At Work & Theology 101

Three Points about Common Grace Every Businessperson Should Consider

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What is the relationship between common grace and business?

To explore that question, the Calvin College Business Department and the Acton Institute co-sponsored the Symposium on Common Grace and Business on October 31st at Calvin’s campus in Grand Rapids, MI.

Among the many thoughtful presentations and panel discussions, there are three elements I would like to note as catalysts for reflection.

Before getting to these three points of discussion, it is important to recall that the doctrine of common grace refers to God’s merciful action in creation that makes it possible for us to continue to obey the cultural mandate.

This doctrine helps explain why good contributions in culture, business, law, medicine, and other fields emerge from those outside of God’s covenant community. Common grace lays the foundation for our continued flourishing in a broken world.

Here are three points to consider concerning common grace and business.

What Is the Purpose of Business?

In Peter Heslam’s opening plenary address, he asked the audience to think about the purpose of business and then proposed the following: The purpose of business is to constrain the evil of poverty and to promote human flourishing.

This is an articulation of the purpose of business using common grace language. It is intriguing to think about business in this way, and to wonder out loud the extent to which such a view is shared by others within the church and without.

What is the Relationship between Business and Common Grace?

During the lunchtime panel discussion with three business executives, the moderator and the participants spoke of the business world itself as an expression of common grace.

This raises a very important question for how we think about this doctrine: Does common grace simply raise the possibility for activities in the world, such as business, or are these activities themselves modes of “bringing common grace” to world, or perhaps what Richard Mouw means by “common grace ministries”?

What Do Christians Bring to the Workplace?

Speaking of Mouw, he gave the evening keynote address, noting that while common grace makes our participation in creation possible, we also have to keep the antithesis in mind.

As Mouw put it,

We remember that while we are not only to consider our personal relationship with Christ in the workplace, we are certainly not to bring less than that to the workplace.

This is an important point because it can be easy to say that common grace gives us permission to focus on ‘non-church’ types of things, while we fall prey to spiritual apathy that minimizes our internal transformation by the Spirit. Common grace gives us the opportunity for a public holiness in domains such as business and economics, an opportunity linked to our personal aspirations for Christlike character.

What do you think of common grace and business? Are you in agreement with these views, or do you have a different perspective?

Leave your comments here

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  • David Pitschmann

    I very much agree with these views. As a business executive, I especially love the thought that business is more about what it does for the community, rather than what it does for us individually. It is THE most important place where we as Christians have the opportunity to share in, and exemplify, God’s Amazing Grace.

  • Thank you for posting this! It gave me a a lot to consider regarding Common Grace. I have wrestled with this for many years. While I know we’re called to be “light in the world” and not be absorbed “of the world”, this was still an area that wasn’t clear for me. Keep up the good work!

  • Russ McCullough

    Milton Friedman would argue that the purpose of business is to maximize profit for the shareholder. In doing so, the public good gets served according to Adam Smith. Is this common grace? I think that Heslam’s definition of purpose fits nicely for the biblical doctrine of business. The overlap of Friedman’s and Heslam’s is large in my opinion with the possibilty that Friedman’s is contained within Heslams’s. Great food for thought, thank you for the post!

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