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

Jesus The Capitalist

Written by: on March 9, 2018

The title is offensive: Jesus the capitalist. Even for someone who is proud to be American, it is painful to see Jesus boiled down into a narrow ideological and political party. Jesus the Socialist, and Jesus the Communist don’t seem to work either.[1]

This relevant tension between religion and politics is part of what makes The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber such an engaging read. Overall, it is a convincing book bringing light to the previously unnoticed link between a particular combination of religion and politics. To Weber, there is no separation of church and state. They have at the very least, been very influential to each other. Granted some might say this is only an imagined connection or perhaps that there is a correlation but not necessarily a causation. Weber says that Protestants, more than other Christian denominations, have had a tendency to be driven to work. And they do this out of a sense of piety in a way that their work honors God. This “work ethic” was seedbed that allowed capitalism to rise across the west.

One of Weber’s more insightful points is his consideration of the 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (NIV). This verse has been highlighted, underlined, and championed by Protestants. Taken to it’s logical conclusion this verse would imply that even those who are rich still need to work, because work is commanded by God. Secondly, it could also imply that those who are eating, or have more to eat are being honored by God because of their faithfulness.

Something that I feel like Weber was missed was consideration of how this protestant work ethics actually has strong Jewish roots. Ancient Hebrews and the Jewish people today alike consider work to be Holy and a gift from God. This is Biblical after all! Even back in the Garden of Eden, Adam was given work before the fall had happened. While some might be confused as to why God would have given us work in paradise, the answer is simple. Work is good for us, and God gave it to us as a gift. (This also might point to the idea that there will be work in our next paradise, heaven.) Rabbi Daniel Lappin points out in Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, that this belief is what has engaged Jews to be successful in almost ever culture they have found themselves diaspora’d into. Rabbi Lappin goes farther than just saying “work is Holy”, (this is something Jews and Protestants might agree on) but also claims that to profit is Holy. This is a “one up” on Protestantism which often portrays the over-profiting businessman as a villain across all medias. Without diving into all of this Judaic worldview, the point is made that this effort toward capitalism and tendency toward industry was around long before Protestantism.

My point in bringing this is up to show how Max Weber’s claim is too strong and gives too much credit to Protestantism because much of this was around already around in its christinaity predecessor. Still, I agree with Weber that the capitalistic spirit was elevated in some ways due to Protestantism. Or was it the other way around?

This does lead me to ask deeper questions. is the Bible capitalistic? Is it Socialist? Was Jesus a Capitalist?

While these are too big of questions to answer here, I have a few thoughts. First, you could view Genesis 23 and the story of Abraham buying land as an indicator of Capitalism[2]. Second, the story of Naboth and King Ahab seems to be an obvious rejection of Socialistic ideas.[3] And yet when we look at the early church of Christianity we see much more sharing and socialistic framework.[4] And Lastly, one more thing to make all of this just that much more confusing, Israel itself today can’t seem to decide if it is socialist or capitalist. The best definition of Israel I can find is that it is a “corporate socialism”. Which is somewhat of a meshing of it all, although one should know that calling someone a “capitalist” in Israel is quite the pejorative.[5]

One last concern I had about Weber was on his conversation about wealth. At times this sounded like a primer to prosperity gospel and in fact , t could have actually laid the groundwork for the prosperity gospel to form. Or perhaps it just points us to the cause of the prosperity gospel that the formation of Protestantism made it so the prosperity gospel was only a matter of time. In fact, there is a missing link we need to talk about. If Protestantism did not lead to the prosperity Gospel it certainly was a major contributing factor to the overwhelming belief of Manifest Destiny of Americans in the 19th century. Prosperity Gospel is wrong because of it’s emphasis. There are very few things that made it into all four gospel, and of those Jesus saying “deny yourself and carry your cross” is in each gospel. If this was Jesus’ main emphasis, it should be our main emphasis as well. The prosperity Gospel steals focus away from dying and serving and shifts it on to blessings and optimism.



[1] Jesus the Benevolent Dictator is the correct answer. Unfortunately, this title does not quite apply until his Second coming.

[2] Charles Eaton, Social Vs. Capitalism Lecture.

[3] 1 Kings 21

[4] Acts 2:45

[5] “Is Israel a Socialist Nation,” Quora, https://www.quora.com/Is-Israel-a-socialist-nation.


