BIBLICAL LITERACY & THE BUSINESS INSTRUCTOR

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If you asked your students who the Bible characters Cain and Abel are, would they be able to answer correctly? Or, would they like some, say that these were two disciples of Jesus? Even if they could tell you that Cain and Abel are two sons of Adam and Eve, would your students know Cain’s occupation and Abel’s occupation? Would they know who is the first person mentioned in the Bible as the owner of a vineyard?

Many people have heard about Abraham, but how many of your students could tell you the story about the time when resources were running scarce for Abraham and his cousin Lot and which one of them took the leadership to find a solution to problem? How many of your students could tell you under which king mentioned in the Bible there was so much trust in the organization that there was no need for internal controls on cash wages paid to workers?

Since the 1990s various surveys have been conducted, both nationally and internationally, among Protestants and Roman Catholics, to discern the level of biblical literacy (sometimes called “Christian literacy”). The results are not encouraging and the situation is not getting better. From these surveys we know that people with college education do better answering basic Bible knowledge questions than do people with a high school education. People who attend church do better than those who do not attend church. Even so, a small proportion of people are growing up with minimal literacy when it comes to Bible knowledge. Keep in mind that most students have no more than a high school education when they enter as first-year college students at your school.

Many have heard the names of the famous people mentioned in the Bible: Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, Samson, David, Goliath, Solomon, Daniel, Jesus, Peter, Paul and so forth. But how many people can tell you the stories that are connected with these people? That’s a different matter altogether!  And how many can tell you the deeper meaning of some of their stories? How many could tell you accurately the essence of the deep biblical themes relevant to business (holiness, truth, loving kindness, wisdom, righteousness, justice and others)?

What difference does this make for business? Understanding the basic stories and themes of Scripture are crucial to understanding the biblical worldview on business. Many stories have economic or business element. Biblical literacy is the building blocks for theological literacy necessary for deeply understanding what the Scripture says to business professionals. Furthermore, showing students how knowledge of business can enrich their understanding of Scripture might be an encouragement to some who find it boring to read the Bible.

More to the point, have you ever thought about your responsibilities as a Christian business professor to contribute to the solution of biblical illiteracy? If faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17), isn’t it possible that the study of business can present opportunities to hear the word and thereby experience faith for the marketplace? Should the problem of biblical illiteracy be given to religion faculty, pastors and priests to correct? Framed in more blunt terms, on what basis should the Christian business classroom abdicate its role (some would say responsibility) in teaching the biblical foundations for business?

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 New American Standard Version)

“And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 New American Standard Version)

Discussion Questions

  1. Does the Apostle Paul, a businessman and evangelist, in his second letter to Timothy exclude business when referring to the importance of Scripture for preparation for “every good work?”
  2. On what basis should the business instructor leave the problem of Christian illiteracy to the religion scholars, chaplains and pastors to solve for their business students?
  3. How can the business instructor contribute to the solution to the problem of biblical illiteracy?
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FOLLOW UP ON WORK AS AN ALTAR OF WORSHIP

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My summer MBA course Integrating Faith & Business is complete. Just as in previous years, this year’s on-campus group of students brought high energy into the discussions. It was truly a pleasure studying with them.

In follow up to a previous posting (June 30, 2015) on “Work = An Altar of Worship” I want to share something that more than one student said during the final class period. I asked the students to reflect on what stood out in their mind the most during the course. The students reported that when we discussed work as an altar, this both surprised them and help them make sense of the legitimacy of their career in terms of serving God. It played an important role in helping them clarify their calling.

ARE CONTEXT, ATMOSPHERE AND TONE ENOUGH?

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I assume that if you regularly read this blog, you either teach management, organizational behaviour, organizational ethics or a related subject in a Christian university. Or, you are interested in Christian higher education particularly as it relates to business disciplines.

