At Work & Public Square

Can Christians in Business Transform Our Culture?

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Hollywood’s demonizing of business is nothing new.

Who can forget iconic characters like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, or even President Business in The Lego Movie?

The anti-business themes in these movies reflect a negative perception about the role of business in our society, a misperception that almost seems justified given high profile failures like Enron, Solyndra, and all the companies associated with the 2008 financial crisis. A strong argument can be made that all these failures (and many more) were driven by greedy, corrupt businessmen like those we see in the movies.

Yet while all the attention is focused on a few spectacular failures, the overwhelming majority of businesses are well-run and guided by legitimate self-interest. I’m sure we’d all agree there is room for improvement, however.

A friend of mine recently lamented to me, “If we could just convert 20 percent of the population in the United States to Christianity, we could have a positive influence on things like the business world!”

I don’t think the percentage needs to be nearly that high for Christians to transform the business world or our culture at large.

Social psychology researchers talk about something they call “minority influence.” This is the idea that a small percentage of a population, usually in the single digits, can still have a major influence on the culture of the larger group.

This is what the New Testament calls being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).

If it seems like this idea is lost in the church today, it hasn’t always been this way. For the first nineteen centuries of the church’s existence, a small minority demonstrated a huge, positive influence on the larger culture.

Alvin Schmidt, a professor of sociology, assembles evidence in his book, How Christianity Changed the World, showing the powerful influence Christianity has had on Western Civilization. In every area, whether law or government or economics or the fine arts or the sciences or education or healthcare, the Christian faith has contributed enormously to the flourishing of mankind.

Schmidt illustrates how Jesus has the power to transform people, who in turn are able to transform society. On every level, this is exactly what happened.

Yet Christians have lost this idea of influencing the world around us in the last 100 years. Instead of being known for what it’s for, the church is more known for what it is against. We need to relearn how to do our jobs in a way that exerts a positive influence on our culture.

T.M. Moore writes on Breakpoint:

So no matter what your job, or whatever your work might be, God intends that you should devote your labors to something greater than personal interest, economic prosperity, or social good, alone. God intends your work to contribute to the restoration of the creation, and the people in it, to raising life on this blue planet to higher states of beauty, goodness, and truth, reflecting the glory of God in our midst.

While Hollywood will probably continue to make bogeymen out of business people, if even a few Christians took seriously their call to be salt and light in the marketplace, they could make a huge difference in our culture.

Do you think Christians can exert an influence on the larger culture? Leave your comments here

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