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

Doing Stewardship Weber Style

Written by: on March 8, 2018

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.”[1]  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.”[2]

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.[3]  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.[4]  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.[5]  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.”[6]  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.”[7]  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.[8] 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.[9]

When it comes to how Weber handled his critics in the early 1900’s he was called an “intellectual street-fighter.”[10]  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.[11]  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.[12]  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.[13] 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.”[14] Has the “lightweight cloak” of materialism become a present day “iron cage” for Protestant capitalists?[15]

Stand firm,

M. Webb

[1] Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, and R.H. Tawney. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003) Kindle Edition, Location 80.
[2] Ibid., 164.
[3] Jason Houle, Breandan Jennings, G. W. F Meyer, Pat Rafail, and Richard Simon. “Book Review: Weber, Passion and Profits: ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ in Context.” Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews 38, no. 6 (2009): 602.
[4] Tore Lindbekk. “Book Reviews : Gordon Marshall: In Search of the Spirit of Capitalism. Aldershot, Hampshire: Gregg Revivals, 1982; Reissued 1993; Michael H. Lessnoff: The Spirit of Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic. Brookfield, Vermont: Edward Elgar, 1994; H. Lehmann & G. Roth (eds.): Weber’s Protestant Ethic. Origins, Evidence, Contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.” Acta Sociologica 40, no. 3 (1997): 315.
[5] Weber, Protestant Ethic, 1929.
[6] Ibid., 160.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Matt. 25:14-30.
[9] Matt. 13:23.
[10]Philip S. Gorski. “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.(Book Review).” Social Forces 82, no. 2 (2003): 835.
[11] Ibid., 834.
[12] Weber, Protestant Ethic, 250.
[13] Lindbekk, Review Protestant Ethic, 316.
[14] Weber, Protestant Ethic, 1929.
[15] Gorski, Protestant Ethic, 839.

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8 responses to “Doing Stewardship Weber Style”

  1. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, Mike. I appreciated the clarity with which you wrote, articulating the intention and purpose of the post right at the beginning. You also have a particular way of applying Weber’s theories to modern day life and practice. This was great to read and right on (as Anselm said, “faith seeking understanding”): “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.”

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mike,

    So glad to hear you say, “I believe this parable and Weber’s principle applies to more than money, including anything that the Lord gives us stewardship over.” That fits in perfectly with how I will define stewardship in my dissertation–Time, Talents and Treasures.

    Thank you for your testimony on tithing, and for using auto-tithing. I really appreciate that. So many people only give if “their butts are in the pew” which is tough when the average attender now attends 1.8 times a month in America…

    Well written my Brother.

  3. Jason Turbeville says:

    Your discussion on the “auto” tithe was interesting, I have done a little research and have found church tithes go up with people able to set auto withdraws. The trouble I have with the idea is does it just become another bill to pay. There is something to turning in a tithe during the context of worship, it is part of our worship. I may be putting to much thought into this but was curious how you see this.


    • M Webb says:

      Lets talk sometime and I’ll share my story and blessing about auto tithing. Like I said, it is not for everyone, but I can guarantee God has honored it!

      Stand firm,
      M. Webb

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    “Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift of the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Matthew 23:17.

    Mike, great post. I think there is a challenge to the ministry to truly seek out the truth concerning all things; this includes blessings and money. It is so easy to convince ourselves that something is right because everyone says it is, but the real challenge is to find how God views it. We may be called to the ministry, but have we examined that ministry for its godliness or its goldliness. I have really struggled with this concept of “capitalism” in regards to the ministry, but not because I don’t agree with it, but rather because it cannot be denied. Even our advanced education has rational tied to it, and yet, where could we all spend the money from these educations for other ministry opportunities? Did we sell out to the lie or did we truly believe God called us to be more than we already were?

    I am so glad God judges the heart, because this world has a way of really clouding issues like this. I pray that we all seek His glory in this path that we have chosen?

  5. Hi Mike,

    That was a very thought provoking post; thank you. Thanks for a shout-out and opportunity to provide you with some thoughts.

    My perspective may surprise you. I don’t believe that increased wealth is a sign of God’s favour. All it is, in my view, is just more money.

    I believe Protestant values (thriftiness, hard work, shrewdness, etc) are especially compatible with capitalism and it’s clear that Protestant cultures are more likely to be more prosperous, though there are exceptions.

    But the interpretation of the parable of the talents is interesting. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I would tend to think this parable is more about stewardship of life than it is of money.

    I just struggle greatly with viewing money as an indicator of God’s blessing. In those close to me I see the pain and burden that increased wealth has brought. It hasn’t necessarily been a blessing to them.

  6. Greg says:

    Thanks Mike.

    Money definitely feels like a 2 edged sword sometimes, both needed and feared for its abuse. I appreciated your journey with the text. I for one love the “auto tithe” feature, especially where we live. I am able to give back and support the on-going work of my local fellowship with that depending on my memory (which seems to be slipping every year). thanks again.

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