This article is drawn from The Monday Christian podcast series, in which Paul Kim and Sibs Sibanda explore the ways we can practically, thoughtfully, faithfully, and fruitfully connect the dots between Sundays and the rest of the week. Sibs Sibanda is the Managing Director of Nexus Open Systems (Harare), and works with Resource Global (South Africa) in training young Christian professionals for gospel renewal in their cities. Over the last 20 years, he planted and led a number of churches in Johannesburg and Harare, while also working as a strategy consultant and business developer for various organisations.
In the previous article Hope That Sustains, Forever we explored biblical hope as it pertains to business, where hope was defined as a ‘confident expectation’ in the fulfilment of God’s unshakeable promises revealed in Scripture. In this article we’ll build on the concept of hope by considering the closely related theme of faith, showing that unless it directs our behaviour in life and business, it is no biblical faith at all. We will also interrogate the false contradiction between faith and reason, which delegitimises the Christian perspective in public discourse and business philosophy.
Along the way, it should become clear that the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ which teaches that God rewards increases in faith with increases in ‘divine’ health and/or wealth, is a perversion of genuine biblical faith. If we think God exists to fulfil our desires, we have reduced Christianity to man-centred mysticism. And while most of us would reject this as false teaching, any time we start thinking that our business is all about us and our happiness, we are closer to believing it than we might realise.
So, what is biblical faith?
If hope is a confident expectation of the fulfilment of God’ promises, then according to Hebrews 11:1, faith is the certainty that he will fulfil them. In the original Greek, the idea conveyed is one of a firm foundation – immovable, unshakeable. And as with hope, the object of biblical faith is Jesus Christ, through whom all of God’s promises have been fulfilled (2 Corinthians 1:20). Specifically, the object of biblical faith is not a successful business or lots of money – for God has not promised that in Scripture to anyone.
First things first
It is a common misconception that faith and reason are diametrically opposed. In his insightful book, Escape From Reason, Francis Schaeffer explains how the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason (1685–1815), divided truth into what he describes as a two-story building – where the first floor is ‘objective’ truth obtained through science and reason, and the second is ‘subjective’ truth, which is the realm of religion or faith. The implication is that all of us live on the first floor of reality, while those who want to practise religion get sent upstairs to indulge in their wishful thinking.
Sadly many Christians continue to subscribe to this sacred-secular divide – making a pact with society to confine our second-story thinking and behaviour to Sundays, and to wash our hands, as it were, before coming down to the ‘real world’ on Monday morning. As redemptive business leaders, however, we should reject this false dichotomy once we see its devastating impact. For it is this kind of thinking, so prevalent in just about every sphere of life, which disempowers believers, delegitimises the biblical perspective in public life, and robs God of the glory that is due to him in and through all things.
Faith and reason
It is important to define what is meant by reason, because in its narrowest sense it simply refers to logical thinking or deduction, which is part of who we are as human beings created in the image of God.
The conflict comes in where Reason (as ‘objective’ truth) is used in an epistemological sense – in other words, where it is seen as the source of knowledge, in contrast to biblical faith, where the primary source of knowledge is divine revelation. The irony is that Reason is still based on conclusions drawn from personal observation and experience, and not on provable first causes (which refers to the ultimate foundation to which every chain of causes must go back). This means that Reason is not only subjective (differing from person to person), but that it also evolves with time – such that what was ‘reasonable’ a century ago is completely irrational by today’s standards.
It is also important to realise that biblical faith is compelling only to the degree that we can use logical thinking to evaluate the evidence for it.
And if the idea of faith requiring evidence sounds strange, remember that the apostle John explicitly tells us that he wrote down an orderly account of Jesus’ life and miracles “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ”. In other words, he set out – as the other apostles did, to provide us with reasons to believe that Jesus is truly the Son of God.[i] In other words, to give us evidence for our faith.
So, although biblical faith is based on divine revelation, it also meets the demands of intellectual inquiry. The idea then that the Christian perspective should be left out of public discourse because it is ‘subjective’, is fundamentally flawed.
Why does the legitimacy of biblical faith in public life matter to the way we approach business?
The implication of our inability to prove first causes (whether we live ‘by faith’ or claim to live ‘by Reason’), is that we all need to find a way to make sense of reality and of life. We need to make a few core assumptions about the world we live in, upon which we can base our perspectives and decisions – such as the ‘why and how’ of business. To put it another way, we need a simplified model of reality from which to extrapolate our responses to life’s numerous questions and challenges.
In the podcast series, Paul Kim talks about how within his field of actuarial science, the ability to build simplified models of reality has been the backbone of the insurance and pension fund industries. For example, a short-term insurer can determine the price of premiums for VW Polo owners living in Durban, by creating a simplified model that allows for a) the input of selected variables, such as age, residential area, security features, or specific model of car, b) establishing relationships between these variables, and c) establishing relationships between each variable and the probability of theft. So with the help of core assumptions from the model, inferences can be made about the risk profile of different clients.
The point is that if we as Christians accept the ‘two-story’ approach to truth, we are unwittingly forced to live in two contradicting models of reality – one for each story of the building. In other words, our biblical model of reality (biblical worldview) is confined to life in the second story (Sundays, and our private lives), but in order to engage meaningfully in public life, we must adopt the core assumptions of secular worldviews, and live out those assumptions in our business dealings. The challenge this presents to redemptive business leaders is encapsulated by the title of Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth – Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity.
Practically, this means that we must interrogate the reasons behind the way we do business and make sure we haven’t adopted the core assumptions of secular worldviews. Take for example the belief articulated by secular economist Milton Friedman in a 1970 essay titled ‘A Friedman Doctrine’, where he argues that a company’s primary responsibility is to its shareholders and has no responsibility to the public or society. This is clearly contrary to the biblical worldview, where Scripture teaches love for God and neighbour as being the greatest commandment (Mark 12:30–31). But there is perhaps a way we can redeem Milton’s faulty assumptions, because if God is acknowledged as the primary shareholder of our business, then responsibility to him is directly linked to a love for society.
We have to learn how to integrate the ‘secular’ and the sacred in our lives, and we have to reclaim a biblical understanding of spiritual warfare – which the apostle Paul describes as demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). More often than not, we have a second-story perspective on spiritual warfare, and so we pray for success in business, and we tithe in the hope that he will bring increase. Prayer and giving are central to the Christian life, but the point here is simply that there is no ‘second floor,’ where our ‘spiritual’ activities are to be confined. As such, the battle is fought not only in prayer on Sunday, but through redemptive action on Monday – our battle ground is as much in boardrooms as it is in the spiritual realm.
James 2:26 reads, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” From this and other passages of Scripture, we understand that belief leads to action – or more soberingly, that the way we live reveals what we truly believe.
There are inevitable consequences to genuine biblical faith – not just in the way we worship on Sunday, but in the way we think and act on Monday. Scripture not only shows us the way to salvation, but also gives us God’s model of reality – a revelation of things as they truly are. Faith means that we not only embrace this reality, but that we do everything we can to align our (whole) lives to that reality.
[i] John 20:30–31; 1 Corinthians 15:5–6; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1–4