Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is considered to be one of the most controversial, canonical, and renowned 100 year works that foretells the Protestant influence in the creation and development of modern capitalism. Parsons describes Weber as “one of the most eminent empirical analysts of society of his time.” I connected with Weber’s stewardship theme and will attempt to draw dissertation ideas from his amazing God honoring work. My post will focus on the idea that capitalism is both “a calling” and “a religious responsibility.”
First, I examined Weber’s analysis of Luther and Calvin and how they helped him form an ethos from their Reformation theologies. He developed a thesis that Protestantism becomes the divine driving influence for advances in capitalism for the next 100 years. Houle says that in the past 100 years there have been over “2000 published scholarly items” pertaining to The Protestant Ethic. Lindbekk says that Weber’s Protestant doctrines of “worldly asceticism, secular calling, and predestination” is sound, offers the correct essentials, and displays theologically correct salvation strategies. Weber’s analysis of “self-restraint in consumption, diligence in secular work, and respect for one’s secular calling” appealed to my personal journey from public safety to military aviation to Armor of God ministry to mission aviation to market place ministry. I think I align with Luther’s position that my “calling” was set before my parents union that sparked my single cell beginning. Somehow God put my DNA in that cell, which he already knew was me before He created the universe. I do not know how, but I have a deep inner desire to believe, obey, and follow the transcendent and eminent God that knows my name. On the other hand, Calvin’s idea on calling is appealing too. If I aligned with Calvin, my calling would not be predetermined, but instead would be a “strenuous and exacting enterprise to be chosen” by me with a conditional warning to pursue “with a sense of religious responsibility.” Can my calling be both?
Second, I focused on Weber’s ideas on predestination, profit, and “secular fortune as a sign of being God’s select.” I do believe in the Augustinian doctrine of predestination, but think of it in more of an abstract reasoning inspired by the Holy Spirit that is hard to describe, but easier to believe through faith and obedience to God’s word. Profit, I agree with Weber’s use of the parable of talents to leverage his Protestant theme that we are called to be good stewards of whatever God entrusts us with. I for one do not want to receive the judgment as a wicked and slothful servant. I believe this parable and Weber’s principle applies to more than money, including anything that the Lord gives us stewardship over. My break-thru in financial stewardship happened several years ago when I began tithing through my bank’s electronic bill pay system. This might not work for everyone, but in my situation with secular-missionary vocations coupled with frequent international travel the “lock and leave” theme of biweekly tithing amounts suddenly created a similar situation for me that Weber refers to as “God’s select.” The auto-tithing option takes away all available schemes the devil normally uses to discourage, disrupt, and destroy a Christian’s weekly or monthly position on giving to the Lord. No more, I forgot my checkbook, I am out of town, I am short on cash, I will double up next week, and more well-meaning excuses. I think Weber’s idea on profit stewardship, in many cases, is a conditional contract with God, who wants to multiply our smallest attempts at obedience and faithfulness. The parable of the sower fits Weber’s position that if we sow good and profitable seed, and pursue the Lord through Protestant ideals, that we may obtain yields of 30 to 100 times our investment.
When it comes to how Weber handled his critics in the early 1900’s he was called an “intellectual street-fighter.” Weber’s book has had nine publishers and sixteen editions to date, and Gorski comments that the some revisions, especially the Parsons version, has made translation errors that impact the original intent of Weber’s work. For instance, Wahlverwandschaft was translated as “correlation” instead of “elective affinity,” which Weber meant to show as a specific type of relationship. Tawney says Weber’s conclusions are “illuminating” but prone to more than one understanding. Tawney’s observation could account for the different translation interpretations over the years. Marshall downgrades Weber’s work for not developing the Biblical “stewardship” doctrine saying that God “demands” self-restraint, hard work, and efficiency. I thought of Mark’s philanthropy ministry and the idea that Weber endorsed a profit motive in his thesis. I am looking forward to reading his post on Weber’s ideas.
In summary, I found Weber’s book very challenging, inspiring, and I was able to find spiritual truths that encouraged me, deepened my dissertation reference list, and expanded my viewpoint on the relationships between religious asceticism and material goods. We must always remember that wealth can lead to temptation, idleness, and sin if not managed from the Christian stewardship perspective. Nevertheless, “As a performance of duty in a calling it is not only morally permissible, but actually enjoined.” Has the “lightweight cloak” of materialism become a present day “iron cage” for Protestant capitalists?