Theology and Economics - Lesson 6

Interview with Jon Marks

In this interview, Jon Marks discusses the intersection of theology and economics in the marketplace. He explains how Christians can apply their faith in the workplace and offers practical advice for ethical decision-making. Marks also addresses the role of money, wealth, and greed in society and how Christians can resist the temptation to prioritize financial gain over moral principles. This 15,000-word document provides a thorough exploration of the topic and offers valuable insights for Christians seeking to integrate their faith with their professional lives.
Greg Forster
Theology and Economics
Lesson 6
Watching Now
Interview with Jon Marks

I. Introduction to Jon Marks

A. Brief Biography

B. Overview of Topics Covered

II. Theological Foundations for Business

A. The Image of God

B. The Cultural Mandate

C. The Great Commandment

D. The Great Commission

III. Economic Principles in the Bible

A. Property Rights and Ownership

B. The Role of Government

C. The Importance of Saving

D. Work and Rest

IV. Applying Theology and Economics to Business

A. Loving Your Neighbor through Business

B. Business as a Means of Cultural Influence

C. How to Think About Profit

D. Ethical Challenges in Business

V. Conclusion

A. Summary of Key Points

B. Final Encouragement to Christians in Business

  • Learn about the intersection of theology and economics and the role of Christians in the marketplace, as this document covers biblical economic principles, resource stewardship, ethical decisions, and faith's impact on business.
  • Discover the biblical concept of stewardship and its relation to human flourishing, exploring the parable of the talents, Genesis creation account, and practical applications for business, government, and personal finance.
  • In this lesson on Work and Value, you will gain insights into the nature of work and its inherent value as explained by the concept of the Imago Dei, the influence of the Protestant Work Ethic on Western culture, the role of technology in shaping the modern workplace, and the idea of vocation and how Christians can find purpose and meaning in their work.
  • In this lesson, you will learn how to live out your faith in the workplace by being a good steward of your resources and striving for excellence in your work. The lesson on productivity and opportunity highlights the importance of diligence, setting goals, and eliminating distractions to increase productivity. Ultimately, the course aims to equip Christians to serve God and others in the marketplace.
  • You will gain insights into the role of Christians in the marketplace and the importance of responsible action, which includes understanding economic systems and acting ethically with justice, love, and compassion.
  • This interview provides valuable insights for Christians seeking to integrate their faith with their professional lives by exploring the intersection of theology and economics in the marketplace. Jon Marks offers practical advice for ethical decision-making, discusses the role of money, wealth, and greed in society, and explains how Christians can resist the temptation to prioritize financial gain over moral principles.
  • Gerry Smith discusses the relationship between theology and economics. He argues that a Christian view of economics should focus on the flourishing of all people, not just profit, and addresses issues such as income inequality and the role of government in regulating the economy.

Why connect theology and economics?

We need to connect these two because lives of Christ followers should manifest the Gospel, making it tangible and visible.  In addition to personal holiness, we need to reach beyond ourselves and have an impact on the world around us.

Christians are called to live out God’s creation purposes and be signposts of the glorious future to come. That includes activities like religious works, charity, and volunteering, but these take up only a small fraction of our lives; discipleship must be a whole-life endeavor. If we want to follow God’s call and live into our true identity as his stewards, we have to integrate our faith with the spheres of life in which we invest most of our time: work and the economy.

This course, taught by Dr. Greg Forster will enable you to think clearly about these two issues, their relationship to each other and to all of life.


Dr. Greg Forster
Theology and Economics
Interview With Jon Marks
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello. Welcome back to this lesson in our series on theology and economics. I'm Greg Foster, program director at the Current Family Foundation and our program on faith, work and economics. For this lesson, we're doing something a little different. We're going to have a little dialog. My guest is John Marks, who for 40 years was the owner and president of Marks Brothers Inc. That's a third generation steel fabrication company founded in 1944 by William Marx, John's father. They got started in residential heating and ventilation, but more recently, they've moved into global industrial markets. They're providing services to for processing equipment for pulp and paper, petrochemical and more recently, nuclear fuel conversion. Thanks for joining me, John, and I appreciate it. Glad to be here. I'm looking forward to this. Now, your father was an entrepreneur who started the business that you were running. Would you tell us when you were growing up, what did your parents teach you about work? My parents were married right at the beginning of the Great Depression. My father had lost his father as a ten year old, and he knew very personally the rigor of just barely eking out an existence with his mother and sister. My parents were converted to Christ shortly after they were married. That altered their trajectory of the path they were on. My father had been employed in a manufacturing plant since jobs were very scarce. He hired my mother's father and one of her brother in law's to dig out, excavate under our farmhouse, to create a business, to create a basement. And he was always eager to help whoever. Wherever. Both of my parents were volunteers and maintaining a church and the eventual development of a camp that a cluster of churches in our area developed.

