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Transcript

Tim Weinhold:

Amy, thanks so much for welcoming us to your home here in Charlottesville. It’s a treat to be here. We’re here because you’ve recently written some blogs for us, and we’re eager to explore in video some of the same topics that you talked about in your writings, but we hugely appreciate your sitting down to talk with us.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Absolutely. It’s my pleasure.

Tim Weinhold:

Can you tell us a little bit about your biography?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Yeah, sure. So I’ve been writing for several decades now. I see my vocational call, Tim, as really centering around the church and its mission to pursue justice and ministries of mercy. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about effective ways that congregations and faith-based ministries can respond to poverty and injustice. I’ve had a little bit of experience myself being on the front lines of an urban ministry and ran a Christian community development type ministry for a number of years, edited a magazine on international relief and development years and years and years ago. And in more recent days, I’ve gotten really into the faith and work movement, and have been doing quite a bit of teaching and training and consulting on ways that Christian leaders can help their people figure out more exciting, strategic, creative ways to live for the Kingdom of God through their daily work.

Tim Weinhold:

Let’s turn to what you’ve written for us. So in the first of those pieces, you talk about how important it is to recognize the big story of scripture and find our place in it. Can you tell us more about that?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

I’ve been really helped by writers and theologians who’ve kind of described the Bible as a four or sometimes five-chapter metanarrative, beginning with creation. So God creates this beautiful world of Shalom, peace with God, peace with self, peace with others, peace with the created order. This is his normative intention. Everything is flourishing and vibrant. But then of course, that beautiful world of creation gives way through human disobedience to the chapter that we called the fall. All of those four foundational relationships of Shalom are corrupted and tainted, and we are exiled from that Edenic paradise. And corruption and evil and sin begin to really enter the world. But because God is so faithful, he promises that this world, the paradise that we lost will be regained through a savior.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

So in the third chapter, the redemption chapter, we see Jesus coming into the scene of human history and beginning to push back the curse and beginning to restore things to the way they ought to be and to provide a way to return to the Lord and to be reconciled with God and with one another. But Jesus admits that his own work is complete in one sense and incomplete in another sense, and promises that in the final chapter of God’s big story, he will return and completely fulfill and complete the kingdom that he has inaugurated. And so we have this final chapter with heaven coming down to Earth and the New Jerusalem coming down to Earth and all of us living then in the presence of God, once again, in a world of complete righteousness where all death and decay and evil have been destroyed.

Tim Weinhold:

So I think it’s pretty clear to any of us who are thinking about this, or even sitting in the pews, listening to this periodically, that we’re living in this chapter that’s described as now and not yet. That’s a complicated chapter, particularly as it relates to what it means for us vocationally. But given the context in which you and I are talking, can you specifically try to talk about how that now and not yet maybe translates into vocational implications for people like Christian financial advisors?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

When we think about the not yet, one of the things that it reminds us is that we ought not to be utopian. We ought not to somehow think that we ourselves are going to be able to build this Kingdom of God with our own human effort. It reminds us that all of the proverbial wisdom that God provides in the Old Testament in particular, is still relevant for the world. We do still live in a world where there is fallenness and there is corruption. So, the great wisdom of Proverbs about don’t be lazy and put a little away for a rainy day and be shrewd and be careful and have a longer term perspective, all that kind of proverbial wisdom remains relevant for us in the time that we are living in.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

But, we are also living in the time of now. So Jesus has said, “The kingdom is now.” And he demonstrates the reality of the inbreaking of the kingdom through his words and through his miracles. So things are different than they were before Christ. And we live in a time where we ought to be hopeful. We ought to take risks. We ought to be particularly imaginative, and we want to be investing our money in ways that says to other people that we believe Christ has done a new thing and is doing a new thing and is redeeming and reconciling all things. And that we, through the use of God’s money that he’s entrusted to us, can participate in that newness.

