An experienced business leader in China remarked that, while there is the expectation that Christians should somehow conduct business differently, the question of what exactly this should look like remains a difficult one.
Drawing on sociologist Max Weber’s concept of the Protestant work ethic, those who study Christian entrepreneurs in China often view their adherence to biblical ethical principles as the motivating force behind their business endeavors. Their sense of Christian responsibility drives them to work hard, and their success in turn validates their Christian calling.
Dr. Angel Lu, a China-born comparative literature scholar now living in Hong Kong, suggests that Christian business leaders in China and elsewhere can and should go further in making the connection between faith and work.
Christian business leaders and some academics may be eager to celebrate the phenomenon of hard-working Christian CEOs as the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic. Lu believes, however, that the Christian’s calling in regard to economic and business undertakings is, according to the Bible, way beyond the model and level of Protestant ethics.
In his well-known study, Max Weber, who made an oft-quoted connection between Protestant ethics and capitalism, was actually critical of both.
According to Lu, the superficial, or perhaps intentional, misreading of Weber has served its historical function. In China, it helped to spur interest in Christian faith as people recognized the role that this faith played in the economic prosperity of capitalist countries.
As the Christian population in China has grown larger and more mature, and as Western Christians have become increasingly alarmed about the ills of capitalism, Lu suggests it is time to search for a solid, Bible-based theology concerning the economic implications of Christianity. Matters that have long been taken for granted, such as the accumulation of wealth, the profit motive, and inalienable property rights, may all need to be rethought from a Biblical point of view.
“In short,” Lu says, “Christians can do much better than just being more excellent in the workplace or being more moral than non-believers. They can and should aspire to the Biblical definition of our roles—stewards in the economy of God.”
Image credit: IMG_1785 by Aaron Goodman via Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio