Harvard alumnus John Cortines provided thought-provoking ideas and visions for students to ponder about the value of money

Azusa Pacific welcomed special guest John Cortines on Monday, Nov. 6 when Cortines talked about his experience at Harvard and how God worked in his life. He is the co-author of the book “God and Money” with Gregory Baumer.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) sponsored the event. The AEI has association and affiliation at APU with students working in the organization. This event was also in correlation with the History and Political Science Departments.

“I think it was an incredible turnout. The speaker and the topic itself is something that kind of transcends the degree of every major, every interest,” said Matt Ahlquist, a senior political science major. “It is really something that brings people together and it’s important because everyone has to deal with finances. This was a great area to talk about it from a Christian perspective and to talk about a sensitive issue that not a lot of people like to talk about. We were very successful with the turnout.”

Cortines has an illustrious collegiate career. Currently, he is the Chief Operating Officer of Generous Giving. Before that, he worked as a Petroleum Engineer at Chevron.

He earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University followed by two master’s degrees. Cortines received a Master of Science in Geo-Physics at King of Abdullah University of Science and Technology and a Masters of Business Administration at Harvard University.

“I arrived at Harvard. I’m a Texas guy and I’m a little nervous about going up there,” Cortines said. “Findings Christian communities as fast as I could, I joined a men’s Bible study and through that group found great community. There was actually a group of seven of us, all of us were married and we ended up saying: ‘Companies have boards of directors, why don’t people?’ So we said, ‘let’s form them.’ So we formed them and called them our ‘board of directors for life.’”

Cortines said they maintained the group through their MBA studies, graduation and to this day. They have a monthly phone call, and at least once a year they get together.

“We have kept each other accountable as husbands and fathers and men of God and employees. Also, we have walked through crises together and celebrated triumphs together,” Cortines said. “It’s been an amazing group. One thing that happened in that group is that we started talking about our finances. So what does it look like to graduate from this school where we are privileged to attend and we’ll likely end up reasonably wealthy?”

Cortines mentioned how his friend Greg [Baumer] noticed a class at Harvard’s divinity school called “God and Money.”

“It was an amazing experience,” Cortines said. “Then what happened over the next few months is that I began to realize very deeply that I had a problem with my theology of money. We went through all the scripture had to say of theological tradition in this class; discovered there are over two thousand verses on money and possessions. It was very eye-opening.”

Cortines said he and Baumer both had a spiritual problem during the “God and Money” class. During his lecture, Cortines pulled out money and talked about how money is only used for three things.

“If I have money in my hand, there is really only three things I can do with it and maybe those three things represent a money mindset that I can hold on to,” Cortines said. “So I could spend money today and that could be a spender mindset and that represents an idolatry around the things in this life. A materialist philosophy that says ‘my happiness comes from my circumstances here on earth and I need to spend money to get more of that.’”

Cortines went on to explain the two other ways people use money.

“Another thing I can do with money is save it. So a saver mindset says ‘I’m going to save money and that’s going to bring me security. That’s going to bring me identity and value in the eyes of the world rather than finding that in the eyes of God,” Cortines said. “You know, both of those are not good mindsets. Nothing wrong with spending money or saving money but that can’t be our highest ambition. The third thing you can do with money is serve others with it. So that would be a servant mindset.”

Cortines said he and Baumer did not have a servant mindset so they had to learn about it. They wrote a 30-page paper where they interviewed people about their net worth and how much they tithe. Cortines and Baumer enjoyed this so much that they decided to write an 80-page paper on the same thing.

“In that 80-page paper, God took on this adventure that we had no intent that we would write a book, but He just kept giving opportunities, opening doors and about a year later, we ended up with that book ‘God and Money How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School,’” Cortines said. “It all started with a survey, it started with a term paper and then God chose to do something with it. It surprised us.”

Cortines said people ask the wrong question.

“How much should we give? Should or do we tithe in the new covenant or not tithe? If I tithe, is it before taxes or after taxes but that is asking how much do I need to give but that’s the wrong question,” Cortines said. “The right question is how much do I need to keep?”

After his presentation about the story of the book, Cortines shared a slideshow that furthered his conversation about “God and Money.”

Two of the most intriguing slides shared qualities of people that lead to good or bad finances. The title of the first slide said “The Financial Path to Self-Destruction.” The qualities with this slide were “pride, coveting, anxiety and indifference.” The next slide said “The Financial Path to the Joy of God.” The qualities with this slide were “gratitude, contentment, trust and love.”

One student in attendance was Chinonso DomNwachukwu, a senior finance major. DomNwachukwu is the son of a pastor and his father was born and raised in Nigeria.

“My dad would always tell me, ‘Yeah. Ten percent is a good number but it shouldn’t be the max.’ What you tithe should be what your heart wants you to tithe, so pretty much the same thing John [Cortines] was saying,” DomNwachukwu said.

Cortines’ book is available on Amazon.