John Lennox's Good Return: Work, Wealth & Wisdom (Part I)


Part II

John Lennox’s most recent book offers great insights for business leaders. Lennox embodies a unique combination of a person with a dual track of living his calling. He is a Professor of Mathematics (now Emeritus) at the University of Oxford and has been simultaneously a skilled Bible teacher and apologist. In addition to refereed articles in math journals he has also written extensively on science and religion, Old Testament leaders and artificial intelligence.

Lennox has been a regular part of the annual ELO Leadership Program in Oxford and he has participated in numerous ELO webinars. In the ELO Leadership Program, and in other venues, his insights have resonated with business leaders. He has also interacted with many business leaders who have supported his ministry endeavours over the years.

Lennox is skilled at bringing his unique perspective and life experiences to bear on various topics. He has now provided a book titled, A Good Return[:] Biblical Principles for Work, Wealth and Wisdom (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, 2023).

This book is not a comprehensive treatment of the work, wealth, and wisdom, but rather a unique assortment of topics under the general title. Lennox works in some autobiographical examples throughout, referring to his mentors, how his ministry was financed, his pursuit of calling, and his experience with the "sacred-secular divide."

Lennox references the classic sacred-secular divide and the nature of calling, a well-trodden territory that still needs to be addressed in any primer on Christian marketplace leadership. Lennox covers practical issues, such as supporting church work. He discusses biblical passages at great length, adding new insights to  familiar parables. He also introduces some concepts that may be new to some readers, such as that of the “Gospel Patron.”

Lennox integrates interesting bits of the history of Christianity, from Basil the Great to Brother Lawrence. He quotes widely from people as diverse as Dorothy L. Sayers, Aristotle, Jordan Peterson, and Ian McGilchrist. He discusses issues that are not commonly addressed: work related to heaven and the role of rewards as motivation.

He has a pastoral bent, posing questions for reflection such as follows: “Let me ask a direct and personal question of my readers and myself: when was the last time you and I went to work with an active sense that the Lord was sending us there?” [63] There are also questions at the end of each chapter to prod detail reflection by readers.

Lennox addresses the question of what he can add, as a professor, to the topic of Christians in the workplace. He states, “…experience has taught me that the actual issues we face in the workplace, whether in the home, factory, or office, have a great deal in common. I intend, therefore, to discuss the biblical principles that I have found helpful in my own work, in the hope that you can tweak them to apply to your own situation” [15].

Why does Lennox write a book on work, wealth, and wisdom? He highlights the importance of our work: “God Himself shows a great deal of interest in our work precisely because it really is of eternal significance” [16].In short, it is not simply a means to an end.

His objective for the book: “I shall, therefore, discuss the biblical teaching on the purpose and meaning of work in the hope of helpfully mapping out a Christian perspective and some principles on how work fist into a bigger, integrated picture of life” [19].

He covers the Sabbath. He states that the Sabbath is important for the work-rest cycle and to prevent work from becoming an idol. The Sabbath is not a “moral law” but a matter of conscience (i.e., Jesus defended his disciples breaking the Sabbath). Moral laws are norms for Christian behaviour.

With respect to work, there is an important distinction with respect to motivations. “Here [the Sermon on the Mount], Jesus is making a vital distinction between the primary motivation, the purpose (or goal) of work that is, the development of a relationship with God; and the secondary (yet important) motivations for, and outcomes (or by-products) of, work - the things that sustain us” [48].

Lennox explains that “whatever our work, we are to do it as accountable to the Lord, seeking His righteousness and desiring to develop our moral integrity” [52]. In short, work is a vital part of every believer's calling.