[00:02:44] My parents had eight children, so work was something that was assigned to everyone. We lived on ten acres in 1944. My father decided that he would like to establish his own business, so he built a barn, a three story barn, and we had livestock in the basement. He had a tin shop on the middle level and a hayloft on top. And that's where he began with primitive start doing ventilation work in the residential market. Sheet metal gutters and downspouts. It was not uncommon for him to come in for dinner. We always had dinner together as a family, but he would go back to the shop and work for another two or 3 hours, getting ready for the next day. That display of both he and my mother working hard and being right in the midst of the complex was something that taught us about work. And I remember once it was my job to milk a cow morning and night and take care of feeding the livestock. I started one summer day with a little ten inch hand sickle into a field the size of three football fields and methodically started clipping that grass and piling it in. This shocks to cure. Well, I never thought about this until just a few weeks ago, reminiscing about my father. It wasn't very far into that field, but one day a neighbor showed up with a tractor and a single bar mower and mowed the entire field, which left me simply with the task of raking it up and putting it in piles and. Hauling it to the barn. So I saw that as a reward that my father gave me for taking on a project that was beyond my capacity. And that that was what he displayed in this life.

[00:05:28] You know, you don't remember a lot of compliments from your father necessarily, but one compliment that I received from him that I will never forget since I took care of the cows one day I was trying to separate two cows and one was eager to get out of the door. And I pulled the door closed about halfway through the cow, lunging for a freedom, and the cow made it through the door, but in the process ripped the door off and the track. The compliment that I got from my father later that day, as we were rehang in the back barn door, I understood that we were going to need a level. And so I went upstairs and I found a three foot level and I brought it. And I don't know how profuse he was and the compliment, but it registered in my mind that he affirmed me for looking ahead at the next thing we were going to be needing. And he was a he was a quiet man. Not a lot of words ever between us, but that was a compliment that he gave me that registered for life. So it's not just about working hard, being diligent, although that's obviously an important aspect of it. But there were elements of looking at taking on new tasks, looking ahead to see what's going to happen. There's a whole sort of universal values involved. There was something about the nature of work in our life together that it represented a certain nobility. I, I remember we, we had company one day come in and I was working in the barn and I was scruffy and dirty and looked like a ragamuffin. But our company arrived and I came up to greet them and it was obvious that I'd been working in the barn.

[00:07:48] But in spite of that, without any embarrassment, I was just full blown proud because I was working and work carried with it some measure of mastery, nobility, contribution. And it it fueled my fires so that that was reinforced, that that work was an important thing in all of my siblings. I think we grew up with an hour stamped right on our forehead, responsible and. And it you know, it it comes with the sweet and the bitter because we're all also very independent. And ultimately, you have to let go of that. And. Right. And that's core to the image of God that human beings are responsible for taking control of what is what they're what's under their care. And using it responsibly to and work is really core to that. Mm hmm. There's a there's a core connection between work and responsibility. I believe so. Now, you've you've said that when you were a teenager, you weren't always faithful to that set of values that you were that you were given, and that's had a long term impact on you as well. Would you mind sharing a little of that with us? Yes, It's it's surprising the events in life that proved to carry long term impact and way of seeing. I grew up in a small community. There were maybe 30 kids in the entire. Grade school. We had one teacher for all eight grades and one room. And over my eight years there, that expanded. But. Graduating from eighth grade with ten classmates by that time and moving into a freshman class in a high school, brand new high school with over 200 classmates. It was an indescribable social expansion for me. All of the different activities and connections and friendships, and it was a delightful thing for me.

