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

Christian and/or Capitalist Values?

Written by: on February 26, 2015

I came across an interesting article this week in the massive amount of reading I am doing these days.  I forget the name of the article (not a good research practice) but it took me to a link where a recent speech by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio was given.  The nature of the article was about how some democrats are field-testing some ideas to see how they might fit into Hillary Clinton’s possible platform for the 2016 Presidential run.  Rubio’s speech, was referred to as a test-pilot on the issue of “family” to get a pulse of people’s receptivity to the issue.  One of the quotes that caught my attention was when Rubio said,

“In America, if you get an education, find a good job, and wait until marriage to have children, your chances of achieving economic security and professional fulfillment are incredibly high. In fact, if everyone in America lived lives that went in this order, in the order I’ve just outlined, some estimates are that the poverty rate would be cut by an estimated 70 percent.”1

Initially upon reading this, I loved the fact that “Christian values” like family, education, hard work, and an actual prescriptive order of life, have the possibility of actually hitting the radar for the coming 2016 campaigning run.  Then upon further thinking, I realized these are just “Capitalist values” that produce economic security and success in the world we are living.  Then finally I started to think about how interrelated our Christian values are to our Capitalist values and our reading for this week began to make sense.  I believe that Rubio’s quote gives strong evidence that not only did the spirit of Capitalism come from the Protestant ethic, it is very much still alive there today.

In his book, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, Max Weber brings this tension to the forefront of the causal relationship between spiritual conditioning and the emergence and development of capitalism and a capitalist agenda.  Weber writes:

“It is true that the greater relative participation of Protestants in the ownership of capital, in management, and the upper ranks of labor in greater modern industrial and commercial enterprises, may in part be explained in terms of historical circumstances, which extend far back into the past, and in which religious affiliation is not a cause of the economic conditions, but to a certain extent appears to be a result of them.”2

What Weber is pointing to here, is the point of the cliche, “Not everything is how it seems.”  Or maybe better put, “If things do look a certain way . . . there is probably a reason.”  Basically Max Weber makes the claim and gives amazing historical evidence for the surfacing and advancing of Capitalism through the development of the Protestant church and the social implications created by a shift away from Traditionalism, a call to a “called life”, and the overall psyche a population or society needs if capitalism is going to rise and radically expand.  The truth unpacked in this book makes a clear case that while not being influenced by the Protestant ethic alone, the fact that most early capitalists were the ones with the capital, the ones with the values, and the ones know-how to see capitalism flourish . . . and oh yes, they were the Protestant ones too.

Webber gives a strong caution and calls for a balance when pursuing a greater understanding of the influencing factors that shape our culture and history.  Webber writes,

“But it is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and of history.  Each is equally possible, but each, if it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation, accomplish equally little in the interest of historical truth.”3

So as we continue to pursue and “prepare” for a greater understanding of the society in which we find ourselves, keeping a healthy, historical perspective that looks at the philosophy, the sociology, the politics, and the religion, seems like the truly most accurate way forward in our investigation.

1Marco Rubio. “Strong Values for a Strong America”, Speech at The Catholic University of America(http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=11f4cf83-b8af-443d-89c9-a1c611896f82)

2Max Webber. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Germany: Renaissance Classics, 2012. p. 1.

3Ibid., p.116


About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

10 responses to “Christian and/or Capitalist Values?”

  1. Dave Young says:

    Phil, thanks for a thoughtful post. Capitalist values vs. Christian, I guess it doesn’t necessary bother me that there are several principals in scripture that will support a strong work ethic and wise investment. The subtle twist I often see in the church is when, being so accustomed to our 401k’s and IRAs numerically growing and that we equate that numeric growth to a healthy strong retirement. That the same attitude is automatically assumed for church when the numbers go up we’re doing well – healthy and strong and when the numbers go down, well we’re heading for a crash. That’s taking our capitalist values and allowing it to inform our theology and – that’s just wrong. Again, thanks.

