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

Show Me Your Faith by Showing Me Your Works

Written by: on February 17, 2022

In Max Weber’s book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the idea of religion shaping human characteristics, such as industriousness and self-denial, can positively affect the creation of wealth among the citizens of a nation. The premise of this book is immensely fascinating. The interplay of how faith shapes an individual’s work is interesting to study by itself. But how the faith of a group people can shape an entire nation and create a whole new worldview of economics is worthy of serious research and discussion.

Weber states, “These Puritans placed systematic work and a striving for profit in the middle of their lives for reasons related to their all-consuming questions: Am I among the saved?” (p.9). These religious people of the American Colonies, as well as in England and the Netherlands, wrestled with the notion of “once saved, always saved”. To find their answer they looked more to their worldly success and material prosperity than to the Bible. If their crops were abundant on a certain year, then they are in the good graces of God and their salvation was secure. But if the crops failed, their child got sick, and one of their oxen died, then God was displeased with them and their salvation was no longer secure. It is a precarious way to live and makes one’s faith always unstable. That is the negative side of their theology. The fear of not knowing if eternity with their God and redeemer awaits them after the grave is indeed a deep-seated fear.

But there is an enormous positive side the Puritan mind and their work ethic. It made for great accomplishments, creativity and economic growth. Weber explores at length this explosion in work productivity and the mindset of capitalism that fostered it. Far from being opposed to each other, Christian faith and Capitalism complemented each other to free the individual to work hard and create. Dr. Clark in his dissertation states, “Weber’s Protestant thesis arose in response to the question of why modern capitalism has emerged with the pursuit of profit and had not done so previously.”(p.78) It is a fascinating answer and part of it has to do with an individual’s sense of calling to take their own work seriously and with an entrepreneurial spirit. Weber states, “Puritanism, which grew out of Calvinism, provides the most consistent foundation for the idea of vocational calling” (p.158). When one approaches their daily work with a mindset that God is calling them to this specific task, one has a tendency to take their work a little more seriously.

The historical lens that Weber gives the reader is helpful. He traces the roots of how faith and economics interacted with each other back to the middle-ages. This proves helpful, as I came to better understand how the differences in the predominantly Roman Catholic nations of Europe and the Protestant nations of Europe nations played out. There is continuity and growth in these divergent ideas when the New World starts to get settled and the particular brand of American Capitalism takes root. All this historical context helps a Christian’s depth of understanding when the church today debates ideas such as the Prosperity Gospel and Once Save, Always Saved. We have argued these ideas before and Weber does a great job of explaining the history of these ideas.

It would be interesting to know what Augustine would think of this discussion and the history that Weber traces. Augustine separated the City of Man and the City of God dramatically and decisively, but I think he had wisdom enough to understand how God’s ways can be employed in this life to help build this world and at the same time build the Kingdom of God. Our work is not mutually exclusive—and we can build both at the same time. In the profound reflections of Forrest Gump, while standing over Jenny’s grave: “I think it’s both. Both happening at the same time.”

About the Author


Troy Rappold

B.A. Communication - University of Colorado M.Div. Theology - Cincinnati Christian University Currently enrolled in D. Min. program at George Fox University

17 responses to “Show Me Your Faith by Showing Me Your Works”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Troy, you win this week’s posts by quoting that great theologian, Forrest Gump. Love it. You reference the prosperity gospel near the end of your post. Do you see that as an extreme example in this day of searching for God’s assurance or do you think it represents a way to leverage God for our benefit?

    • mm Troy Rappold says:

      I think it can be an example of trying to reassure ourselves of God’s salvation. I know I have been guilty of that in the past. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to want to confirm your sense of salvation and to look to God for signs of fruit. But of course some people take it too far and seek only more and more ‘fruit’ instead of God himself. The striving must always be to have more of Him.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Troy: Wonderful post this week of the readings. I so appreciate your constant contextualization of our readings within the larger historical framework.

    I’m wondering if you have any perspective on those practicing Islam and their relationship to capitalism in light of the readings and your statement towards the beginning of “how the faith of a group people can shape an entire nation and create a whole new worldview of economics is worthy of serious research and discussion.” So much of what I have witnessed and superficially studied shows this correlation between the expansion of the faith with industry.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hey there Kayli. I’d love to hear more from you about your curiosity of the relationship between those who practice Isalm and capitalism. Living as I do in the Islamic majority world, my context has been on my mind in this week’s readings as well. I’d love to talk further with you on this and understand better your question posed here.

      • Kayli Hillebrand says:

        Hi Elmarie: I’ve taken a loose notice of this over the years, first prompted by seeing a large amount of land in the central valley of CA being purchased by Muslims. The land ownership, as well as how many Muslim engineers are involved in some of the leading industry developments (technology, transportation, etc) have made me interested in how the sheer volume of presence in certain fields or land ownership may impact the influence of Islam on the surrounding society. With Islam being one of the, if not the fastest growing religion in the world, it makes me wonder what correlations may exists.

