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Faith and Flourishing: A Conference at Bethel College

“The economy is not numbers on spreadsheets and lines on graphs…. The economy is fundamentally a web of human relationships.” In this simple statement Greg Forster summed up what the Faith and Flourishing conference was all about. Sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, the conference was held at Bethel College on September 19. Greg Forster and Chris Horst spoke to an audience of 85 business students who gathered with a few common questions in mind: What role does business play in society? What does the Bible say about business? And what role do we play in helping the poor?

The first speaker, Greg Forster is the program director for the Faith, Work and Economics Program at The Kern Family Foundation. Forster stressed the importance of seeing the connection between faith and work, reminding us that if we do not see this connection then faith becomes a leisure activity—and as he stated, “Christianity is not a leisure activity.” Work is central in the Bible from beginning to end.

Forster also focused on the good that an entrepreneurial economy can do. In the last few centuries, it has pushed billions of people out of poverty. Human communities all over the world are desperate for someone to offer economic principles that will bring them together, which is the reason for The Kern Family Foundation’s Economic Wisdom Project. As Forster put it, “Economic crisis is an opportunity to shine the Gospel into a dark and dying world.”

The second speaker, Chris Horst, is the vice president of development at HOPE International and coauthor of a new AEI monograph entitled “Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing.” He did not speak about the book, but rather gave us a framework for reading the book. This framework—based on the concept of gleaning—consisted of three main points: what will you farm, where will you farm, and how will you farm.

[pq]Don’t be ashamed of the gifts that you have been given; God gave them to you for a purpose.[/pq]

First of all, when you decide “what you will farm,” there is no perfect answer. It is important for students to understand that business plays a huge role in poverty eradication. As Horst stated, “We believe business is not secondary in helping the poor, it’s primary.” So if God has wired you to do business, then do business. But if not, do what matches your own skills and interests.

Then you must decide “where you will farm”. Demographics have changed in recent years; suburbs and rural communities, rather than big cities, are often the most impoverished areas. So, go where you feel God is leading you.

The last part of the framework is deciding “how you will farm”. This is a simple but profound decision. Will you look down on the people that need help or will you serve them while respecting their dignity and worth.

Pulling it all together he left us with this truth: “God’s people are to hold what He’s given us with open hands.” Don’t be ashamed of the gifts that you have been given; God gave them to you for a purpose.

The students of the business department came away with a better understanding of the connections between faith, business, and poverty. The speakers were informative and engaging, resulting in a student body that is excited to learn more about faith and free enterprise.