Business for the Common Good (Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae)
Review by Phillip T. Morgan
Christians in the Marketplace
Modern Christians often struggle with understanding how and why they should integrate their Christian beliefs with the rest of their lives. InterVarsity Press has noted this trend and printed a series of books to address this issue in various fields of study. In Business for the Common Good, they explore how Christian professionals can integrate their faith into the marketplace. Written by series editors, Francis J. Beckwith and J. P. Moreland, the series’ preface is a magnificent, sixteen-page explanation and admonition for an integrated worldview.
The Purpose and Summary of the Book
As the preface explains, this book’s purpose is to discuss what an integrated worldview means for the world of business. Authored by Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae, Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace is an extremely approachable text that covers the many facets and pitfalls of business from a Christian perspective. Their main thesis is that “business…is a calling to serve the common good through transformational service” . Serving the common good through transformational service applies to every facet of business and often requires a divergence from common business practices. They liken work to an altar upon which we serve God through business. This paradigm brings all things under Christ’s lordship.
Wong and Rae expand upon this paradigm by tracing the institution of work to the Garden of Eden (though the Fall effected work, it is still a proper mode of service to God). They posit that work is most noble when treated as that altar whereupon we sacrifice our time, skills, energy, and gifts to God . Work is intrinsically good, and the biblical reasons for work are myriad. While the Non-Christian business model maximizes profits at every turn, the Christian model differs in this critical way: God’s glory has primacy over profits. Christians should use business to help bring peace and reconciliation to a fallen world, using profits to help the poor and outcasts. Wealth is given by God, that others may be blessed. And though these goals are not always attainable, Christian businesses should strive for them .
Their discussion in chapter four revolves around a biblical view of wealth and ambition, and the proper focus of the two. Indeed, God blesses some with wealth, and there is no sin simply in being wealthy. However, when wealth is the motivating factor, rather than service to God through industry, sin invades. Often, when wealth accumulates, dependence on God dissipates. Careful consideration of how and why we accumulate and disperse wealth is essential to avoid common pitfalls in business.
Globalization has been a tricky topic for Christian businessmen for many years. In chapter five the benefits of increased wealth-creation and product availability are set against the abuse of employees in sweatshops, low-quality products, and an unhealthy profit demand. After discussing the attributes of globalization, they conclude the benefits outweigh the detriments inherent in this trend. Another topic they discuss is how Christians are often instructed to stretch ethical limits, if not to bypass them altogether. This creates a hostile work environment, causing Christians to choose between a commitment to godliness and continued employment. In chapter six Wong and Rae discuss why it is always right to do right regardless. They also line out a Christian model of business ethics explaining, “In the long run good ethics is generally good business” .
In chapter seven, after enumerating the world’s views on leadership, Wong and Rae contrast them with Bible’s view. Leaders should be servants of their employees, while helping them transform into their personal best. Marketing holds tremendous pitfalls for Christians, we learn in chapter eight. It is predominantly predatory in nature, playing on the basest of human desires and needs, to sell products. The definition of what Christian marketing should be is so foreign to the current culture that it is disconcerting, favorably disconcerting. Christians, who wish to be involved in marketing, must be very careful to avoid encouraging materialism, or appealing to envy and the sex drive. What is left is an advertisement that is not manipulative, obnoxious, or ostentatious; but refined, simple, honest, and straight-forward. Frighteningly, such a model would be unrecognizable as a modern marketing tool.
The Church has been somewhat lax in its defense and stewardship of creation. Since the industrial revolution, pollution has been a massive problem that only seems to grow. However, Wong and Rae propose in chapter nine that Christians should combat pollution and misuse whenever they encounter them. They give several ideas of how this can be done in a cost-effective way, but admit that there are limits to how much conservation can occur before investors lose interest or profits disappear. (For more thoughts on a Christian vision of creation stewardship, see our essay “Christianity & Environmentalism.”)
In chapter ten, the authors present two emerging business models closely aligned with a Christian worldview: Microfinance and Business as Mission. Microfinance has been developing in underdeveloped countries for some time now. It originated in the not-for-profit sector, but is quickly moving into the for-profit realm. It is based on providing savings accounts, insurance, and very small loans (several dollars to several thousand dollars) to incredibly impoverished people at fair or preferred rates. This particular venture is incredibly successful because it gives people a way to work their way out of poverty with a “helping hand” rather than being offered charity with no incentive for initiative .
