Prof. Albert ERISMAN (ERISMAN) is the Executive in Residence Emeritus at the School of Business, Government, and Economics at Seattle Pacific University in the USA. He has been a speaker and teacher on business, ethics, faith, and technology in 25 countries on 5 continents. With extensive and rich business and teaching background, he shared his own views on faith-learning integration and discussed the business purpose and practice of Christians and its contextualization in Asian-Chinese culture.
Two questions are explored, namely: “What does the Bible say about God’s purpose for business?” and “How do we know about Asian-Chinese context so as to apply Biblical principles, to think about business theologically in the Asian-Chinese context? ERISMAN presented a Biblical answer first, and then discussed how these answers can be presented to non-Christians.
Business is a special kind of work. Work is a part of how we are made. God modeled work for us through His own work. Work was assigned, and carried out, before the Fall. In Genesis we see our relationships with God, with work and with other people. What matters is The Creation Mandate and Collaboration with God, where we can understand the meanings of delegation, leadership and stewardship, maintenance and caring, naming and classifying.
After the Fall, the reality of Sin made human life very difficult (Genesis chapter 3:18 -19). Challenges in work are harsh to encounter after the Fall: ethics, bribery, corruption, and greed. Specifically in today’s world are exploitive goods and services, exploiting workers, and economic value for selfishness. There is a clear instruction from Bible that even if the work is very difficult, it is the Lord Christ that we are serving (Colossians 3:23- 24).
Roles for Business are three-fold: Create and distribute goods and services, a place for people to use gifts and abilities in meaningful work (in order to benefit others), and create economic value. Purpose of Business is a vital part of the flourishing of people living together inter-dependently. We are in the reality of “From independence under God (in the Eden Garden) to inter-dependence under God (in cities)”. Mandate from God is: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile…for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count other more significant than yourself” (Philippians 2 3-4). Role of Business is thus essential for an interdependent society, essential for the flourishing of communities in the 21st century and vital for Christian engagement.
The business practice is further elaborated as all are working together in the Body of Christ. Different roles need to be recognized: both the janitor and doctors are important in doing part of the work to the patients’ wellness. Leadership as a servant and a debtor is highlighted. Collaboration in Business is vital just like an airplane composes of various indispensable parts working together. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16) provides a great frame for culture and ethics within a business. For those who do not identify themselves with the authority of Scripture, a high-level summary of the beatitudes in business language has proven effective in discussion and acceptance, e.g. “Poor in Spirit” is represented as “humility and openness”.
Regarding the Contextualization for Asian- Chinese Culture, ERISMAN suggested that we need to identify what cultural differences might exist, then develop a process for contextualizing, in the discussion of work, faith, and the purpose and practice of business. He pointed out that cultural differences are real and we must be careful not to make distorted cultural assumptions, saying: “Just like a fish swimming in the sea not knowing what water is, we are so immersed in our culture that we don't see it”. For example, he quoted from the findings of Paul Stevens that Hong Kong Christians adopt a work ethic which is dominated by the drive to earn more money; requires long hours and sacrifice, and with no Sabbath day. (Paul Stevens. “A Contextualized Theology of Work for Asia”, unpublished thesis. 2007). Another report concludes that there is a strong need for Chinese Christians to understand a theology of work; understand technology from a Biblical perspective; and how Chinese culture impacts their work. (James Chung. “A Theology of Work for Christians working in the Technology Sector in China”. D. Min. Thesis at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, 2015).
ERISMAN recalled the story of Joseph from the Bible and suggested that it is a good model and an illustration of the purpose of business in a global context. God had shaped him as a worker, given him the insight to work purposefully in difficult circumstances, prepared him as a leader, given him insights on strategy and execution, and confirmed the purpose of his calling to business. Eventually, Joseph was commissioned by Pharaoh to set up and run his “company”, to execute his strategy over 14 years and to save the world, including his own family.
In his concluding remarks, ERISMAN re-stated that business is a major force with profound impact on the world today. He re-affirmed that our work matters to God, and the particular work of business is also Kingdom work and important spiritually. It is more than just a job or a means to other worthy ends. Regarding how one can contextualize all Bible teachings for the Chinese Christians, he re-assured that he/she must start with a good theology of work and business, and re-iterated that an understanding of priority issues of culture would affect our views, as God may call us to different ends (Yung Hwa, Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for the Marketplace in Asia, 2010, p. 30).