continual desire to baptize the children of this African village.

Kingsolver writes,

“Then there is batiza, Our Father’s fixed passion. Batiza pronounced with the tongue curled just so means “baptism.” Otherwise, it means “to terrify.” Nelson spent part of an afternoon demonstrating to me that fine linguistic difference while we scraped chicken manure from the nest boxes. No one has yet explained it to the Reverend. He is not of mind to receive certain news. Perhaps he should clean more chicken houses” (214).

On top of misunderstanding the subtleties of the language, Nathan Price is incapable of understanding the cultural rituals of the land. From refusing to plant seeds in the correct manner, to urging the native people to dunk their children in alligator-infested rivers, the Reverend’s singular desire of salvation for the people reveals itself in a half-comical, half-tragic way.

Unable to connect with the locals, Nathan’s family falls apart while he does little to nurture their growth. In these ways, The Poisonwood Bible reads like a tragedy.

Christianity Rediscovered

I couldn’t help but think of Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan while reading The Poisonwood Bible. In Christianity Rediscovered, Donovan narrates his time as a missionary amongst the Masai people in Tanzania. During his mission, Donovan rediscovers the gospel message as he learns the Masai culture.

Instead of phrasing the gospel in an American way, Donovan learns the subtleties of Masai culture first in order to phrase the gospel in a way that the people not only understand, but also can practice without divorcing themselves from an ingrained culture.

As such, Donovan learns that the gospel runs deeper than its Americanized form. In a way, Christianity Rediscovered and The Poisonwood Bible read as the polar opposite ways of spreading the gospel.
Although The Poisonwood Bible is a sad story about the ways a family falls apart on the mission field, Kingsolver writes well and approaches dense subjects with honesty. I recommend this book!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Album Review: Barton Hollow

Barton HollowBarton Hollow by the Civil Wars (Sensibility Music, 2011. 40 minutes)

An indie-folk duo composed of Joy Williams and John Paul White, the Nashville-based band, the Civil Wars, formed after the two met at a songwriters camp. Having found success previously as solo artists, Williams and White discovered an instant connection allowing them to release a live recording of their second gig as a free download titled, Live at Eddie’s Attic. Partnering with producer Charlie Peacock, the band started recording its first studio EP, Poison and Wine. The band first encountered national recognition when the song, “Poison and Wine,” from the debut EP played in its entirety over a climactic montage on Grey’s Anatomy. Barton Hollow is the band’s first release on Sensibility Music and is highly acclaimed being both named Paste Magazine’s “Best of What’s Next” and the top album on Taylor Swift’s 2011 playlist.

The Top Prospect

Every summer, baseball fans hype the next hot prospect. Murmurings rise from the minor leagues of a 95-mile-an-hour fastball and a knee-buckling, 12-to-6 curveball. These prospects have major-league talent but remain in the minor leagues due to inconsistency. Quick fastballs and biting curves are worthless without accuracy – the crucial trait most difficult to acquire. The difference between Felix Hernandez, a Cy Young award-winning ace and a farm league pitcher is inches of accuracy. Barton Hollow, the first full-length release from the Civil Wars exhibits the prodigious talent required to throw blazing fastballs and sharp curveballs, yet lacks the consistency that would make the record an ace.

Civil War

Barton Hollow contains stripped-down instrumentation with harmony heavy, country vocals. Each song exemplifies the notion of a civil war between man and woman with Joy Williams and John Paul White trading lines and singing about relational heartbreak.

Hit single, “Poison & Wine,” provides evidence of this central theme when the duo sings,

“I don’t love you but I always will.”

Living in this contradiction, the record sounds sweet but the lyrics betray dark undertones, “Birds of a Feather,” the closing song on the album expands on these themes:

“She’s the sea I’m sinking in / He’s the ink under my skin / Sometimes I can’t tell where I end / Where I leave off and he begins”

2 Aces

The LP includes two brilliant songs, “Poison & Wine” and “Barton Hollow.” Illustrating the fastball and curveball, these songs take my breath away with vocal gymnastics, beautiful melodies, and keen lyrics. If Barton Hollow contained 12 songs of similar quality, the record would honestly be one of the best I have ever heard. I really mean it. Seriously, don’t question me – these two songs are that good.

But, the rest of the album leaves my ears wanting more. While the songs in and of themselves are enjoyable, the minimal instrumentation and difficult melodies do not translate in the headphones as well as they do in person – I truly recommend seeing this band live; John Paul White and Joy Williams have the best live vocals I have ever heard, I mean, just listen/watch this video.

Just as a top prospect in baseball carries immense talent on his shoulders but needs to work on day-to-day consistency, Barton Hollow displays the very best of what the Civil Wars could become while simultaneously leaving me slightly disappointed. With a country twang, the Civil Wars seem to be on the cusp of greatness. If they could produce a consistent record and perhaps add some instrumentation to give each song some depth, look out for the next great country band. Until then, spin Barton Hollow because it is worth its weight with “Poison & Wine” and “Barton Hollow.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make ThingsCradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (New York: North Point Press, 2002. 208 pp)

Known best for his work in sustainable architecture and design, William McDonough is a world leader in sustainable business practices. Winner of the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, the National Design Award, and the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, McDonough’s philosophies on sustainability find popularity amongst companies desiring to go green. Additionally, McDonough is the founder of William McDonough + Partners, an international architecture firm, and co-founder with this book’s co-author of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC).

Michal Braungart is a German chemist who, in addition to co-founding MBDC, founded EPEA International Umweltforschung GmbH. Braungart holds the Cradle-to-Cradle chair at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands and is employed as a professor of process engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Suderberg. In partnership with William McDonough, Braungart is best known for the engineering philosophies presented in Cradle to Cradle.


Sadly, environmentalism seemingly exists only in the far reaches of the liberal spectrum. As an increasingly volatile political debate, these ideas are a source of contention for countries, counties, cities, and families.

Some might say, “Al Gore thinks the world is going to end? I disagree with him politically so he must be wrong.” Others contend, “Why do conservatives fight science? We are empirically ruining our world and they just dismiss these arguments as if they are merely political rhetoric?”

Taking extreme positions on either side of the political aisle carries certain financial incentives. The more thrilling the premise of your book, the more likely it will receive media attention and higher book sales.

Remaking Business

While William McDonough and Michael Braungart might personally hold an extreme environmental position, the premise of Cradle to Cradle suggests a rethinking of business practice. Without heavily relying on the doom-and-gloom game that many environmentalists maintain, these authors advocate for remaking business manufacturing.

Currently, companies manage a product from supply chain to the retail floor. Under such practices, the company cares little about the danger a product might exhibit at the end of its life. Therefore, waste overflows landfills with decaying products that emit toxic chemicals as garbage is either incinerated or left to rot in the open air.

Almost as bad, the potent mixing of biological and technical nutrients in most products makes recycling nearly as hazardous as throwing objects away. Under extreme amounts of energy, recycled products become capable of reuse. Sadly, recycled products never contain the same amount of quality as a new product.

Waste Equals Food

What if products were manufactured with an end in mind? Observing the patterns of nature, McDonough and Braungart assert that business must manufacture products in a similar way.

As it stands, business produces goods under the old manufacturing forms concocted during the industrial revolution. Labeled “cradle-to-grave” manufacturing, this form considers the earth an endless resource worth exploiting. Logically, however, such thoughts are invalid as it is not only entirely possible but also documented that humanity contains the means by which they can outstrip resources.

Mimicking the environment, the authors make a case for “cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing. In nature, a fallen tree becomes the source of nutrients for new foliage. In other words, nature’s waste equals nature’s food. If business operated with the understanding that waste equals the supply chain for new products, it would close the loop of exploitation we see in the world.

