But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Acts1:8, NIV

After learning that Hugh Whelchel (1952 – 2024) had passed away on Good Friday (March 29, 2024), I was deeply saddened, feeling like I’d lost one of my very best friends.

The truth is, I didn’t know Hugh that well, but, as you would understand if you knew Hugh at all and as I know Hugh would agree: When Christians are joined in Christ, they become friends instantly. Preliminaries, ramp-ups, or long periods of “quality time” are completely unnecessary.

Interviewing Hugh in 2020

Today, my memory of Hugh brings joy and laughter. You had to know him and what fun and adventure it was.

I met Hugh Whelchel first over the phone after I stumbled on the Institute of Faith Works and Economics (IFWE) website and, in their exceptional digital library, found an essay written by Michael Novak, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism 30 Years Later.” I had called Hugh to learn more about the organization. (In fact, I had already interviewed Mr. Novak, and I learned Hugh and I shared a deep admiration for him.)

Afterward, we had lunch in Tysons Corner, Virginia (outside Washington, D.C.) a couple of times, and he ended up on the board of the non-profit of which I’m the Executive Director, Praxis Circle.

I knew I would like Hugh, being a dedicated family man, when he said he’d spent 30 years in business as a “turnaround computer guy” before focusing more directly on Christian calling. I had spent a similar amount of time as an investment banker in mergers and acquisitions and private equity working with such entrepreneurs and appreciated how important they are to American business. When he said he’d tried seminary in 1977 in Richmond but left after one year because “nobody there actually believed in God,” I knew I was going to like this guy.

Also extremely unusual, prior to founding IFWE, Hugh had spent seven years without an “official” (there’s another “Hugh story” here) graduate degree in theology at the helm of the Presbyterian Reformed Theological Seminary in Fairfax, Virginia, transforming its educational model to suit our Internet and smartphone-based age. I’d been raised a Presbyterian and was very happy to see the Seminary again on solid ground. One could really benefit from the walking around advice from this man.

A couple of years later, Hugh traveled in his pick-up truck from his home in Leesburg, Virginia (Northern Virginia west of D.C.) to Richmond and stayed at our house (Beth and Doug Monroe) to speak downtown on June 19, 2019 at a Praxis Circle-sponsored luncheon. He gave a terrific talk then about his passion, the importance of work and economics to everyone Monday through Friday, but especially to Christians of every calling who attend church on Sunday . . . but might not see the connection.

(The role of work remains central to Praxis Circle’s current mission “to renew a good and free society through building worldviews.”)

On that beautiful, sunny, and cool June 19 morning, I vividly remember Hugh telling me as we went out the door and down the porch steps to my car to attend a preliminary meeting of Christians at the church my wife grew up attending, St. Mary’s Episcopal next door to our home, that he had noticed some trouble recently moving his legs. It had influenced his golf game a bit. I knew he was a golfer and had been looking forward to a game sometime on another visit, maybe later that fall.

Almost exactly five years later, I am now the age Hugh was (sixty-eight) then. That thought is extremely powerful to me now. Why? There was much Hugh would endure ahead of him that neither of us could have known. Indeed, I am still thinking about it almost everyday since Hugh died. June 2019 was just before the pandemic hit and the 2000 presidential election (already a popular subject then). Shortly thereafter, Hugh received his ALS diagnosis. We never know what lies ahead, and our time is limited.

Hugh’s life had a Jack Armstrong, Forrest Gump-like, Renaissance man, “bigger than life” quality to it, and I will not try add to the wonderful tribute paid him here by his trusted IFWE colleague, Jacque Issacs. However, I will note that, quickly after Hugh received the ALS news, he not only accepted the diagnosis, but seemed to accelerate his work for Christ with a renewed faith in God’s plan. He never once expressed fear or anger to me. Instead, he immediately made up his mind to maximize his contribution to God’s glory through his work in betterment of our world in this life with whatever time he had remaining. He never strayed from his Christian pathway, the Way.

I would say he took up his cross, but it had been on his shoulder for decades.

 

Hugh’s Praxis Circle Interview

 

A shot in his home during our 2020 interview

Soon after getting his health diagnosis I asked Hugh if he would become a Praxis Circle Contributor and film an interview, which we accomplished on September 29, 2020 at his Leesburg home, the Golden Eagle, where I met his wife Leslie. His full interview playlist appears here.

Hugh had a keen mind and was a prolific writer. In his work, he engaged with great skill the leaders, ancient and modern, atop the Christian theological and philosophical pyramid. This turnaround guy was not intimidated in the slightest by Ph.D. degrees or evangelical notoriety, and he could stand his ground and contribute with the best of them.

Hugh also had much to say about the worldview discipline and Christian worldview in particular. Lacking the space for it here, let’s just say we need to put our hearts and actions more into it, and fully integrate our Christian worldview with every aspect of our life and work.

He and IFWE’s work have had a significant influence on me. All of these characteristics are reflected in the outstanding work his IFWE team accomplished together during much of the 2010s, this team includes Anne Bradley, who is also now a Praxis Circle board member and Contributor to our educational programming.

Many of Hugh’s books

As with Hugh’s thoughts on worldview and its usefulness as an evangelical tool, I cannot in detail review here the amazing work the IFWE team did under his leadership, but his Praxis Circle interview can serve as an overview.