After spending twenty years serving others in a career in healthcare administration and I began teaching in a school of business that happened to be an academic unit of a Christian university, I assumed that if the mission of the university was real, it must be present and accounted for in every discipline, every classroom, every semester.

Boy did I have something to learn! At that time engaging students in dialogue about issues of religious faith was daunting for me. I was still “back-filling” knowledge in the disciplines of management and business ethics trying to grasp the theories and the contributions of the influential thinkers that have shaped the disciplines.

Few people on campus at that time, let alone the school of business, were talking about faith integration in the classroom. It was not a topic that appeared on the agenda for faculty meetings. Yet every now and again I would see the words of the institutional mission. I wondered how this mission was supposed to be extended into my own work. Apparently, like religious experience, the scholar’s experience of bringing issues of religious faith into my scholarship was a private matter not to be discussed in the open, not to be studied, researched, experimented with or planned for as a community of learners. This, it seemed, was expected to be an individual matter, not a community matter. Perhaps this was not the intention of the institutional Board of Trustees, administrators or the heads of academic departments. But this shared value (culture) of silence and community inaction concerned me.

One day I asked a more seasoned scholar about this. His reply was given in terms of the need to protect academic freedom. Professors, it seems, do not want someone dictating to them what they should and should not teach in the classroom (within limits of course). Professors get pretty sensitive about this sort of thing. Okay, I get that. But freedom is never isolated on its own. Freedom, to be effective and honorable, is inseparable from responsibility.

The twelve years that have passed have led me to ponder whether or not it is enough to have a business school located on the same campus of a Christian university. Is geographical proximity enough? Is context and atmosphere provided by the larger campus enough for business students studying at a Christian college or university?

At this point, I have come to the belief that the Christian context for learning in business is necessary but not sufficient. First, the business school and its students contributes to the larger context, atmosphere and tone of the campus as a whole. If the business school is basically secular in approach to teaching (except for the tone set by the professor in the classroom), this is the contribution that the school of business (the professors and students combined) makes to the larger learning community of which we are a part. Second, from a structural point of view, if the “center of gravity” for a college and university is in the activities managed by the academic departments, then the institutional mission, if it is valid and more than mere words on a page, must be present in these academic activities on a daily and weekly basis. Third, religion scholars may not be teaching much in the way of business (and other disciplines) since this is typically not their area of expertise. Thus the question began to haunt me: Who will teach religion as it applies to the practice of business if the business professors don’t do this?

We might say that the institutional mission must be present in the courses taught by the school of religion, present in the chapel programs, and evident in the worship services. Business majors, after all, must attend these just like students who are pursuing other majors. But, I ask: Is not this same mission also necessary to be seen in the accounting classroom, the marketing course, the management syllabus, and the ethics lectures and case studies.

One argument that I’ve heard is that the mission must be present in the school of business in the ways that business professors treat students and the atmosphere or tone of the business classroom. Having a devotional thought and prayer is a good way to set the tone. If we are fair with students, courteous with students, if we pray at the beginning of the class period, showing concern for the issues that students face, these are the ways that we bring faith into the classroom by setting the tone and atmosphere. But course content must focus on teaching the best practices of business. Leave the teaching of religion to the religion professors, the pastors, the campus chaplains.

Having wrestled with this question over and over for twelve years, I have concluded that atmosphere, tone and context is important. By themselves they are insufficient. If we don’t bring the issues of faith into the dialogue with students about the big questions of the discipline, we are leaving on the table some of the very things that the center of gravity would call for. If we do this, as professors we are doing students and ourselves a disservice, providing less value than is being promised to them and their families in the words of the institutional mission. In this, it seems to me, lies an important moral issue we cannot escape.

You might want to discuss this question of institutional mission with your students or fellow faculty members.

Discussion Questions

  1. To what degree should issues of the Bible and religion be present in the course content on a daily or weekly basis?
  2. Is atmosphere, tone and context sufficient?
  3. How can the institutional mission be brought into the center of gravity in terms of the academic or intellectual activities?