/ J.K. Wall

Incorporation Is Incarnation—What Apple Borrowed From Augustine

The secret to the spectacular success of Apple has been putting the right idea in the right form.

At Apple’s founding, Steve Wozniak brought the engineering insights, and Steve Jobs brought the knack for packaging those ideas in desirable and usable products.[1] The result was the Mac, the iPod and the iPhone.

Knowingly or not, Jobs and Wozniak inherited their successful formula from the 5th Century church father Augustine. Augustine’s theology said that Jesus Christ is the right idea—divine truth—embodied in the right form—human flesh and human speech.

Photo courtesy of Apple Inc.

As sinful humans, none of us has access to the divine. But Christ is both divine and human. Through his sinless humanity, he reconnects us with God the Father. Through his perfect speech, he gave us the gospel.

Augustine wasn’t the first to articulate this doctrine of the Incarnation. But he took the idea a step further. According to Calvin Troup, Augustine recommended the incarnation formula—the embodiment of divine truth in a beautiful, usable form—as the basis for preaching, writing books and, by extension, all cultural work.[2]

“Through his incarnation, Christ perfectly integrates philosophy and rhetoric, form and content,” wrote Troup, now the president of Geneva College, in his examination of Augustine’s _Confessions. _“This ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ becomes a model for temporal life because through the Incarnation the Logos volitionally enters time to enact and embody eternal principles of goodness and wisdom….”[3]

From Individuals to Institutions

Jesus, however, did not merely live out His divine-human incarnation as an individual. He also started an organization—the church. According to Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, this organization embodies and displays to the world the eternal, invisible reality of Christ.

“The [mystical] body of Christ presents itself in the world in the visible church,” Kuyper wrote in his book Pro Rege. He added, “just as the heart speaks in human language, so also must the Spirit bear witness in the Word that the church brings to the world.”[4]

So, as Kuyper argues elsewhere, if we are followers of Christ, we will participate in the organization Christ created. Being a Christian isn’t merely about believing timeless truths, nor is it merely about embodying those truths as individuals.

Likewise—and this is the important point—if we are followers of Christ, we will form organizations that incarnate divine truth into their form and action.

That’s what Christians have done for centuries, forming hospitals, universities, schools, philanthropic organizations. Each of these institutions embodied at least one of Christ’s commands—heal the sick, get wisdom, train up a child, give to the poor—in collective action.

There’s no reason this Christian entrepreneurship shouldn’t continue today—forming corporations or institutions of all kinds that collectively act out Christ’s commands.

Incorporation is, in fact, incarnation.

Can Corporations Serve Christ?

The Scottish theologian William Symington argued that every kind of “association”—whether a church, a government, a family or a business—owes obedience to Christ as King.

“Nor is it over men as individuals merely that Christ possesses power. His authority extends to _associations _of every description, domestic, civil, and ecclesiastical,” Symington wrote in his book Messiah the Prince.[5]

But what about all the institutions that don’t acknowledge Christ? What about all the businesses that are amoral or worse?

It’s true that corporations, especially business corporations, have produced much bad, as well as good. Yet some of the foremost business researchers, such as Peter Drucker and Jim Collins, have shown that the most successful corporations are those that find a true human need to serve and focus their efforts on meeting it.[6] That makes sense, because service is one of those timeless truths that Christ embodied for us. (Mark 10:45)

Furthermore, Symington adds, Christ as King uses such institutions, whether they acknowledge Him or not, to uphold the world so He can build His church.

Christians laboring in a secular corporation should call on its leaders to identify a timeless need to serve—not merely moneymaking—and then to live out that mission consistently. Apple, for example, produced “tools for the mind” that helped people create, gather, organize and share knowledge—needs humans have always had. Apple’s moneymaking is simply a sign that it has successfully met those needs.

Someday, if all or most of the owners and managers of a company become Christians, they can declare their institution what it is—an embodiment of Christ, working faithfully under Him as part of His kingdom.

Until then, Christians in secular corporations can labor faithfully, knowing that Christ the King is working through such institutions to sustain life on earth, to provide for the needs of all people and, ultimately, to build His church.

[1] Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (New York, NY : Simon & Schuster, 2014).

[2] Augustine’s theology has been massively influential on western culture. The Yale church historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, “There has, quite literally, been no century of the sixteen centuries since the conversion of Augustine in which he has not been a major intellectual, spiritual, and cultural force,” in The Mystery of Continuity: Time and History, Memory and Eternity in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1986).

[3] Calvin L. Troup, Temporality, Eternity and Wisdom: The Rhetoric of Augustine’s Confessions (Columbia, S.C.: The University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 73-75.

[4] Abraham Kuyper, Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King, vol. 2, translated by Albert Gootjes (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 122.

[5] William Symington, Messiah the Prince or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ. (Pittsburgh, Pa.: The Christian Statesman Press, 1999), 64.

[6] See Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 1994); and Peter F. Drucker with Jospeh A. Maciariello, Management: Revised Edition of Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2008).

J.K. Wall

J.K. Wall

J.K. Wall is the author of "Messiah the Prince Revisited," published by Crown & Covenant Publications. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Christina and their three boys, John, Arthur and Theodore.

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