    • mm Troy Rappold says:

      Kayli: I’ve never thought of an Islamic viewpoint on this subject of capitalism. It would be interesting to have a thoughtful discussion with such an individual. How does their faith play into their work? do they also look for signs of ‘fruit’ as a confirmation that they are walking in faithfulness and obedience with their creator? I would love to have a discussion about this subject with the right person.

  3. Troy, your writing is so smooth and easy to track. Thank you for this synthesis. You wrote, “When one approaches their daily work with a mindset that God is calling them to this specific task, one has a tendency to take their work a little more seriously.”

    With the current “Great Resignation” I wonder if we’re seeing a disenchantment with the Protestant Ethic mythology. Within Christian higher ed we are seeing a mass exodus of Millennials and Gen Xers into fields such as tech, talent management, and government based jobs. A common theme is this disenchantment with the Protestant-based narrative that “God has called me here for a higher purpose.”

    Certainly, connection between self, the Divine and work are essential and meaningful. What way forward do you imagine there is for meaningful work and the disenchantment of the Great Resignation?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Michael can you say more about this, “Within Christian higher ed we are seeing a mass exodus of Millennials and Gen Xers into fields such as tech, talent management, and government based jobs. A common theme is this disenchantment with the Protestant-based narrative that “God has called me here for a higher purpose.”?

    • mm Troy Rappold says:

      Thanks Michael: I didn’t know about this disenfranchisement that is happening with Mills and GenXers. The way forward has to be following Christ in obedience and always seeking to be in the will of God. That is always the safest place to be. When an individual has that as their focus, then the specific work that God has called them to do is a manifestation of that. That has worked for me, even when I was in a job I disliked.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Troy, I love that you quoted Forest Gump! A classic, and a great line.

    At this point in life, I would agree with you, that it seems to be both. As the saying goes, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. At times we (myself included) have that tendency. I know that I have done that in the past as it relates to the ‘model of church’ that works best. However, many years later, I see that the model of church we worked in and planted for 13 years (networks of house churches with no paid staff but elder run) were really great, but that just the same God can use the big mega church. Ironically, we are now part of the biggest mega church in Montana (and maybe the northwest) since I stepped out of pastoring in 2015. Oh, the irony of the Lord.

    All that said, ‘both.’ I like it. Seems wise and seasoned to me, especially in regard to money, work, capitalism, etc.

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Troy. I always appreciate your posts because you often come at things from a different perspective that I do. Thank you for the gift of sharing another lens into this week’s readings. You take up especially Weber’s focus on call/vocation articulated by the early Reformers and his interpretation of the impact this had on nascent capitalism. You tie this to the entrepreneurial spirit. I’m curious how you understand, from a Christian discipleship perspective, the interaction between the opportunities created by capitalism for entrepreneurship and the creation of wealth as an end goal and the God’s call to seek economic justice, especially for those most marginalized and/or vulnerable in a particular society (I’m thinking especially of Isaiah 58 and Jeremiah 29:7 coupled with Isaiah 61 and Christ’s own understanding of his call found in Luke 4 which is drawn from Isaiah 61)?

    • mm Troy Rappold says:

      Elmarie: I love the opportunities that capitalism creates. There is a freedom that reminds me of walking with Jesus. We can have as much of Jesus as we want and with our work there is freedom and we can express our selves and creativity in our work. But yes, the goal is not wealth at the end; the goal is God himself. And if a person does end up having great wealth, there is an obligation to steward that for the benefit of others and not just spend it on yourself. Responsibility within the confines of freedom; justice within the confines of liberty–it just rings so true to me.

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Troy thank you for your synthesis.

    I am always intrigued by your historical connections.

    One of the things I think Weber misses are those connections. Calvin didn’t write in a vacuum. He was responding to particular cultural/societal issues. Have you done research into the context of Calvin’s writings?

    • mm Troy Rappold says:

      Nicole: I have read Calvin and many other Reformers over the years. Calvin was so great and a good translation makes his prose sound contemporary and relatable. It would be interesting to hear what Calvin would have to say about the powerful variety of American capitalism that has come to so influence the entire world.

  7. mm Denise Johnson says:

    I agree that it is a both/and situation. I also wondered what Augustine might say about our current situation. With that in mind, I wonder if we could not benefit from a bit more holy fear. I am not sure how to resolve that with my thoughts about an all-loving God. Yet the nature of humanity often seems to step up when there is an understanding of some consequence. I know I do better with some pressure, but too much pressure I shutdown or rebel. I wonder what the balance is. And is it possible to achieve.

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