McDonough and Braungart write,

“Ultimately, we want to be designing processes and products that not only return the biological and technical nutrients they use, but [also] pay back with interest the energy they consume” (138).

Interestingly, Cradle to Cradle not only preaches this message chapter by chapter, it acts this message from page to page. The book itself is made from DuraBook technology making the pages highly durable and waterproof.

Let’s Walk on the Moon

On the whole, Cradle to Cradle urges its readers to dream. Just as a 1950s mindset considered walking on the moon an impossibility, business of today thinks that any action contrary to the norm is a fruitless endeavor. The authors believe that sustainable innovation is not only possible, but also profitable. Whether or not you think that environmental degradation is a real problem or an idea concocted by the radical fringe, this book contains pertinent ideas. If you are interested in business, the environment, or sustainability, I highly recommend this book. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Album Review: Mine Is Yours

Mine Is YoursMine Is Yours by Cold War Kids (Interscope, 2011. 44 minutes)

Based in Long Beach, California, Cold War Kids is an American indie rock band featuring Nathan Willett, Jonnie Russel, Matt Maust, and Matt Aveiro. Formed in 2004 at Biola University, the band released its first EPs in 2005. After signing with Downtown Records in 2006, Cold War Kids released Robbers & Cowards to critical acclaim. Mine Is Yours, the band’s latest effort was released on Interscope Records in 2011.

Made for the Radio

In Cold War Kids’ latest release, Mine Is Yours, a gritty, blues-based indie sound is replaced with catchy and accessible tunes. Employing Jacquire King (he has worked previously with Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, and Modest Mouse) as the producer, Mine Is Yours resembles Only by the Night by Kings of Leon through, vocally-focused mixes, energetic percussion and straightforward instrumentation.

On the whole, Mine Is Yours offers an enjoyable listen, yet I can’t help but feel like the production neutered the presentation, hoping to trade artistic integrity for stadium shows.

In their highly-praised debut, Cold War Kids mixed clean guitar riffs with wailing vocals and metronomic beats. Mine Is Yours, on the other hand, focuses on catchy melodies at the expense of interesting instrumentation and lyricism.

This Song Is about Me! (If Only there Were a Sarcasm Font)

In particular, the lyrics on this album succeed in conveying certain emotions without ever telling a story.  “Finally Begin,” for example, contains a catchy chorus proclaiming,

“Finally open my arms wide / Finally I let you inside / Finally made it past the end / To finally begin.”

Although these lyrics succeed insofar as they provide words for fans to sing, the actual content seems almost irrelevant. In some way, the singer is now open to a relationship. Great – I’m glad he made that choice. I’d like more depth, please.

Yet, It’s a Good Record

Despite my criticisms, Mine Is Yours is not the train wreck it may seem to be from this review.

On top of the pristine-yet-neutered production values presented on the record, the songs offer an enjoyable listen. The reverb-soaked guitars supply depth and despite some weak lyrics, the record has some excellent songs.

Photo by Lee Gwyn
First single, “Louder than Ever” is eminently singable, danceable, and turn-to-eleven-able; the slow-grooving “Sensitive Kid” resembles classic Cold War Kids’ tunes paying homage to what made the band an intriguing newcomer in 2006; and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” provides a modern-spin to the most rootsy Tom Waits tunes.


In all, Mines Is Yours is an enjoyable but flawed album. By focusing on a stadium sound and unoffensive lyrics, Cold War Kids’ latest product feels tame. Nevertheless, the catchy tunes, rootsy sounds, and solid production values make this album an enjoyable addition to the collection. If you can stomach some meaningless lyrics, I recommend Mine Is Yours.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, Book 1)All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. 302 pp)

Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island in 1933. One of six children, Cormac’s family moved multiple times in his childhood as his father accepted different occupations. In 1951, McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee majoring in Liberal Arts. Midway through his studies, McCarthy served in the Air Force for four years. After his service, McCarthy returned to college writing his first short stories. In 1959 and 1960, he won the Ingram-Merrill Award for Creative Writing. Mccarthy’s first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965. Several years, grants, and fellowships later, McCarthy published Suttree, Blood Meridian, and All the Pretty Horses marking his rise in literary acclaim. McCarthy is widely considered one of the great modern American authors and many of his works have been translated to film.

An Overture

Acting as the first installment of the Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses reads like an overture. The prose flows like beautiful introductory notes setting up the themes and characters for the rest of the piece.

In this book, we meet John Grady Cole, a teenaged horseman set on adventure as his Texan hometown and his occupational prospects fizzle in a puddle of wasted dreams. Packing few possessions, John Grady travels toward the border with his best friend, Rawlins.

During the gestating stages of the duo’s adventure, they meet Blevins, a young kid just north of thirteen. While his pin-pointed shooting accuracy offers an asset to the group, Blevins’ eccentricities and rash behavior provide extensive difficulty as the story unfolds.

Pure Poetic Prose

All the Pretty Horses illustrates some of McCarthy’s most poetic writing. Discussing a horse, the central transportational character in the story, he pens,

“He’d ride sometimes clear to the upper end of the laguna before the horse would even stop trembling and he spoke constantly to it in Spanish in phrases almost biblical repeating again and again the strictures of a yet untabled law. Soy comandante de las yeguas, he would say, yo y yo sólo. Sin la caridad de estas manos no tengas nada. Ni comida ni agua ni hijos. Soy yo que traigo las yeguas de las montañas, las yeguas jóvenes, las yeguas salvajes y ardientes. While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who’s will and the blood convolutions of who’s will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations and of who’s will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned.” (128)

Introducing another theme seemingly of critical importance to the trilogy, McCarthy discusses the notion of fate versus free will especially in regard to choices of life, death, and love:

“In history there are no control groups. There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was. It is supposed to be true that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. I don’t believe knowing can save us. What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and a love of blood and this is a thing that even God – who knows all that can be known – seems powerless to change.” (239)

The Beginnings

Ultimately, it is unfair to judge All the Pretty Horses by itself. The writing is gorgeous, and the setting, rustic. The characters are well developed and the tome pushes me toward continuing the series. Just like a well-written overture introduces musical themes that will further develop as the piece expands, so too does All the Pretty Horses poetically build on themes of fate, free will, love, death, and what it means to be alive. Without knowing the rest of the symphony, I highly suggested reading the overture known as All the Pretty Horses.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Review: Ecological Intelligence

As a psychologist, Daniel Goleman writes and lectures to students and working professionals on brain and behavioral sciences. Born in California in 1946, Goleman split his time as an undergraduate between Amherst College and the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a B.A. from Amherst in anthropology. Through a scholarship from the Ford Foundation, Goleman attended the clinical psychology program at Harvard and pursued doctoral research on meditation as an intervention in stress arousal. Goleman’s post-doctoral grant from the Social Science Research Council later became his first book, The Meditative Mind. Taking a job with Psychology Today, Goleman became interested in full-time writing, publishing articles with The New York Times and writing books, including the widely popular Emotional Intelligence. Goleman lives with his wife in Massachusetts.
Money, the most awkward subject in church. Some pastors decide to forgo any mention of it for fear of molding the sermon into a money grab; others discuss money constantly, reminding their parishioners of tithing as a duty to God. In both instances, the debate resides around the tithe, typically understood as a charitable contribution of 10% of all income.
But what about the other 90%?
Setting aside debates about whether a tithe ought to be the standard or a minimum, Christians all too often utilize the remaining funds in the marketplace without much thought about the biological, ecological, and social ramifications of their purchases.
Naturally, many Christian leaders would shy away from exerting control over a congregation’s finances. But I am not proposing that a pastor give his or her flock a list of what to buy. Instead, I believe it is important that Christians be reminded that what they purchase counts. Each item in the shopping cart represents a vote for that product.
Whether or not we want to admit it, Christians buy products from some pretty nasty companies. Luckily, though, many virtuous companies do exist — companies that are selling good products for health, society, and the globe that have been produced in humane ways. If Christians consider purchasing in this manner, it is possible that they can add further change to the world in addition to charitable donations.
Hidden Impacts
With these ideas in mind, Daniel Goleman’s book Ecological Intelligence discusses the importance of knowing the effects concerning the things we buy. If you realized that buying the cheaper pair of shoes not only meant that you continue to promote child slavery but also that you are wearing a product that leaks toxic chemicals into the air, wouldn’t you think twice about purchasing the product?
Of course, Ecological Intelligence focuses primarily on the environmental side effects of the things we buy. Yet Goleman also expands his spotlight to uncover the hidden impacts on health, the environment, and society as a whole.
Radical Transparency
Goleman suggests that consumers demand radical transparency in the market place. As it stands, a disconnect lies between consumer and producer. We don’t know exactly where food, clothing, and toys come from. With subsidies imparted through big-business lobbying, the open market is not actually open. Thus, business finds means by which to hide certain health, environmental, and societal costs.