Tim Weinhold:

That kind of suggests that every aspect of our life is, our lives are meant to be lived in this consciousness that they are a witness to greater lesser degrees. You have a rather interesting take on the parable of the minas in the pieces that you wrote for us. If you would just tell us about that and how we’re meant to ideally witness not just to the coming kingdom, but also to the character of the king.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

I have benefited greatly by reading Kenneth Bailey. He’s no longer alive, but he was this very well known Middle Eastern scholar and theologian. As I looked at some of his research, what I discovered was that in the West, we have typically looked at the parable of the 10 minas, the parable of the talents, as stories that are showcasing this idea that we are stewards of the master’s possessions, and we’re supposed to try to multiply those resources. And in the stories, two of the three servants do, in fact, earn a return on their investments, and they are commended by the master who returns from his long journey. The third, who buries it in the ground, is not commended and is in fact chastised by the master. And the typical interpretation has been, the two servants, they took risks. They were interested in gaining a return for the master.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

But Bailey points out that some of the language, the Greek words in these parables can be translated in different ways. And so in the West, for example, in the parable of the minas, the wealthy landowner, the master is going away on this journey to be crowned king, and then he will return. We translate it sort of, “Take this money that I’m giving you, these minas that I’m giving you. Do business with them until I return.” And so the implication is, “I’m going away. Get busy. Get productive. Put this money to work. Make me some money because I’m coming back and I’m going to ask you how much you made.” But instead of translating it, “Be busy with this work until I come back,” it can also be translated “Take these funds and get busy with them because I am coming back.”

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Here, the context of the parable is really critical. This master figure with whom Jesus identifies in both of these parables, Jesus specifically is identifying himself or God as the master. And he’s saying that this master is going to go away for a while, but he is going to return. And when he returns, he’s going to be a king. The people in the community there are very unhappy with this. They don’t like the master. They don’t trust the master. They’re not excited about the coronation of the master. They oppose the master. And of course, this also taps into the reality that Jesus is telling the disciples these parables as he himself is headed to Jerusalem, both to be crowned at Palm Sunday and to be opposed and rejected.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

So if we understand the translation as “Get busy because I am coming back,” then the argument is not so much when the master comes back, will he find that the servants have made lots of money with his money? But have the servants been willing to identify themselves publicly in the midst of this hostile community as being their master’s men doing their master’s business, being busy at publicly identified, and by that, showing their confidence that the master will rightfully return and will take up his rightful position and throne? So it’s really the faithfulness of the servants that the master ends up commending. When he comes back, again, the Greek translation can go different ways. In the West, we’ve interpreted the passages as saying the master comes back and essentially asks, how much did you make with it? How much did you gain? Whereas Bailey says that the Greek can also there mean, how much business did you transact? Not how much did you make, but how frequently were you out there aligning yourselves with me?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

It struck me that Bailey’s interpretation is really more persuasive because in that culture, the servants, in order to be commended for faithfulness, which is what they are commended for, they’re not commended. The masters would come back and say, “Wow, you made me all this money. I’m so happy.” In fact, the master seems to think that even though the money that he gave them, whether it’s talents or minas, he calls it a little thing. You’ve been faithful with a little. Well, it wasn’t a little. It was like 16 years wages, right? But the master is so massively wealthy that it’s actually a little thing.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

So we begin to realize, it’s not really that he was super interested in how much money, he wanted to know, “Were you acting in my stead? Were you acting in a way aligned with me? Were you acting in ways making the kinds of investments that I would have made? That’s how the culture of the day understood faithfulness, was that the steward or the servant was attempting to mimic as closely as possible, the character, the passions, the priorities of the master. So what the master really seems to be interested in is, how did you use this money? Did you make the kinds of investments I myself would have made that are in line with my character as a good and just king?

Tim Weinhold:

It strikes me that, in a lot of ways, what you’re describing is investing that is meant to really visibly, tangibly reflect this king and kingdom who we serve but that’s kind of abstract. What would it mean practically, do you think, for investors to really grapple with that today?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Well, I think going back to that idea about the foolish investments that we talked about, I think one of the things is to look at where are there opportunities to add value with our investments in markets or with places or populations that others are not investing in because they don’t see much potential there, or they sort of look down. Right? So the investor that says, “Well, no, actually I know that this neighborhood is considered by many an economically distressed neighborhood and there’s no money to be made here, but I am going to invest there. I’m going to put a business there. I’m going to try to add value to that community and have my work be something that might ignite some new economic sparks in that particular place.”

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Or I think about the prison entrepreneurship program, which is, folks going in and training inmates in business development, and then investors who, as those individuals come out of prison, want to put their ventures, implement those ventures. These investors taking a risk, right? And again, it’s a little bit, you could imagine others saying, “Why would you invest in a former convict?” But this is a program that says, “Well, no, we believe that change is possible. We believe that people can be redeemed. We believe that these folks can be contributors and that their businesses are one way that they want to contribute to their communities.” And so these investors are getting behind that.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

And then I think another way that this can kind of work out practically for Christian investors really has to do with the kinds of stocks and funds that you’re investing in. Is your lens just sort of looking at the financial return that those groups are promising or offering or have made in the past? Or are you really trying to figure out, well, what exactly is the work of the business that these stocks represent? What’s happening? How are they treating their employees? What about their governance? And what kinds of stuff are they doing? Are they investing in a bunch of payday lending stores that really take advantage of people in difficult circumstances? Are they connecting themselves to the kinds of economic activity that would not reflect the heart of the master and the character of our king? So I think the desire to really seek out those investments, which both avoid the bad that the king would not want to do and undergird the possibilities of creating value, perhaps in some unfamiliar or unlikely places are the kinds of are the kinds of investments that would really delight King Jesus.

