David Miller's God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement (Oxford University Press, 2007) thoughtfully examines the Christian presence in business over the past century. He notes that pastors pray for teenagers as they leave for short-term mission trips and Sunday school teachers as they begin a new semester, but not for certified public accountants around April 15, or salespeople and those working on commission at the end of the month or year, when quotas are due.
The basic problem is that many see church or missionary work as "full-time Christian service" but business offices largely as places to earn money that can support the real Christian workers (with maybe some workplace evangelism on the side). Seldom is heard the encouraging word that business activities can be worthy ends in themselves-for isn't God, who created us in His image, glorified when we show creativity through the products we make and the services we render?
Miller also points to an anti-capitalist ethos at many seminaries and among many pastors: "Many of today's leading senior theologians, ethicists, and clergy are deeply influenced by Christian Socialism, branches of Barthianism . . . , liberation theology (emphasizing state-controlled economic structures, rejecting free markets, and viewing capitalist businesses as oppressors), and even some Franciscan and monastic strands that glorify poverty and simplicity." He writes of ministers who court financial pledges from businessmen and then, from the pulpit, bite the hand that feeds them.
The deeper week-by-week problem is not ingratitude or hypocrisy but irrelevance, Miller points out: "Frustrated by the apparent lack of interest or uneducated response to the challenges they face in the marketplace, many workers and professionals simply give up on the church and turn instead to secular therapists, consultants, and self-help guides for ethical guidance and spiritual nurturing."
Pastors and seminary students who want to educate themselves about market systems should check out the seminars and publications of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. (Disclosure: I'm a senior fellow of that organization.)
For relaxation after the serious analysis of God at Work, both literary novels and thrillers are useful. Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England (Algonquin, 2007) is an elegantly titled example of the first: It's a sometimes amusing tale of a hapless resident of western Massachusetts who accidentally burns down the Emily Dickinson House and later becomes the prime suspect in the torching of the Hawthorne, Melvillle, Edith Wharton, and Robert Frost homes.
For those preferring novels of deliberate and far more deadly terrorism, the well-named Monday Night Jihad (Tyndale, 2007) is a page-turner. This first novel for co-authors Jason Elam (the former Denver Bronco kicker) and Steve Yohn features a football/military hero and a revenge-seeking terrorist who is not without heart-but it's twisted.
Page one headlines give us frontline news about the battle between Christianity and Islam, but much goes on that is hidden from view. That's why reading Al Janssen and Brother Andrew's Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ (Revell, 2007) is a moving experience: Why should we complain about small irritations when many in Islamic lands risk their lives to witness to the truth of Jesus?
And will the Muslim push in Europe that was stopped militarily in the 1500s and 1600s now succeed demographically? Philip Jenkins in God's Continent (Oxford University Press, 2007) suggests that Christianity in Europe is not down the drain and an Islamic Eurabia is not inevitable. But Europe, to rebound, will need better leadership, and the same goes for the United States.