Source: Roadside Pictures
Radical transparency, on the other hand, suggests that business lifts the veil off its operations and supply chain. Under this scenario, a consumer is capable of rationally deciding the best product, based on open information. Goleman adds,
For companies, radical transparency can create a vibrant new competitive playing ground, one where doing the right thing also means doing better (82).
The current cultural climate around the globe offers a ripe scenario for this sort of transparency. More specifically, social networking allows almost instantaneous communication between extensive populations. If a business ethically falters in this environment, word will spread quickly. Moreover, websites such as supply customers with a smart-phone application, providing power in the hands of consumers to obtain a better sense of companies and products.
It seems to me that most Christians would seek to do good in the world when presented an opportunity to do so. Ecological Intelligence offers practical ways in which people can navigate the health, environmental, and societal factors of purchasing products. The Christian Church is a beacon for the poor and disinherited. Many Christians give generously to charity and mission organizations. But we can do so much more! Our groceries, clothing suppliers, and houses give us further opportunities to choose the best products for our own health, the environment, and society.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Review: Why Business Matters to God

Why Business Matters to God: (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)

By Jeff Van Duzer (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010. 206 pp)

Jeff Van Duzer is the dean of Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business and Economics. Previously, he practiced law for more than 20 years with a large international law firm concentrating in commercial transactions and environmental law. Van Duzer received his J.D. from Yale Law School. He writes and speaks frequently in both church and professional settings.

Separate Spheres, Like the Sun and Moon


In most home, work, and church settings, a clear disconnect exists between Christianity and business. In general, the average Christian relegates his or her faith to the personal sphere. Beliefs and practices resulting from Christian tradition are channeled primarily within the family with the purpose of creating moral individuals and healthy relationships.

When an application of faith to business is pursued, one of two extreme postures is typically taken: Christians understand the business world to be in conflict with the life of faith, thereby pursuing their work lives independent of their spiritual lives. Or, they see little or no moral tension between economic and spiritual pursuits, resulting in “business as usual” with no resulting changes in actions or outlook.

The pulpit, similarly, avoids mingling these two topics. Apart from rhetoric encouraging parishioners to live Monday through Friday in an identical manner to Sunday, pastors rarely mention the theological merit of work. For this reason and certainly many more, numerous Christians value business for its instrumental contributions to “morally elevated” occupations such as church, missionary, and nonprofit work.

Business as Service


Van Duzer questions these assumptions in Why Business Matters to God. While value certainly exists in the contributions business makes to the nonprofit sector, Van Duzer contends that business in and of itself contains intrinsic value.

Leaning theologically on the Reformed rubric of God’s activity in the world — creation, fall, redemption, and New Creation — as well as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic work in Christ and Culture, Van Duzer suggests a new framework in which to imagine business. He recommends supplanting the generally accepted business practice of maximizing shareholder value with a “business-as-service model,” which he contends is more closely aligned with God’s purposes for economic enterprise.

What is the “business-as-service model?” Van Duzer defines it simply when he writes,

“The purpose of business is still to serve in two key aspects: (1) to serve the community by providing goods and services that will enable the community to flourish, and (2) to serve employees by providing them with opportunities to express at least a portion of their God-given identity through meaningful and creative work” (114).

In a certain sense, Van Duzer’s business-as-service model resides within the realm of ideas reacting against the dominant view of maximizing shareholder value such as stakeholder theory, social entrepreneurship, conscious capitalism, and creative capitalism; and on top of new ownership structures, like the B Corporation, that facilitate a legal framework from which to pursue multiple bottom lines. More importantly, though, Van Duzer’s position re-imagines business through a practical theological lens.

The Messy Middle


Whether business models itself in service or shareholder value, it operates in what Van Duzer calls the “messy middle,” a state on the theological timeline between the resurrected Jesus and the promises of glorified perfection yet to come. The Jewish and Christian scriptures promise a perfect, future city that exhibits all that God originally intended for humanity. Yet brokenness keeps us from fulfilling these promises in our current time and context. For Christians, a perfect application of the “business-as-service model,” therefore, is impossible until the full Shalom in Jesus’ return is made manifest.

Although work is currently tainted by the fall, it presents Christians in the business world with the opportunity to exercise both creative and redemptive work. God first illustrated the calling of humanity to engage in creative work through the naming of the animals by Adam. Similarly, business people in modern times engage in creative work when they develop new software, begin an entrepreneurial venture, or engage in other additive ventures.

Intermingled and as equally important, business also focuses on fixing and restoring that which is fractured, a necessary measure because of the full import of the fall. While the “messy middle” hinders the full realization of a perfected business-as-service model, redemptive and creative work offers Christian business people a navigable compass in our less-than-perfect world.

God’s Economy: The Household


Theologically speaking, Van Duzer’s business model emphasizes the community over the individual. Typically, when managing decisions, the modern business person applies a self-interested ethic often under the umbrella of consequentialism. Authors such as Milton Friedman continue to cite — perhaps incorrectly — Adam Smith’s invisible hand as the root of all actions in the free market.

Business as service, on the other hand, stresses the importance of other people. In this way, business serves the economy, or better translated: the household. Just as the triune God exists not as an individual but as three persons in relational community, so too business exists in relational community with the rest of the economy and with other important, mediating institutions of culture.

Theologian, M. Douglas Meeks writes in God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and the Political Economy,
“All the persons of the triune community have their own characteristics and their own tasks. Yet they are constituted as persons precisely by their relationships with other persons of the community. The same should be said for human economic community. There is in reality no such thing as a radically individual and isolated human being. We are what we are as a result of being constituted by our relationships with other members of the communities in which we live. All social goods are given to us communally.”
A theologically minded Christian in the marketplace must remember that his or her actions affect the local community and the global community. Where self-interested or narrowly focused decisions directed toward increasing shareholder wealth often neglect other stakeholders, the business-as-service framework offers an important and theologically grounded foundation to serve the broader community.

Why Business Matters to God


God created work and declared that it was good. Why Business Matters to God contends with the schismatic notion that business and Christian practices reside in divergent spheres.

Where the popular ideologies suggest that the positive nature of business subsists in its instrumental value — its capability in funding work that actually matters — Jeff Van Duzer asserts that business, when understood as service to the global community, maintains intrinsic value — significance by its created purpose to both create and restore a hurting world.

Whether your occupation involves managing a large company or you just recently entered the job world, this book is a must-read for those interested in the relationship between Scripture, work, and business.

Originally published at