Tim Weinhold:

Now, that distinction you’re making between businesses that in one way or another are exploitive and businesses that instead are primarily aimed at human flourishing is one that I think is central to our own understanding of investing. But it also strikes me that it really ties back to something that you also talked about in what you wrote for us. And that is God’s original, what is sometimes referred to as the cultural or the creation mandate. Can you situate for us investing and other kinds of vocational activities within the thrust of that cultural mandate?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Yeah. So the cultural mandate, of course, is the term that Bible scholars give to this idea that God has called human beings to collaborate with him in the ongoing creation and development of this beautiful world that God initiates. In the garden, the first human beings are called to both tend or keep the garden, but also to work the garden or to develop it. So there’s both a preservation of that, which is harmonious and good, and also the application of human intelligence to the raw materials of creation in order to enhance their value or to kind of bring them to a higher or more sophisticated state. So for example, taking grain, and through human ingenuity and labor, producing bread, or taking grapes and producing wine.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

So all institutions and all human vocations, all these different fields of endeavor that were involved in whether it’s education or business or healthcare or science or all these different fields, that creation mandate, I think, is calling all of us to reflect on, well, within our particular field, what would it look like to both tend and work this garden that we are in? And so with investing, I think the implications are that the original creation or normative purpose for investing must be to add value, that development, the idea of developing the raw materials into something greater. So it’s suggestive that the work of the investor is to find those business ventures, that with the infusion of that extra capital, will be able to flourish even more, will be able to produce even higher quality, or will be able to bring these necessary goods and services to greater numbers of people.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

I think it’s also important to remember that this cultural mandate is given in a larger context about community whereby God is saying, “I really care about relationships, and I really care about human community. I want this society of human beings to be a brotherhood where people take responsibility for one another, where we really grasp and enact that we really are our brother’s keeper.” And so when we think about that principle with investing, I think it challenges the kind of a more traditional way, where as the investor, we’re mostly thinking about what is the financial return that’s going to come to me. Whereas if investing is supposed to be about developing, creating value, adding value, and it’s done in a context where I realize my flourishing is very much tied up with your flourishing, then as the investor, my primary focus ought to not be on how much investment earning is coming back to me, but my primary focus ought to be on how much value is the recipient of my investment now having capacity to develop. So it’s kind of another centered thing.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Now, that doesn’t mean that the investor isn’t interested at all I in returning or earning that return. But it strikes me that the primary direction of influence is, this is God’s money, first of all. It’s not our money. So it’s God’s money. What does God want done with it? Well, he wants it to be multiplied, to add value, to strengthen the work that is happening in the business sector. And the return on investment is important, in part because the labor is worthy of the hire and so the investor can certainly take their share of that. But more importantly, now there’s resources to repeat the process and to keep revolving that credit going back and back and back and back to bring about more and more and more flourishing.

Tim Weinhold:

Let me, if I could, in closing, ask you another question that pushes a little beyond where you went and what you wrote for us. But it strikes me that for pretty much all the “modern” period of investing, when people could purchase equities in public companies, but before mutual funds, Christians were necessarily bringing their values to bear in the selection of what particular companies, they thought it was appropriate to own, and which particular companies, they thought they didn’t want to own.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Right, right.

Tim Weinhold:

Mutual funds kind of changed all that. And mutual funds came along, and in effect said to the world, “Investment is really complicated. You ought to leave that to the professionals.”

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Right.

