JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 28, 2011 – For about 10 years, Walton Padelford taught a business ethics class at Union University. At some point during that span, he began to question how effectively he was doing it.
“Would it be possible for an atheist or a person from another tradition, like maybe a Hindu or Muslim, to teach this material and to do an excellent job in teaching it?” Padelford asked himself. “And in fact, to maybe live it better than I do, or anybody in my class? And I think the answer is yes.”
Those questions led Padelford, the university professor of economics at Union, to think about what he was offering that was distinctively Christian about business ethics. And they led him to the ideas that would result in his new book, “Bonhoeffer and Business Ethics,” now available from BorderStone Press.
Padelford will sign copies of his new book Oct. 6 from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in Barefoots Joe, located in the Barefoot Student Union Building on Union’s campus.
“For many years I’ve been a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – not only his work, but his life’s story,” Padelford said. “It’s always been fascinating to me. I’ve been reading his books for his long, long time.”
Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime in the World War II era. He eventually was arrested and executed.
Padelford’s fascination with Bonhoeffer and the dilemma he encountered in his business ethics class led him to use Bonhoeffer’s work as a template to think about the problem of real Christian discipleship in business.
“What I’m really trying to push and stress is that God has given us vocation, and within that vocation, this is our actual path of real sanctification,” Padelford said.
Padelford said the average Christian attends church on Sunday and may even have a position of responsibility or leadership in the church. He or she has a responsibility to maintain a good marriage and to raise children. But then most of the day is spent at work.
“That, I would venture to say, is the disciple’s life,” Padelford said. “He doesn’t have time for anything else. So if he’s really going to be a disciple of Christ, a very large part of life is spent on the job. That is where his discipleship has to happen. If it doesn’t happen there, it’s not going to happen. If he can’t be Christ in a bad work environment, where can he be Christ then?”
Padelford explores these themes in “Bonhoeffer and Business Ethics,” his first book. He gives an overview of Bonhoeffer’s life (he says one of his purposes for the book is to introduce a new generation of college students to Bonhoeffer’s life and works), and addresses the common philosophies of existentialism and nihilism before moving into a discussion of “vocation” and how someone can honor God through their work.
“I think it’s generally applicable as a discipleship approach,” Padelford said. “I’m using business kind of as a background.”
The book is available from Amazon.com or at the LifeWay Christian Store on the Union campus.