Business as Mission is familiar to many missions-oriented people. In this model, business is used expressly as a means for evangelizing unreached peoples. Wong and Rae are not ecstatic about this model because it is susceptible to misuse by missionaries who do not have a calling for business, and the result is often disastrous. However, when used properly, this is a fabulous way for missionaries to gain entrance into restricted countries.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Throughout this text Wong and Rae use the Bible as their guide. This is refreshing, and gives them a decided edge over the usual profit-driven texts. Their discussions of work as an altar and a means of sanctification require readers to seriously consider their motives for entering the field of business, and lay an excellent foundation for the book. Thus, their arguments on ethics are much more substantial and less murky than the leading non-Christian business authors. Finally, their discussion of emerging business models is quite fascinating. The use of business as a means to alleviate poverty through promoting a “hand-up” approach is absolutely fantastic. While this text has many strengths, it also has some weaknesses.
While Wong and Rae’s philosophy on work as an altar is quite good, they build it, partially, on shaky eschatology. They posit that the earth will not be destroyed at the end of days, and that the new creation will not be from nothing; thus, they argue, we must bring creation as close as we can to utopia before then. This predominately pre-World War I view has regained prominence as the twenty-first century has meandered through its first decade. This is a humanist eschatology that necessitates Modernity’s “progress of man,” and does not coincide with reality or the Great White Throne Judgment (see Rev. 20:11 and 21:1 ) So while their suggestions are in line with a holistic Christian life, these efforts should not be viewed as ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth .
The authors also marginalize the destruction that globalization brings to local markets. Their claim is, since all men are created in the image of God and they may be reached easier and quicker than ever, all men are now my neighbor. This is a poor understanding of “neighbor.” Someone is not my neighbor simply because I purchased their product and offered them increased buying power. Rather, a neighbor is someone, often literally next door, with whom you can be intimately involved on a daily basis, sharing in their struggles and caring for their burdens . (For more thoughts on a proper understanding of neighbor, see our essay “When Hatred Is Close And Benevolence Is Far”.)
Finally, Wong and Rae also base their discussion of environmental stewardship on a humanist eschatology, believing that we are responsible to usher in the Kingdom of God physically on this earth. Regardless of their modernist theology, Christians are still to be good stewards of creation. Thus, despite their faulty originating position, their exhortations are admirable, though predictable; they merely have a faulty starting point. In addition they seem blind to the option of an agrarian lifestyle as a way to combat environmental abuse. People who are raised in an agrarian community usually learn quickly the importance of nature and keep a keen interest in its preservation throughout their lifetime. However, Wong and Rae’s solutions in no way consider a movement toward agrarianism, but only an adjustment of industrialism and technology.
The text is very strong in stressing the use of the Bible as our divining rod. Wong and Rae’s vision of a transformational service to serve the common good is both biblical and very well thought out. It is a comprehensive philosophy that is applicable in all businesses, save those that are diametrically opposed to the gospel, such as pornography or abortion clinics. Their examples of good and bad models for each issue are numerous and illuminating. This is an exceedingly applicable text for all who are Christians in the world of business.
 Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae, Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), p. 33.
 Ibid. p. 41.
 Kenman and Wong also have a nice discussion in this section of the book concerning, God using our experiences in business to cause spiritual growth. The extreme pressures of some jobs require us to lean ever more heavily on the Father, while instructing us to keep work in a proper perspective. The conclusion: Work must come under the lordship of Christ.
 Ibid. p. 174.
 Ibid. p. 269.
 Revelation 20:11, “[T]he earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” Even if that passage could be seen as purely figurative, Revelation 21:1 is clearer, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.”
 My view of eschatology should not be mistaken for my view of cultural engagement. The two are distinct. There are least three views of the Christian and cultural engagement:
(a) The “Christ-Against-Culture” Model: This model teaches that believers should not be of the world, or even in the world. Critics of this view contend that the believer who is not in the world cannot evangelize or otherwise minister to the world.
(b) The “Christ-Of-Culture” Model: This model teaches that believers should be in the world and of the world. Critics of this view contend that believers align themselves too closely to the world, too often mimicking the world’s culture and the forms.
(c) The “Christ-Transforming-Culture” Model: This model teaches that believers should be in the world, but not of the world. Proponents contend that believers are actively involved in transforming the culture, yet are not too close to it to be overtaken by it.
Although I believe that the Christ-transforming-culture model is the biblical position of a Christian’s theology for cultural engagement, I do not believe it is biblical to assume that through this interaction we will usher in kingdom of God.
 If we choose to grace our “neighbor” across the globe with our dollar, we have rendered unkindness to our neighbor within our town that also needs a manufacturing job to pay his bills. Also, giving money to nations which are opposed to the welfare of one’s own state is unsound government. While we may not be putting money directly into the communist’s pockets when we purchase Chinese products, we are certainly funding them indirectly