Soundings

Saints in the marketplace

Lead image Soundings
A view of the ruins at the Ancient Agora of Athens, with the Temple of Hephaestus at the far side of the archaeological site. (Source: Shutterstock)

In the past few decades, there has been an avalanche of excellent books on marketplace ministry such as Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World (2012) by the late Timothy J. Keller,1 and The Kingdom of God in Working Clothes: The Marketplace and the Reign of God (2022) by R. Paul Stevens.2

The marketplace is seen as an arena for Christian witness, ministry, and mission—and rightly so!

However, what exactly is this complex and somewhat amorphous “locale” that we have called the marketplace? What significant impact—if any at all—can the presence of Christians have on those who live, move, and have their being in it?

The modern idea of the marketplace can be traced back to the agora of ancient Greece, the most illustrious of which was located at the centre of the great city of Athens. The agora was not solely a place for trade and commerce. It was also the heart of political, social, cultural and religious activity.

In the same way, the modern marketplace—the agora of our time—cannot be reductively understood as only having to do with business and economics. It is an arena in which a lively confluence of all sorts of human activity takes place: politics, education, government, law, and of course, trade.

Christians should be alert to the fact that the modern marketplace is not ideologically or morally neutral—regardless of what some secular writers would have us believe. It is flooded with ideas, fads, trends, moral sensibilities, values and attitudes which affect lives, shape relationships and colour our understanding of reality itself.

Most significantly, the modern marketplace is influenced by worldviews which receive their inspiration from a myriad of sensibilities—such as rabid individualism and relativism—and are mostly antithetical to the Christian worldview.

Christians in the marketplace must therefore be able to discern these worldviews in their various shades and guises. To do this, they must be steeped in the teachings of Holy Scripture and allow the truths of God to govern their minds, hearts and conduct.

In other words, they must develop what the Russian Orthodox theologian, Georges Florovsky, calls “the Scriptural Mind”.3

Furthermore, even though the modern marketplace is often described as “secular”, it in fact is not—if by “secular” we mean the absence of spiritual and religious influence and vitality. Just like how the ancient agora was the home of temples dedicated to different gods, the modern marketplace is also captivated by all manner of idolatry, which are arguably more insidious than their ancient counterparts.

Just like how the ancient agora was the home of temples dedicated to different gods, the modern marketplace is also captivated by all manner of idolatry, which are arguably more insidious than their ancient counterparts.

This means that malevolent spiritual forces—invisible to the naked eye—are at work in the modern marketplace. Their influence is behind every business transaction and every human interaction, in ways that are beyond our reckoning.

The apostle Paul has described these entities variously as “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). These forces are at work in the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2), and their singular purpose is to blind minds.

Christians, however, need not despair because of this! For in that same “public space” we call the marketplace, a greater power is also at work—that of the almighty God, whose nature is love.

To put this in a different theological register: in this fallen and sinful place that we have been calling the marketplace, God’s general common grace, which Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof defines as “a grace which applies to mankind in general and to every member of the human race”, is present and at work.4

We see the outworkings of God’s grace in every humane and just policy, in every ethical business transaction, and in every generous and edifying relationship. We see evidence of this grace whenever the true, the good and the beautiful shine through in the modern agora.

The role of the Christian in the marketplace—whatever his vocation—is to point others to the God of grace through word and deed and in all his relationships. To do this, the Christian, who belongs to God’s peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9), must embody and manifest an essential distinctiveness that sets him apart from the unbelieving world—a distinctiveness which the Bible calls holiness.

The presence of saints in the modern marketplace makes a difference because they are present in a peculiar (a radically different) way. They are present to commandeer the metaphors that Jesus himself employed as salt and light (Matthew 5:13). Their presence as salt and light—which staves off decay and dispels the darkness—will in some ways effect change in the people they encounter in the modern agora.

The presence of saints in the modern marketplace makes a difference because they are present in a peculiar (a radically different) way. They are present to commandeer the metaphors that Jesus himself employed as salt and light (Matthew 5:13). Their presence as salt and light—which staves off decay and dispels the darkness—will in some ways effect change in the people they encounter in the modern agora.

To be clear, this change will not be brought about by aggressive advocacy or noisy protestations. It will be brought about by the quiet and steady obedience of a people who have been called out of darkness into God’s marvellous light, and whose lives have now become a resounding doxology (1 Peter 2:9-10).


1 Timothy J. Keller, Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012).

2 R. Paul Stevens, The Kingdom of God in Working Clothes: The Marketplace and the Reign of God (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2022).

3 See Georges Florovsky, “The Lost Scriptural Mind,” Collected Works of Georges Florovsky. Volume I: Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (Büchervertriebsanstalt, Vaduz, Europa, 1987), 9-16.

4 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans 1996), 853.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

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