[00:10:45] But and I had always found some kind of pleasure in a surge of adrenaline and in high school. Toward the end of high school, I discovered there was an adrenaline surge in siphoning gas out of somebody's gas tank or stealing tires and hubcaps. And so this this was a was a new experience for me. Now, my parents were strong Christians and why private property never really was indelibly stamped in my psyche for whatever reason. It wasn't. I just thought this was fun. Well, one day, coming home on the school bus, a bus pulled up to our house and I got off and went in and my mother greeted me and she said, Jonathan, have you been stealing gas? He said, Mom, I would never steal gas. She said, Well, Doris, why isn't flu called me? And she talked to Wayne, Carmen's mother, who reported Wayne telling her that you've been stealing gas. And I know I tried to deny it. And my father came home shortly in the cycle. That communication quickly took place. And he said, okay, let's let's get in the truck. We're going over to Wayne Carmine's house. Well, I was in a box canyon then, so I, I, I came clean. He said, okay, let's go to Mr. Butler's house, if that's where you've been stealing from. Well, to to double the impact of this. Mr. Butler was a building contractor, and he was one of my father's customers. But my father took me to his front door, and he gave me money, and he had me knock on the door and make my confession, which I did. And that that unveiled, to me a whole realm of morality and righteousness that I had been ignorant of up to that point.

[00:13:36] And it enormously elevated my regard for my father, who would not pull back from a dime earning of his reputation, and to one of his customers that I knew he greatly relied on. But for my well-being, he took me to the door. It reminds me of the story that Augustine tells in his confessions about how when he was a teenager, they would steal pears from the local orchard. And he said, We didn't even eat pears. We didn't like pears. We hated them. We dropped them in the ditch after we took them. Why? And he goes on for several. Why did we do this? It's a great mystery. I don't understand the cries out to the Lord. Lord, help me understand why we do these things. But do you see a connection between that and the value of work? Uh, yes. You know, I. I was converted a few months after that period of time, and it wasn't, you know, for a long time after that one day I was, I was reading in Ephesians and I had always known the Bible as a living book. Let him who steals Steal No More, but work with his hands so that he may have something to share with those in need. And that that's said, Hey, that's me. I recognize that. And I was married by this time. My wife and I had agreed that we wanted to live in generosity to those around us and to be helpful and not to amass wealth for ourselves. And so this this was kind of a a point of reference for me in the way we lived out life. And we we found that to be beneficial for our entire marriage. You know, after we were married ten years, when when it came to my mind, I stole a tire from Jeff Lands, got home that night, looked up the phone book, found this address 112 near Holgate.

[00:16:26] Straight. I went over that night and Jeff was in his garage with two of his buddies working on a car and I. I peeled off some bills out of my wallet and made my confession. And so and I. I understand how God can orchestrate the most unusual things to advance the kinds of. Sensitivities that he wants to cultivate in some of his heart and mind. And so did this have an impact on the way he ran your business as well? And the reason I ask is you mentioned living in generosity and how the in the contrast between theft and generosity work. Work is against theft and for generosity. You know, there are some people who think that business exists to make money for its owners, and there are other people who think that business exists to serve the needs of their customers. So it sounds like this this would give you a very distinct take on that. Yeah, I, I do understand, of course, that business is a revenue generator and you're there to serve your customers. But I also see it as kind of a social coalition of human personalities together, addressing a task, learning from one another, listening to one another, and producing a product. And from a Christian perspective, I see all of these incremental steps as effort or expression of glory to God that for whatever reason, at this place, at this point in time, we have this task to do and working together, believers and unbelievers, in the context of our family business. Our objective is to do the will of God and to honor him in the production of a vast array of products. So there's a human element that's very central to business in your view. And I hear that both internally and externally, that inside the company there are people who are in relationship working together and they're outside the company.

[00:19:24] There are customers who have a need that that needs to be filled. How how does that human element really work itself out in both of those ways? Well, the healing element is very real. All of us air, regardless of the position we are in, are faced with the frailties of humanity. We have people right now at our shop that are going through divorce. We have a man that has his daughter has a strange medical condition that requires routine surgeries. There is always a manifestation of need for accommodation, patients, accountability, working together, correcting mistakes. We are not a fly free organization. I remember one time I. I delivered a project to a customer and he said, You call yourself a Christian and you're three days late on this delivery. How can you live with yourself or something like that? I mean, he just made me feel about that high and that to this day, he's one of our best customers. Actually, he died and his son and his grandson took over. But, you know, there there are things that leave indelible marks in your psyche that that you respond to. And it enables you to work in an understandable fashion with the people in your organization. We we have 68 employees. And it's it's my personal objective every morning to pray for each one of them because I know they are all facing different tensions in life. Some of them they can set aside when they come to work. Some of them impinge significantly on their ability to concentrate and focus. But. This is a a cluster that for whatever reason, God is allowed to come together and we work together. And having started from very primitive beginnings, we're experiencing some very remarkable advances and technical complexities that, you know, even ten years ago, I would never imagine would be a part of our normal affair.

[00:22:29] So the workplace is a grand opportunity for a group of people to share life, to listen to one another and support one another. And I, I think it's a grand design. Absolutely. And making a contribution to the needs of others to when you look at the task you have to perform, it's to serve the needs of the customer, you know, the customer and yeah, the customer. I just think in a noble piece of work that our guys are involved in right now, they are building equipment to extremely stringent specifications. Take in the nuclear arsenal that's been in storage from the Cold War and reprocessing that for commercial utilization that I mean that that is something that never in my entire life would I have imagined that we'd be a part of. But we we're learning as we go and we have capable engineering staff and it's it's a pleasure and a privilege to work with my adult children to have a different kind of interchange with them and and work provides that. I understand it's it's a rare opportunity and a rare privilege, but it's it's grand. One thing that you've said to me is about how what happened when some of the people who worked for your company over the years would leave to start their own businesses. Yes. How would you how would you describe that experience? Yeah, well, you know, you have a team working together and and you've got this tight interconnectedness. You never like to see anybody leave. But we have actually spawned six organizations of people that have gone out from our company and started their own companies. They probably experiences and concluded, how hard could this be? Well, it sounds like you were happy to see that happen.

[00:25:03] We have and we've virtually every one of them. We have good relationship with them. We were able I met I met with a guy just last week, my father. This was before I came to the business. But my father had loaned this man $1,000 to start his own business, and he was telling me about all of his escapades. This guy is in his seventies now, and he was telling me about his experience in the world of business and the pleasure he had from it, and reminiscing how my father helped him get started. I think that would be very amazing to people to hear that he actually not only was happy to see him go, but gave him a loan to get started when someone might say, Well, but this is very inconvenient for you. It disrupts your team, you lose, you lose the human capital that you're that your business uses to. So why would you and your father be happy to see people leaving to start their own businesses or even help them to do so? Well, I, I think you recognize the land that we live in. The governance that we operate under gives opportunity to everyone. And we recognize that we are simply managers of what has been placed in our hands and and to be tightfisted and not wish the same pleasure or opportunity to others would be completely incongruous with everything that we've experienced in. People have helped us along the way. Generous people have helped us along the way. And so, you know, I will I will say, just to set the record straight, my father did that for this fellow. I have never given anybody alone that wanted to go so. Well, that's okay. I helped people by when I was not.

[00:27:26] But you're still happy to see these businesses grow? Yes. Yes, I am. In fact, I pray for these people as well. And I. That's that's beautiful. It's a wonderful thing. And we and we do business with. Sure. Several of them. We all we all benefit to see other people growing as stewards and managers. That's right. And you mentioned a moment ago the culture that we live in is one that values opportunity. And the system that we've benefited from is one that gives people opportunity to to go to work, to to create, to be innovative and entrepreneurial and try new things. And given the human element of business, I wonder, do you think that the Christian faith has had an influence in that system of opportunity and innovation? Yeah, I, I think it's a it's an amazing influence in the marketplace. I am a part of an organization called Fellowship of Christian Companies International, and I have lunch with a group of fellows every Tuesday, and that is our task to be alert and recognize what God is wanting to do at this point in time in the marketplace. We all have a connectedness with a population that generally does not expose themselves to any kind of Christian instruction. But it's it's the Council of the Lord Jesus that I believe enables us and to access to do a surpassing job of managerial organization and execution of elevating the bar. And another thing my father taught me. He said, Whenever you do a job. Always stand back at the conclusion and ask yourself how you can improve on that the next time. And my son has embraced the statement Do it better as a constant reminder that we keep raising the bar. And I believe that's glory to God.

[00:30:06] And I think it's a Christian framework that enables us to have that ever present in our mind, our motivation and the results that are derived from that. You know, in a in an earlier class. In this series, we looked at a chart that showed the economic history of the world as measured in dollars. And it's a it's a it's a low it's a flat low line for the as far back as we have any historical records. And then in the 16th century, it just starts to go up and then it begins to go up faster and faster. And one of the questions we were looking at is what what was the cause of that? That suddenly we have a totally different economic world than anyone in the history of humanity had. And it's it's a striking coincidence that the the Protestant Reformation is one of the important things going on at that time. Yeah. Would your experience suggest that there's a connection between that that that Christian faith and that evangelical faith? I think there is. I think that very definitely, as you know, Max Weber would affirm that in his reflections over 100 years ago. But even more recently in the early nineties, Michael Novak was puzzling over how is it that South American continent, robust and rich in natural force resources and the North American continent robust and rich in natural resources? One continent is living primarily in third world, impoverishment the other. Is the most thriving economy in the entire world. And and his conclusion and and he sees making this statement as a Jesuit. He said so much of the wealth was siphoned off out of South America and shipped to Rome, and it just left those people without any thing to develop with and to increase and flourish in their economies.

[00:32:27] And and in in North America, we were able to invest and reinvest and expand and develop. And I think one thing that the Reformation brought was the recognition and the acknowledgment that every person. Is a priest. Hmm. We all do it. Regardless of the strata that we operate in. We have a contribution to make to help and assist and elevate the conditions for the people around us. And and I think that has inspired innumerable institutions. And whether it's in the realm of business or medicine or research or theology, music, the arts. It's like every individual human being understands. We're not peons. We are individuals created in the image of God with a noble task before us. And to search that out, seek it and find it is the the greatest pleasure of life. And and I think that that was part of Martin Luther's movement from the beginning. If you look at the 95 theses there. Luther's not yet in the 95 theses getting into things like just debates over justification or the authority of scripture. And that's what theologians today mostly look back on when they look at the Reformation. The 95 theses are about what you've just described, standing up to this hierarchy that says only a certain few people at the top are the real the people with a stewardship mandate, the people who are here to bring us spirituality and here to do good to our neighbors, and that the ordinary person is there to do ordinary work, which is ordinary and not accomplishing God's purposes in the world in anything like the way these few special people are doing. And Luther's 95 theses are essentially standing up to that, do that dualism. Yes. In the church you might also be interested just hearing you bring that example from Michael Novak, the the latest sociology of studying.

[00:35:17] There's now a big evangelical revival in South America, and they are finding that the same pattern is emerging, that as the evangelical gospel is going forward, behavior is changing and it is leading to the same types of developments that that happened in other parts of the world and is producing economic flourishing, that people are working harder, prioritizing the needs of their neighbors, you know, restraining their selfish desires and, you know, living frugally and and and self sacrificially and working hard and forming businesses and entrepreneurship is happening. And it's at an early stage. But I think we're seeing the same thing again. Yes. Yeah. We had my wife and I regard this as a holy moment. This past January, we were signing over the balance of our stock to our children and we gathered around in the kitchen there and offered a prayer of dedication and acknowledge to the Lord the blessing. It was that our sons are not regarded as prima donnas in the organization, but they have exhibited true humility and they hold the respect of every one of the people in this company. And that was a blessing beyond description that I can have somebody come up to me in the shop and say, I want you to know this son of yours is a good man. And that's a beautiful thing. Yeah, that's a beautiful thing for a for a father. You could not ask for anything. Amen. Yeah. And, you know, going back to what you're describing that's going on in South America, we never took our kids to Disneyland, but we did take them to South America on a trek through six countries. And in Peru, we visited a place where there had been extensive conversion to Christ and where, as historically it had been a community of drunken orgies, it was transformed.

[00:37:52] Formed and it became a pinnacle of success, economic success that the Peruvian government took note of and the American government took note of, and a grand display of the transforming Awakening implantation, a vision that is unique and and a blessing to everyone in proximity. Hey, man, and God help us be a blessing to everyone in proximity. Exact pass that pass on those values to our children and listen to or to a watching world. Yes. Well, John, thank you so much for being with us. I really appreciate the conversation. Well, thank you. A privilege to be here. Thanks.

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