On Oct. 31, theologians, scholars and business people converged on Calvin’s campus for the Symposium on Common Grace in Business. Conceived and co-sponsored by the Calvin business department and the Acton Institute, the symposium's focus was on applying Abraham Kuyper’s theological work on common grace—the grace God extends to everyone that enables him or her to do good—to the business world.
Bringing together business and theology
“Theologians have been talking about the doctrine of common grace since the time of John Calvin,” said professor of business Jason Stansbury, the convener of the conference. “It’s foundational to our understanding of the world. This conference provided an opportunity to unpack what that grace means for people in business disciplines.”
“We’ve done a number of events that engage the business community, but this is the first significant scholarly event that the business department has played such a strong role in organizing and conducting—at least in recent memory,” said Bob Eames, professor of business.
The idea for the event came about as a way to celebrate the completion of the Acton Institute’s English translation of Kuyper’s three-volume work on common grace, which had never been translated into English before.
“The Acton Institute was exploring different ways of celebrating the new translation, and they said, ‘we’d love to see it connected with business and Calvin College,’ so they met with us,” Eames recalled. “Together with Acton's Dr. Mel Flikkema, we thought about what we could do that would both be a meaningful piece of work honoring the Kuyper translation and something our faculty could get behind. We came up with the symposium.”
For the symposium, nearly all of Calvin’s business professors contributed to scholarly papers about how common grace ties to their disciplines within business. They presented their findings at the symposium. The papers will all be published in a special edition of the Journal of Markets and Morality.
“It is rare for most of our business faculty to be involved in the same scholarly project and that all of it is being published is incredible,” said Eames. “We’ve been working together on this [project] for 18 months, so it’s been quite a lengthy endeavor, but it’s been cool for our department to work together on something.”
Eames co-authored a paper on pricing discrimination in marketing, while Stansbury contributed to articles on virtue-based accounting and using moral imagination to solve difficult problems in business. Other papers focus on topics such as financial risk-taking and using efficient manufacturing techniques to ensure that people have meaningful work to do.
Stansbury hopes that the presentations at the conference encourage more scholarly work that takes a theological approach to specific disciplines within business.
“Usually if there’s work done on theology and business, it’s focused on business as a larger discipline, not on the particular details of the work people do in business,” he said. “So I’m hoping these papers can be a starting point for work on how theology applies to the particular disciplines and tasks of business.”
In addition to the paper sessions, the symposium featured keynote presentations by Richard Mouw, who served as the president of Fuller Theological Seminary for 20 years, and Peter Heslam, the director of Transforming Business, a multidisciplinary effort to find enterprise solutions to poverty supported by Cambridge University. Business people, scholars and theologians also added their voices to the conversation on common grace through panel discussions.
God at work
A recent graduate of Calvin’s business program donated money to fund up to ten scholarships for Calvin students interested in attending the event. Another donor created a scholarship for ten Calvin seminary students to come to the symposium.
Stansbury reflected on what he hopes those students, along with the other businesspeople who came to the symposium, took away from the event:
“I want [attendees] to be encouraged that God is at work, not just in the business world as some big whole, but that God is at work in things that they do as individuals … And when they encounter a difficult business ethics problem, I want them to know that they don’t have to be satisfied with the way the world frames the problem. Thanks to the work of common grace, all truth is God’s truth. As Christians, they can draw on that truth to reframe problems and find a solution.”