Jesus or Business: The Hope of the World?

Jay Steinmetz responded to the summer riots in Baltimore with an editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “My Baltimore Business Problem.” He offers a soft one-two punch to the regulatory environment which makes offering jobs in blighted parts of the city difficult. Business, he argues, is the way to prevent riots by instilling dignity, creating community, and nurturing profitability.

Next week, I’ll be in New York dining at one of my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurants, Pisticci. I simply like the food and atmosphere, but today on their web site (sneaking a peek at the menu to salivate in expectation…) I learned more about their purpose as a business. They post, “We’ve tried to build Pisticci to reflect our passions and values: a love of honest cooking, an appreciation for the arts, and a belief that business can make the world better.” Business, a tool to make the world better. Love it. Now the gnocchi will taste all the more rich knowing that they, too, recognize the power of business at bringing purpose, offering direction, and blessing lives.

I have to be careful, though. This adulation of business can ruffle the socialist’s feathers and suggest that capitalism is without fault or shortcoming. There are plenty on the political and theological spectrum who drift towards libertarian capitalism or prosperity gospel preaching.

My theology tells me that Christ is the hope of the world, not business.

Recently, I got into a direct dialogue (that is the best way I can describe something between a heated debate and a passionate exchange) with someone over this question: What is the hope of the world, business or Jesus?

My ‘dialogue’ partner was a Christian. Yet, she was fully convinced that Jesus was a nice guy and all, but that business was the hope for lifting the world out of poverty, bringing peace to warring peoples, and generating the resources for science to solve through technology so many more of the world’s ills. I, on the other hand, suggested this: Jesus is the singular hope for the world and business is one of the best methodologies for doing all the great things she suggested (eliminate poverty, war, created breakthrough technologies, etc).

I have since asked a few people around me their thoughts on this disagreement. Is Jesus the hope of the world, or is business? And if you land on one, what does it say about the other? For my friend who thinks business is the hope of the world, Jesus is a grand prophet and teacher from whom we might learn; he isn’t God incarnate who takes away the sin of the world. For me, and the Bible, Jesus is the hope of the world while business is merely a tool, a means to an end, a methodology for arranging resources.

This view does not demean business or make it secondary to being a prime method for human and cultural flourishing. Rather, we see in scripture that over half of Jesus’ parables involve economic exchange. We also see that in the Bible, as we’ve promoted in our Biblical Entrepreneurship curriculum, God is a creative God who promotes the essentials of free market exchange: individual dignity, stewardship of resources, radical generosity, love of neighbor & community, productivity, and blessing.

So, the next time one suggests something, anything, to be the hope of the world, let’s keep Jesus on the throne.

Watch Jolina’s Story to see business and Jesus come together to create a middle class in Haiti…

This post is part of a series of reflections on leading the inaugural class of the Gotham Fellowship as part of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando’s Center for Faith and Work.

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