Tim Weinhold:

And there’s plenty of merit to that understanding, but it has tended to divorce, for Christians, their faith values from how they might play out in the investing world. Any thoughts about what Christians ought to be kind of grappling with in the age of mutual funds?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Mm-hmm. Couple of things. One thing I like to think about a lot is that when we keep remembering it’s not our money, it’s God’s money, we should feel a certain responsibility for it. Not to the level that we quit our day job and basically decide, “Well, I guess I better become a full-time investment manager.” Right? But to have enough of a sense of responsibility that God is going to ask us what we did with that, which was his, and therefore, to be engaged investors, not satisfied with simply completely sort of outsourcing it to whoever is going to manage it, just sort of blithely signing on the dotted line and never doing any research. Again, it’s not that you have to become the expert, but there’s got to be some middle ground where the fact that we are called to be stewards demands a certain attentiveness on our part.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

For me, personally, what that has looked like is trying to do some research to find out, are there certain kinds of mutual funds that I can learn about that actually are directing the lion share of their investments into the kinds of things that I think do contribute to human flourishing? And are they avoiding investing in those things which are exploitive or extractive? Of course, there are such organizations, and the whole field of socially responsible investing has developed around that.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

In more recent years, I think that there’s been a small, but growing movement of which I think Eventide’s at the forefront, going even beyond that to really thinking biblically about, “Okay, well, what is this big story of God’s mission in the world?” And the fact that he’s redeeming and renewing all things, the fact that he’s passionate about human flourishing and all these different sectors of society, how do we get our investments aligned with that mission and with that vision? How do we find the people, the leaders, the companies that are engaged in the kinds of entrepreneurial activities that advance all of that?So that it’s not even just a kind of a simple checklist of, “Oh, here’s kind of the things that are the fad, the fads among the socially responsible investing.” But even deeper than that, sort of saying, “Yeah, let’s not only avoid the bad things. Let’s really invest in that,” which is being really fruitful for human flourishing in all kinds of places and populations around the world.

Tim Weinhold:

That certainly highlights the hugely significant role that thoughtful and biblically-based Christian financial advisors can play for their clients. Any kind of concluding thoughts about the specific role of financial advisors in kind of human flourishing?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

Yeah. Well, I think that some Christian financial advisors are advising fellow believers. And in that circumstance, I think the conversation that you and I have been having is exactly the kinds of conversation that they ought to be having. I mean, I think that the Christian financial advisors ought to be making folks aware, what is happening when you make an investment? What is that making possible in the world? And is it making possible something good in the world or something not so good in the world? And finding out from those clients, what are the sorts of things you’re really passionate about? What are the causes that you have a special affinity towards? How can we work your investment behavior so that it aligns with the things that you think are important and that you believe as a Christian are very important.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

And to even challenge those folks to be aware of the fact that as believers, we are nevertheless embedded in this culture, and in this culture, there’s a stream, there’s a current that is the majority current. And that majority current says that investing is about financial return and that’s the only thing you look for. And so we have to recognize that it takes some intentionality to recognize we’re in the stream, recognize we’re being carried by the current, and actually put our feet down and find a place to stand and begin to walk against that current.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

I think Christian financial advisors need to be bold with their client to suggest, of course, financial return is important. You want to care well for your family. You want to leave inheritance for your children. You want to be able to have money to send your kids to college. I mean, there’s good reasons why people are investing their money and hoping to make money by doing that. And those are legitimate things, but they are not the only thing. And for the Christian financial advisor to remind the Christian client of that, I think it takes a bit of chutzpa, but I also think it’s really important.

Dr. Amy Sherman:

And then I think that even the Christian financial advisor dealing with the non-believing client can nevertheless spark a conversation with that client about that client’s values and passions and interests. We’re all made in the image of God. You don’t have to be a believer in Jesus to care about modern-day slavery or be opposed to that, or you don’t have to be a dedicated Christ follower to be concerned about racial reconciliation or to be desirous that more children growing up in poverty have better schools and greater access to education. There are things that non-Christian clients may feel strongly about, and those non-Christian clients may not have sort of made the connection between their investment behavior and the fact that they’re out there marching for racial justice, or they’re writing a check to some green environmental group. Right?

Dr. Amy Sherman:

They might sort of see these things as two siloed parts of their lives, and for the advisor to kind of be able to help them recognize that, “Well, actually you can live some of those values you’re living out through your charitable giving and through your volunteering and through the things that you talk to your friends about, that you care about. All of those are things you can actually bring into this world called your investing. And I can help you identify those enterprises and mutual funds that better align with those values.” So even there, I think, with the non-believing client, the Christian advisor has the opportunity to identify where is that person passionate about, one dimension or another, of human flourishing, and then help that individual realize that their investment behavior can contribute to the advance of that dimension of human flourishing.

Tim Weinhold:

I love that. You’ve given us a lot to chew on both in what you wrote for us and now in this interview. We really thank you so much.

 

Category: Cultural Mandate, Investing, Witness
Disclosure
  • This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.

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