Another inclination Hugh and I shared was a growing concern about the abuse in the public square of the word capitalism. I believe it’s fair to say we believe Christian leaders would do well to find better ways to describe the political-economic system and epoch of time the Judeo-Christian West had created and was still shaping over 2,000 years later. He used the word shalom, which is touched on near the end here.

I am personally dedicated to this issue and have been since college in the 1970s. Several of our Praxis Circle Contributors like Hugh have expressed an interest in this same problem: Christianity is about serving Christ and about human capital, but not directly about money or machinery, as the term “capitalism” implies. Some have isolated human creativity as the primary element Western society learned to harness, primarily through Christian praxis, that distinguishes modernity.

In any case, we Christians at least need to describe the Christian world and the progress we have made in our epoch of time more clearly to distinguish it from other atheistic worldviews, such as cultural Marxism, identitarianism, and postmodernism, that have grown in popularity in America over the last 30 years and that are often are quite harmful and arguably false. This is an immense problem, and more are seeing it every day.

Since Hugh’s interview, Praxis Circle has featured Hugh’s writing and interview in 19 posts that you can review here. A sample of important IFWE books appears in the picture in front of the window looking out Hugh and Leslie’s beautiful and environmentally-friendly home. (By the way, Hugh designed and built this Jetsons-like enviro-oikos tucked away in the Leesburg countryside.)

IFWE generated a substantial library of books, pamphlets, and posts involving many esteemed scholars. Here are links to only six A+ works, a small sample, in Hugh’s honor. (Hugh was the consummate salesman for Christ, and he would not want me to stop now):

  • How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, By Hugh Whelchel (2012), 123 pages
  • For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, Edited by Anne Bradley and Art Lindsley (2014), 352 pages
  • Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions, By Anne Bradley (2016), 46 pages
  • Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth, By Scott Redd (2016), 28 pages
  • Counting the Cost: Christian Perspectives on Capitalism, Edited by Art Lindsey and Anne Bradley (2017), 369 pages
  • Set Free: Restoring Religious Freedom for All, Edited by Art Lindsey and Anne Bradley (2019), 247 pages

 

Shalom

 

Before closing (or risk a nudge from Hugh soon enough), I must mention the Jewish and Christian worldview concept featured in several Praxis Circle posts, and that is shalom. It’s the subject of Hugh’s video clip at the top of the page.

Shalom is an all-encompassing Jewish and Christian worldview concept, and it’s perhaps one of the most neglected Christian worldview foundations. (Hugh would also add that the modern church also neglects, much to its spiritual poverty, Creation and Restoration from the four-part Christian worldview scheme Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.)

As a warm up, Hugh would want me to note that Christ asks for 100% of our time and attention as Christians, and our lives should, therefore, be offered as a sacrifice to our fellow man for the common good as stewards of time and space to the glory of God. This goes for all humans for the benefit of humanity around the world.

How to “do” shalom is the issue, past these important generalities, and Hugh dedicated himself and IFWE to assessing alternatives and recommending specifics based on modern Western history.

Shalom is often referred to in sacred Jewish and Christian scripture as “peace,” but the concept, which will be defined below, is much bigger and more granular than “the opposite of war.” As it turns out, the Bible offers many specifics to complement its generalities that confirm the performance of the Western political-economy since abut 1800.

In the middle of his seminal How Then Should We Work?, Hugh cites the book of Jeremiah to refer to shalom, highlighting the phrase “the peace and prosperity of the city.” There in Jeremiah, the Jews are in exile in Babylon, and Daniel is being charged to be fruitful and work hard for the good even of his destructors and captors. And we know where Daniel’s story leads in the Bible: straight to the New Testament and Revelation. Again, Judaism and Christianity are global, never ending stories that will only resolve themselves in the end of time:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Jeremiah 29: 4 – 7, NIV

Hugh then cites Cornelius Plantinga’s definition of shalom (below). It’s what the Cultural Mandate in Genesis and Christ call us to do now, given the continuing action of the Holy Spirit:

“. . . the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight . . . Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, page 10, 1995, as quoted in How Then Should We Work, by Hugh Whelchel, page 91, in the subchapter “Our Calling to Reweave Shalom.” Bold and italics supplied.

 

A Beautiful Life

 

Shalom is what Hugh pledged himself to create every moment of every day as a Christian, family man, Church leader, and American, once he got the idea in his head. I wish I had asked him how and when shalom became so obvious and important to him.

He would say it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we love each other, keep a positive attitude toward good action in this life, and run the race God through Christ has set before each of us as uniquely gifted human beings.

How do I know this? Because that is what he told me when I visited him for the last time face-to-face at the Golden Eagle on July 29, 2022. I am grateful for the hospitality Leslie and Hugh extended during both visits there.

By the second visit Hugh was completely immobile, confined to his hospital bed, and speaking through a Stephen Hawking-like device. Most remarkably, it was the same old Hugh, sure enough!

God bless you, Hugh Whelchel. Much because of you, I will use whatever time I have left as energetically and wisely as possible for others in Christ’s honor.

We miss you, wonderful friend.

Well, if heaven and the saints ever need a turnaround, now they have their man.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28: 19 – 20, NIV