Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

360 view on Spirit of Capitalism

Written by: on February 16, 2022

Max Weber, the author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, discussed the relationship between the economy of modern capitalism to Protestant ethics and beliefs. Weber contends that our “secular and materialistic culture is partly indebted to a spiritual revolution: the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.”[1] Max Weber was a German sociologist, economist, and politician who first composed this idea back in 1904, and the book can be categorized under economic sociology. Weber documented and contended that Protestant ethics became the engine of the spirit of capitalism and gave way to the rise and emergence of modern capitalism. The Protestant Reformation and its aftermath brought about a transformation “in attitudes toward worldly affairs. Work gained an unprecedented dignity by being understood as a vocation or calling ordained by God.”[2] Weber traces the origin of modern capitalism to the reformation theology of Work in Man. The strength of capitalism is dependent on the protestant idea that “one’s duty consists in pursuing one’s calling, and that the individual should have a commitment to his professional activity, whatever it may consist of, irrespective of whether it appears to the detached observer as nothing but utilization of his labor or even of his property (as capital), this idea is a characteristic feature of the social ethic of capitalist culture.”[3]

This was the first time I came across the idea of the Spirit of Capitalism being powered by the Spirit of Reformation ethics. Although I can’t agree with all of Weber’s arguments and presentations, I do agree with the idea of Work and Calling that fits into modern capitalism. One of the things I admire and appreciate about America is the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. I would argue that the Spirit of Entrepreneurship is rooted in the creativity and pursuit of excellence that comes from Imago Dei, which is uniquely designed and inherited in all of us. From my experience and historical studies, modern America was built on the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. Last week, I had an opportunity to visit One World Observatory for the first time in my life in Manhattan. One World Observatory is the 360 view observatory on the 102nd floor of the newly built (formerly the fallen World Trade Center) and stands as the highest building in the US. The 360 view of NJ, Manhattan, NY, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty was breathtaking, but what caught my attention also was this digital reel that I saw going up and down the rapid elevator (47 seconds to reach 102 floors to be exact). The digital projection revealed how Manhattan was developed over the years. The majority of those tall skyscrapers were built in the 1930s. It is truly fascinating to see how the Spirit of Capitalism in America in the 19th and 20th centuries brought incredible advancements in steel, electricity, and automobiles to give rise to modern global capitalism. Weber did have many arguments definitely worth giving more thought to and digging deeper into. But, one of the worries that I see in the new emerging youths in America is the distorted and collapsed Spirit of Protestant ethics. As Dr. Clark observed, “human identity is made through the consumptive processes provided by the market, and those processes determine human relationships.”[4]  Instead of an embodiment of Biblical diligence, ownership in the gift of life, satisfaction and rejoicing in the given daily life, and grasping the holy call of Work, the new generation is being influenced by the vile and corrupted end of Capitalism driven by greed, immorality, narcissism, and slothfulness. I wonder how Weber would have a rebuttal to the current protestant ethics and Spirit of Capitalism in America.

[1] Max Weber, Peter Baehr, and Gordon C. Wells, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition (New York: Penguin Classics, 2002), ix.

[2] Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, xviii.

[3] Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 13.

[4] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (diss., George Fox University, 2018), 105, https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132.


About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

4 responses to “360 view on Spirit of Capitalism”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, your heart for younger generations comes through this post, as it has in numerous other ones. You lament the direction of the young away from the benefits of the positive side of capitalism – in what ways are you trying to reshape that direction with the youth with which you work?

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Jonathan: I also see a change in the younger generation’s view of capitalism. Instead of being a mechanism for a person to work hard, be creative, attempt something new and the faith and diligence to accomplish it, it has warped into something far less noble. Many in the younger generation sees capitalism as a negative, greed-induced worldview that only rewards the corrupt and greedy. I can see the church help correcting this negative viewpoint. How can the church aid in this?

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Jonathan: From your perspective as a Korean American, do you see any cultural connections or emphasis with capitalism? or has entrepreneurship more so been encouraged?

  4. mm Denise Johnson says:

    What a wonderful experience to highlight the entrepreneurial spirit of America. I am curious about how you see the role of freedom to determine one’s future in the creative nature of the US society. I am also challenged by the deterioration of Christian character. I wonder how much the quality of relationship people have with their God contributes to this condition.

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