About the Author

Kyle Chalko

9 responses to “Jesus The Capitalist”

  1. M. Webb says:

    Really nice job summarizing Weber into a “combination of religion and politics.” There are a lot of countries out there that do not separate church-and-state. Unfortunately, most of those do not recognize Christianity as the dominant religion. Thanks for crediting the Jews with a work ethic that predates Protestantism. I think when Jesus worked as a carpenter, I am sure he felt satisfaction for a job well done. I think God wired us this way, despite all the arguing between Luther and Calvin, I think we are just that way as part of God’s creation.
    I wonder what it was like to work in Eden? Can you imagine, being created in the Triune image of God, as a young adult, and getting to manage and work in a garden. I’m sure this garden was something wonderful, elaborate, and amazing; even supernatural to our level of understanding.
    Nice close with a proper slaying of prosperity teachings. I won’t honor it as a Gospel, there is only one Gospel, and that is the Good News of Jesus Christ.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Kyle,

    I appreciate your denial of the prosperity preaching. Thank you for exposing this for what it is–heresy.

    Your title was thought provoking and made me wonder if Jesus, being a carpenter along with Joseph, sold his goods for a profit? Then he was a capitalist…

  3. Trisha Welstad says:

    You mention Judaism as the missed aspect history and background for comparison to Protestantism. I think this is an interesting insight. As you know, Protestantism is directly developed out of Catholicism and my understanding from Weber is that he was comparing the Catholic state with those that were Protestant and seeing that they were on the whole more prosperous which led him to ask the questions of how capitalism and Protestantism were related. Do you see this in the text? Also, where do you situate Catholicism in your argument?

  4. Jennifer Williamson says:

    I read some critiques that pointed to the Jewish aspect that you have highlighted bere, which was, of course, an important omission as we look back at Weber being a voice in in pre-Hilter Germany.

    I have worked with Europeans overseas who have said that American Missionaries are known for going home when the going gets tough because they easily see challenges and obstacles as evidence that God is NOT calling them to remain. IS that just another twist on the prosperity gospel and an unwillingness to take up our cross?

  5. Chris Pritchett says:

    This was brilliant, Kyle. I loved how you began with the picture of Jesus in a suit and considered the offensive nature of pinning Jesus down to any one ideology or party. It seems to me that there are aspects of communism, socialism, and capitalism that are all represented in his life and teaching, and even more so the early the church.

  6. Jason Turbeville says:

    Great connection with the prosperity Gospel. I will be honest with you it was very hard for me to come to Christ because of the prosperity preachers. I hated the way they worked so hard for money. I do agree that while protestant teachings may not have bred the prosperity preachers it certainly did not stop them.


  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Jesus the Capitalist…I heard that Man could pull coins from a fish if He needed them. HMMMM.

    Kyle, I am glad that you referenced the 2 Thessalonians 3:10 scripture, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”; because, when this is actually put in context, Paul is talking about the lesson he taught others concerning being a burden to others. I am curious how we have come so far in modern thought from a concept that was about contributing to the whole, and twisted it into “what’s in it for me?” It is that same old “me, me, me” problem, only now it has penetrated the church in a major way. Paul also taught on the rights of someone serving to receive a wage for their efforts, but even that we now seem to feel we have this entitlement to “MORE” all the time.

    So how do religious leaders make sure to provide for their families and yet not come across like a bunch of entitled jerks?

  8. Jean Ollis says:

    Kyle, such a thought provoking blog! I appreciated you challenging the paradigm that protestants were the founders of a work ethic and capitalism. Great shout out to the Jewish faith as well. I loved that you used biblical stories as comparisons of capitalism and socialism! Is it challenging to deny the prosperity gospel in the heart of California?

  9. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this, Kyle,
    Yea, I don’t know that I would use our current terms like “capitalist” or “socialist”, etc, but it’s pretty clear in the Bible that Jesus’ ministry had a lot of economic themes. Not only the idea of social injustice that was going on, or the plight of the poor, but also, how our own interactions with money and it’s power in our lives was a shaping force in us. I think one of the “contributions” of the Protestant work ethic, was the way that it solidified and bolstered people’s sense that it was “okay” to make money and to earn a profit in their work. To me, that’s an important thing–but, it has also led to plenty of abuses, including among our own folks in the church. Peace out!

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