Hannah Stolze, the author profiled in this post, will speak at October 8th’s Women, Work, & Calling event. For details about the gathering, please visit the Women, Work, & Calling website.
Have you ever felt a disconnect between your “sacred” and “secular” life? You may leave a Sunday church service feeling enlivened, excitedly mulling over what the message means for your life, but by Monday you’ve re-entered the “real world,” and your mind has moved from dwelling on the kingdom of God to surviving in the concrete jungle. You know things should be different, you feel that your life should be whole, and you long for your faith and work to fit seamlessly together. But for many, especially in the corporate world, it’s difficult to know how to marry the two. Can the Bible offer anything here aside from platitudes about kindness and forgiveness? Could it have anything practical to say about the world of business in the 21st century?
Author, speaker, and academic Hannah Stolze argues that the Bible is, in fact, rich with practical wisdom relating to ethical and effective business. And, she should know. Hannah has spent a lifetime working at the intersection of business and faith. A daughter of missionaries, Hannah always knew she wanted to be involved in helping people across the globe. She developed her global perspective and supply chain knowledge through her time in the army, where she worked as a cultural analyst, ordnance cadet, and broadcast journalist.
Following this, she earned her MBA and came to learn that the corporate side of business was heavily relational and global–right in her wheelhouse. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Business Administration with a focus in Logistics and Marketing and now serves as the Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at Lipscomb University and the Executive Director of Wheaton College’s Center for Faith & Innovation, where she focuses on sustainable supply chain management and the intersection of faith and business.
In her new book Wisdom-Based Business: Applying Biblical Principles and Evidence-Based Research for a Purposeful and Profitable Business (Zondervan, 2021), she argues that the ancient wisdom recorded in the book of Proverbs gives us practical ways to promote profitable and ethical business. These lessons are found particularly in the image of the Noble Woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. While the image of the Noble Woman is often elevated as a picture of the ideal Christian wife, Hannah articulates that this image is actually a personification of wisdom in action, mirroring the virtues demonstrated by Lady Wisdom at the beginning of the book. She argues that within this personification lie five practical orientations that can be used for directing God-honoring business.
First, the Noble Woman demonstrates an orientation towards sustainability in her work, as she buys a field and uses it to plant a vineyard, likely knowing and practicing the environmental laws established in the book of Deuteronomy. In doing this, she is able to “[make] a profit while preserving the planet (resources for the future) and people (having a positive impact on society).”1 This concern for others also illustrates a generous orientation towards her stakeholders. While the model of business established by Milton Friedman emphasizes that a business’s primary responsibility is to its shareholders, Hannah points out that businesses are able to maximize shareholder wealth while cutting corners, hurting employees, and failing customers.
Instead, the Noble Woman strives to positively impact all those who are touched by her work. She provides for her family, extends her hands to the poor and needy, and makes high-quality clothes to sell to the merchants. Instead of rushing to make things for a quick profit, she sources raw materials and turns them into linen, a very difficult fabric to manufacture, and even dyes it purple, which was one of the most sought-after dyes of the ancient world. This illustrates her third orientation, which is one aimed at producing high-quality work. Another reason she is so successful is that she has an orientation toward the supply chain–she understands the flow of goods and uses this economic acumen to create a sustainable business. Finally, all of her efforts find success because she is oriented toward long-term gains. Instead of looking for get-rich-quick schemes, she impacts those around her for the glory of God.
While these orientations are central to wise business practices, there are two concepts that Hannah argues are even more fundamental to an ethical and effective business. These are the Hebrew concepts of chayil and chesed. Chayil is the word often translated as “noble” or “valorous,” and is typically “associated with strength, might, military force, efficiency, wealth, and competition.”2 Put simply, it denotes competency or dependable, high-quality work. The second element, chesed, is tied with “mercy, kindness, and steadfast love.”3 Using these elements as the fundamental orienting principles for a business allows a business to create strong products, develop a dependable reputation, and fulfill the greatest commandment of loving God and loving others.
Hannah explains that when we view business through these lenses, we can see business as kingdom work, and not as something separate from our spiritual lives. Instead, our work becomes one of the primary ways in which we can practically live out our faith with valor and mercy.4
Editor's Note: Hannah Stolze will be a speaker at this year's Women, Work & Calling event on Saturday, October 8th, 2022. You can register to join us in person or online for a day of deeper conversations around the intersection of biblical faith and everyday work below. We look forward to engaging these topics with you!
1. Hannah J. Stolze, Wisdom-Based Business: Applying Biblical Principles and Evidence-Based Research for a Purposeful and Profitable Business (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021), 15.
2. Stolze, Wisdom-Based Business, 12.
3. Ibid., 178.
4. Hannah Stolze, “What Proverbs 31 Has to Say about…Business?,” July 1, 2022, in The Faith & Work Podcast, Produced by Denver Institute for Faith & Work, podcast, 39:54, https://denverinstitute.org/what-proverbs-31-has-to-say-about-business/.
Cameron Blom serves as an intern at the Denver Institute and is in the process of earning his MDiv from Denver Seminary, following which he hopes to earn a doctoral degree in Theology & Science. Though originally from the rolling, corn-covered hills of Iowa, he’s quickly acclimated to the mountain life. In his free time, he enjoys reading, hiking, having philosophical discussions with friends, and catching the latest Christopher Nolan movie.