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Integration of Faith & Learning > Examples of Integrative Questions by Discipline

Integration Questions for the Discipline of Business Administration

Dr. Walton Padelford, Professor of Economics
Union University

Our faith in Christ must have a context in which to work itself out, in which to be tested. For many followers of Christ, the world of business is the context that God has given us in which to exercise our discipleship, but God has not given us only a place to work, He has also given us other concrete tasks in which to be engaged. In his book Ethics, the great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has outlined these areas of human conduct as the "Four Mandates."

The four mandates are labor, marriage, government, and church. These are the areas of human action, and we must follow Christ in all these areas.

The mandate of labour confronts us, according to the Bible, already with the first man. Adam is "to dress and to keep" the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). Even after the Fall labour remains a mandate of divine discipline and grace (Gen 3:17-19). The labour which is instituted in Paradise is a participation by man in the action of creation…. From the labour which man performs here in fulfillment of the divinely imposed task there arises that likeness of the celestial world by which the man who recognizes Jesus Christ is reminded of the lost Paradise. The first creation of Cain was the city, the earthly counterpart of the eternal city of God. There follows the invention of fiddles and flutes, which afford to us on earth a foretaste of the music of heaven….Through the divine mandate of labour there is to come into being a world which, knowingly or not, is waiting for Christ, is designed for Christ, is open to Christ, serves Him and glorifies Him. But it is the race of Cain that is to fulfil this mandate, and that is what casts the darkest shadow over all human labour.

So here is presented the integration of faith into our real, fallen world. Human labor is a divinely imposed task. It was given to us before the Fall. It is a way that we can use already-given materials to fashion beautiful and useful objects for the glory of God. In a certain sense, the great cities of the world should remind us of heaven, because heaven is also a city. If we see the labor mandate in this way, all of its products should operate by analogy to remind us of God and heavenly reality. However, the Fall is also reality and here begins the tension between the glory of God reflected in the products of our hands, and the vanity of much of what we do.

The School of Business deals with the products of our hands, whether manufacturing, selling, managing, recording, systematizing or optimizing those products. There is quite a lot of mathematics, project planning, and computer applications that can be taught to the aspiring business student, and, of course, it is in the plethora of teaching material that professor and student can forget the reason that we have been placed upon this earth, which is to glorify God.

The Fall brings its own pressures to bear upon me; such as, I must work because I want myself and my family to stay alive. I must work regardless of the alienation I feel as a cog in a corporate machine. I must work knowing full well the second law of thermodynamics, and that all the products of my hands will eventually go to rack and ruin. It is in this sense that the preacher said, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." No matter how great my life's work may be, it cannot bring any reversal to the law of the Fall.

The business world, then, becomes the great school of character formation. We can follow unbalanced thought which produces character deformation. The disciple is not a cynic who sees the world of work as a sinkhole of sin, nor an optimist who sees advancement in science and technology as an automatic advancement in the kingdom of God. But by God's grace we are living in an intermediate position. We try to obey Christ and do good work for Him, because "we do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Col. 3:23).

"Only the devil has an answer for our moral difficulties, and he says: 'Keep on posing problems, and you will escape the necessity of obedience.' But Jesus is not interested in the young man's problems; he is interested in the young man himself."
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer; The Cost of Discipleship