Book Review: Business as Mission by Johnson
C. Neal Johnson, Business As Mission (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009). $35.00. Paper.
Business As Mission (hereafter, BAM) is a growing mission strategy, especially in countries closed to traditional missions. For those interested, C. Neal Johnson exhaustively describes this strategy in Business as Mission: a Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. In three parts, he provides an overview of what BAM is, instructs how to organize a BAM company, and encourages counting the cost. Because this book explores these areas in great detail, this review will mainly analyze the first part.
Johnson defines BAM as: “A for-profit commercial business venture that is Christian led, intentionally devoted to being used as an instrument of God’s mission (mission Dei) to the world, and is operated in a crosscultural environment, either domestic or international” (27-8). BAM, therefore, is not simply a mission to or within but through the marketplace (106-10). As such, BAM companies stimulate the economy and advance the gospel to transform people, communities, and societies. Furthermore, Johnson believes that “BAMers” can spread the gospel in word and deed “to help humanity be reconciled to him and to help him redeem the world” (154).
Business as Mission is an incredibly detailed book and it is evident that much research has gone into this project. Johnson interacts well with the field in explaining and defending BAM. Thus, for those involved in BAM, this is an invaluable resource. Built upon the foundation in part one, the second and third parts of the book provide much practical information related to BAM companies. Employee and managerial issues are addressed, organizational strategies and business plans are suggested, financial and macroeconomic issues are presented, and political and expatriate issues are discussed.
Despite practical strengths, however, several weaknesses lie in the theoretical foundation. One is that exegesis of Scripture is admittedly absent (168-69). Johnson asserts, however, “When Scripture is read with ‘marketplace eyes’…support [for BAM] is overwhelming” (169). Thus, not exegesis is provided but eisegesis, a shortcoming in a theory of missions. Another weakness is though Johnson insists that the gospel is important (38), he does not fully explain what it is. As such, it seems to be physical as well as spiritual benefits such as liberation from social evils. Unfortunately, the biblical gospel of Christ crucified is absent from the volume. Therefore, Johnson believes BAMers should use biblical business practices for the purpose of transformation. Thus, a postmillennial hope is assumed: through spiritual and physical transformation and liberation, BAM companies will “further [Christ’s] kingdom on earth” (23). Curiously, Jesus’ words of “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) are not discussed.
In light of these issues, it is somewhat difficult to recommend this book. For those interested in learning about BAM, it might be recommended as an informative resource. For those who agree with BAM, it might be recommended as a comprehensive resource. For those who are of a different perspective concerning the transformation of society and bringing about a physical kingdom of God on earth, however, one might look elsewhere for a book on mission strategy.
Reviewed by Brandon Hoffman