Introduction to Marketplace Theology – Toward a Wholistic Science of Work, Worker and Workplace

“By living, even by dying and being damned, make someone a theologian, not by understanding, reading and speculating.”

Martin Luther

“The spirit of persistence [in prayer] springs from an inward conviction that life is but one single way that leads to the kingdom of God.”

Matthew the Poor

“If you are a theologian you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”

Evagrius Ponticus (AD 346-399)

My interest in marketplace theology began quite early, without, of course, even having the language to call it “marketplace theology,” and certainly decades before I became a professor of marketplace theology. As a young boy growing up in Toronto, Canada, son of a CEO of a steel fabrication company producing steel strapping for shipping containers, I received a small weekly allowance with which I could go into a store and buy a vanilla Ice cream cone for five cents. I knew that I was exchanging money for something I wanted, a soul need or want, though not yet understanding that behind this simple transaction in a confectionary store lay a whole series of exchanges. A dairy farmer exchanged his milk for money for which he is able to buy feed for his animals and give his daughter a small allowance. There is an amazing list of exchanges internationally in the ancient world in the Lament over Tyre in Ezekiel 27, including the men of Rhodes who “traded with you, and many coastlands were your customers; they paid you with ivory tusks and ebony” (Ezek 27:15). There is a mystery in the marketplace, as Jeff Van Duzer says in his masterful book, Why Business Matters to God. There is what he calls a common grace, through which the farmer, the delivery person, the milk processor, the ice cream manufacturer, the company that makes the cone from wheat products, involving a whole host of persons including packagers, advertisers and transporters until it finally arrives at the confectioner on Yonge Street in Toronto. I have simply exchanged five cents (yes that is what it cost) for a treat. But we are built for such exchanges. We are all individuals, unique. You have something I need and I have something that you need and we must exchange to survive and thrive. We are all uniquely gifted and we are built for community. And we work communally. Marketplace theology explores the meaning, the God-given purpose, the spirituality and the practice of that young boy buying his ice cream—and the work involved. Exchange is business. Years later I had the opportunity to see how exchange works in a village marketplace in East Africa.

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