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Phil, Good find with the Rubio article. While I like the connections and tend to agree with that being the “better” order of living life I am reminded of the Gospel. I know you know this but it’s a good reminder that Jesus came for the screwed up, messed up, divorced, kid out of wed lock, uneducated, etc. And true thriving is when we find redemption in Jesus no matter what order life is lived. I to often confuse capitalistic thriving with Christian thriving. Thanks for reminding me.

  3. Jon Spellman says:

    Phil, it really is an example of a work of contextual theology on a massive scale. Scripture is interpreted through the lenses of a culturally defined “right” and “wrong” (self-sufficiency vs. neediness for example) and the result is that there is a tremendous amount of commonality between these interpreted, scriptural values and capitalistic principles.

    So the things that we have always called “Christian values” in the American sense are only “Christian” because of our functional hermeneutic that guides the interpretation. The problem is, what do we do with the massive amount of scripture that speaks to community living, care for the “other”, sacrificial giving, etc? Our capitalistic hermeneutic needs to avoid or recast these in order to make sense…

  4. Brian Yost says:

    Phil, it is interesting to see how so many problems in the world could be addressed by christian values. In a nation that progressively tries to exorcise biblical Christianity, even those who are anti-christian general prefer to have people with the values of love, hard work, and honesty around them.

  5. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Great post. In Rubio’s speech, there are too many IF statements. “if you get an education, find a good job…” I think this speaks loudly to the underlying issue in the American mindset. Many people don’t have the means nor opportunities to get an education or to find a job, let alone one that would be considered a “good” job. When statements like this are made, we see Christians saying and believing things like, “they made their choices in life, or why don’t they just get a job?” It breeds misunderstanding and a lack of empathy. Thanks for this reminder and example…

  6. Mary says:

    Just when you start feeling good about something (i.e. Rubio’s statement), we now have another lens. Isn’t knowledge sometimes the pits? 🙂 Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I read your post and the responding comments, I’m amazed at where we were only six months ago wondering if we’d (or at least I was) have anything interesting to say. Now we’re quoting Max Weber, Rubio, and scripture all in one post.
    I saw an image as you described the good ol’ family values, presently recognizing capitalism woven throughout. It’s like an entangled set of cords that you thought were plugged into a certain wall socket, only to find out the cords weren’t where you thought they would extend. Another source of power was commanding them. Guess it’s a good idea to stop every now and then to untangle them. Seems that knowledge does that for us.

  7. Russ Pierson says:

    Thanks, Phil, for a thoughtful consideration of Weber–and as your colleagues have noted, you’ve done a marvelous job drawing in current events and Big Picture concepts. I love your realization that sometimes what we think of as “Christian” values are really more “cultural” or–in this case–even “capitalistic” values. It reminds me that I have a friend who tells the story of a guy he met who introduced himself as “a capitalist, an American and a Christian … in that order”!

    That is surely the wrong order.

    After spending most of my adult life in full-time ministry, these days I work at a community college in Oregon. So knowing what I know about the students in our school and others like ours, I’m always interested in how politicians (in both parties) posture themselves on different issues like this. While I definitely agree with Senator Rubio that “… if you get an education, find a good job, and wait until marriage to have children”–in that order–things will tend to go well for you, community colleges are filled with young people who come from backgrounds where the decks are stacked against them, and with older adults on their second, third or fourth chance at building a life to sustain themselves. To make matters worse, Oregon ranks 47th among the 50 states in its financial support of higher ed. Ouch!

    There’s an incredibly complex interplay between faith, economics and culture, and I’m really happy you and your cohort are wrestling through these issues!



  8. Travis Biglow says:

    Hey Phil,

    I dont like to sound the same all the time but some things just are the truth and the American Dream and values dont seem to exist. In the begining of the 19th and 20th century capitalism might have been more acceptable. But now it just seems like that just does not fit are climate today. I am becoming more connected with God’s plan on earth for believers because i just do see values being worth much when capitalist people run the world!

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