image courtesy of author
God created the Garden of Eden, but did He create the marketplace as well? And if He did, what role does the market have in our world? Can business, including profit and competition, be “good”, in a Christian sense? Intriguing questions, and not just for economists and theologians, but also for people involved in business on a daily basis.
These are just the questions tackled by David Doty in his new book, Eden’s Bridge: the Marketplace in Creation and Mission. David’s organization, also named Eden’s Bridge, is a PovertyCure Partner, and many of the topics he covers in the book relate directly to entrepreneurship, poverty alleviation and the role of charity. I recently talked to him about the book, and what Eden’s Bridge is hoping to accomplish in the areas of entrepreneurship and ministry. Here’s a bit of our conversation:
Dave, I just finished reading your book. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I believe a good summary of your thesis would be “The marketplace is an institution created by God, and is vital to His Kingdom”. Would you agree, and perhaps elaborate?
Doty: Absolutely, those are the precise points I am hoping to make. Recognizing the marketplace as an institution of God releases us from the false dichotomies separating Sunday and Monday. My aim is to let marketplace Christians know that their vocational calling in the marketplace is ordained of God and that they have a vital role in His mission in the world, the missio Dei.
The natural extension of that, at least to me and given our calling to minister to the world, is to ask ourselves pointed questions: How does my vocation participate in Kingdom building? How do I clarify and enhance my role? How can I, even in my limited spheres, creatively address economic instabilities in the world by the use of my calling, skill sets, and knowledge?
From the standpoint of PovertyCure, I found the real “heart” of your work in Chapter 5, where you address “redeeming the marketplace”. Among other things, you discuss the importance of cooperation, collaboration and charity in terms of decreasing and/or alleviating poverty. What are your thoughts on that, in terms of what Eden’s Bridge is doing?
Doty: As an organization of one, my interests lie in articulating a foundational theology of the marketplace then building from that. Eden’s Bridge is an advocacy at its heart, researching what God is doing…in and through the marketplace, and trying to spread the word. I have several tangential interests, including empowering marketplace Christians, encouraging their engagement, and unleashing their potential in inspired acts.
How this pertains specifically to the alleviation of poverty is to help them connect with the poor, recognize the dignity of the poor as made in the image of God, and discern how Christians, especially in developed economies, bear a responsibility (having been given much) to serve the poor in tangible ways (cooperation and collaboration) beyond simply throwing donations at aid programs.
There are thousands of fledgling micro-development schemes underway that are unsuited to the task because the practitioners are not business people. We need academics to step up to write and analyze innumerable case studies. We need communicators (as I see my role) to bridge the conversational gap between theory and practice. And we need business people to stand in the gap by bringing business education and leadership to these endeavors. I think PovertyCure is an excellent example of trying to connect the right players...My hope is that one outcome of [the publication of] Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission is to promote and accelerate those conversations and undertakings.
One of the points in this chapter that I thought was so important was when you talk about the “upward cycle of increasing human productivity”. At PovertyCure, we want to focus on the capacity of the poor themselves to create, lead, and forge new paths in poverty alleviation. Can you speak to that, given your own entrepreneurial background?
Doty: For too long, charitable Christians and secularists in aid work have simply created dependency by feeding and clothing people without focusing on the dignity of work and vocational potential of the recipients.
To be frank, I do not have a highly marketable mix of education, skills, and experience. As an entrepreneur, as my father likes to put it, “I have created my own jobs.” In so doing, I have typically fared better in wages than when I worked for other people…The harder, smarter, and more creatively I worked, the more successful I could become.
Dependency robs many aid recipients of that potential. Not only do they languish in creativity and the desire to work, dependency undermines their self-worth, demoralizing them in the process. We continue to see this played out in the realities of multi-generational poverty in both domestic and foreign examples.
We are created in the image of a communal God which some use as an excuse for creating or living in dependency. But we all also have capacities, gifts, and callings that God wants to empower and optimize. As we excel we have a greater capacity to empower those around us and all boats can rise together. In my own entrepreneurial experience, my success translated to employment for others, charitable giving where appropriate, and the enduring satisfaction of having done my best.
Finally, you discuss the fact that information is at least as important as capital in our world today, and part of the problem in alleviating poverty is that the poor often have very limited resources, not only in terms of money, but in terms of the flow of and access to information. How do you see Eden’s Bridge working to practically address this issue?
Doty: I think this is an excellent example of where, at least initially, charitable work goes hand-in-hand with economic development. Like capital, information can be made available through non-government organizations as part of a tool set to also include education, especially in business practices, and capital investments. With the proliferation of the internet, a satellite uplink in the hands of a skilled facilitator can open up the world of information that has been unavailable before.
I also hope to encourage networking between up and coming producers and technological specialists. For example, connecting food producers in developing economies with agronomists can provide research to enhance or diversify crop production such that the producers can excel to higher levels of economic viability.
Doty’s book will appeal to both business folk and those in ministry, although I will “warn” those without a heavy theological background that it is laden with theological language, Scriptural references and doctrinal sensibility. However, for the thoughtful Christian business person, the book can be a valuable tool in linking one’s work life with one’s expressions of faith. It is indeed the market that will lead us to alleviate poverty and bring justice to God’s creation.
Doty’s book Eden’s Bridge: the Marketplace in Creation and Mission is available for order from Wipf & Stock or directly from Dave Doty at 859.621.3636 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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