DLGP

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

Thumbing Through “The Institutes” for Citations on Free Markets

Written by: on February 17, 2022

A few fun facts to comb through: The Bible addresses money over 2,172 times. To give us a little comparison, the Bible talks about “believing” 273 times, “praying” 371 times, and “love” 714 times. 

Jesus spoke of money in 16 of his 38 parables, and 1 out of 7 verses in Matthew, Mark & Luke is about money, which leaves us with Jesus talking about money 25% of the time. 

So it stands to reason that Jesus’ followers would pay careful attention to his words, such as “Do not build up treasures on earth” or “You cannot serve both God and money.” Instead of pursuing the mammon of this world with feverous zeal, Jesus’ followers turn to prayer, service, charity, worship, and spiritual formation…

Well, maybe Jesus meant something slightly different. The Calvinists knew precisely what that was, according to Max Weber, in his classic philosophical, ethics, economics, sociologist, and somewhat theological work, The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism. This might come as a shock for anyone thumbing through the Institutes of the Christian Religion for some advice on free markets, industrialism, democracy, or consumerism.

“In the course of its development, Calvinism made a positive addition: the idea of the necessity of putting one’s faith to the test in secular working life,” Weber argued. [1] 

Of course, much like the term “Evangelicalism,” capitalism has become a very dynamic word that doesn’t necessarily mean today what Weber was arguing about in this work. For many today, capitalism means commercialization, shareholders, the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer. But this is not necessarily how capitalism was conceived and formed. However, it is worth noting that there is a stained legacy of chattel slavery, severe racism, classism, gender inequality, child labor, and unsafe/unfair working conditions within a capitalistic system. 

Weber argues that the influence of Protestantism on the formation of capitalism, beginning in the 16th century, was marked by piety, hard work ethic, a denial of frivolousness, a desire to leave one’s community a better place and an eschatological mindset. 

Of course, Weber does a bit of a deep dive, specifically focusing on the influence of Calvinism and predestination. With no assurance that one is a part of the elect, Calvinistic Protestants were motivated to do the right things on this earth, according to the teachings of Jesus (the authority of Scripture) and the practices guided by the church. “Riches are only dangerous when they tempt us to idleness and sinful indulgence; and striving for riches is only dangerous when it is done with the aim of later leading a carefree life of pleasure,” Weber conveyed. [2] 

Many transcendent lessons can be lifted from the Protestant influence on Capitalism that today should consider. For example, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in the U.S., 40 percent of the wealth is owned by 1 percent of the population, while a larger share of working-age people (18-65) live in poverty than in any other nation. [3] And yet, in many well-intended Christian’s eyes, America is God’s country. 

More specifically, the church, an employer of at least a handful of staff, often lacks adequate pay, fair expectations, and employee-care practices. Should not the church be leading the way in at least a livable wage for hourly-paid workers? How often are churches continuing an inequitable social system by hiring and underpaying childcare workers, janitorial staff and working their ministerial team to the bone?

I wonder what it would look like if modern-day Protestants reexamined the many instances that Jesus spoke about money, especially some of those ghastly stances against the rich in his parables. Then, maybe once again, Christ’s followers would lead the cause of providing a fair and equitable opportunity to all, especially those whose hard work should produce a sense of economic security for their families. 

[1] Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism. (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 110.

[2] Ibid, 110. 

[3] OECD. “Inequality – Poverty Rate – OECD Data.” The OECD. 2015. https://data.oecd.org/inequality/poverty-rate.htm

About the Author

mm

Andy Hale

CBF Podcast Creator and Host, Senior Pastor of University Baptist Church (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), & Professional Coach

11 responses to “Thumbing Through “The Institutes” for Citations on Free Markets”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Andy, such a penetrating post on many levels. You reference Weber’s deep dive into Calvinistic theology and how predestination led to works of assurance of election. Why do you think that action took on a greater role in that theological system than it did in Arminian streams of thought where people “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Weber notes similar attitudes and actions but not to the degree they were found in Calvinistic predestination. My assumption would lead me to believe that those who fear a loss of salvation would work harder to gain assurance than those who believe God’s work to be sovereign. Thoughts?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Roy,

      Great thoughts! In many regards, the desire to work and use our money in ways that directly correlate to our faith is a healthy start to living out the way of Jesus. However, the crux is whether we are doing this out of obedience to Jesus and our love for God and neighbor or eternal security. The former, not the latter, might be a powerful lesson for us today as we seek to work with integrity.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Andy: Weber’s book is endlessly fascinating to me. The interplay of faith and economics; of theology and and work. The doctrine such as predestination can have a powerful effect on people’s worldview and how they approach their daily working lives. You pint out that the definition of capitalism has morphed from how Weber understood it to how people talk about it today. I see it as the best way to structure a society but so many see it as a negative worldview today. It would be interesting to see what Weber would think about the state of America if he were alive today. And conversely, I think it would benefit a lot of young people to read Weber so they would have a better historical context, Do you agree?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Troy,

      It is hard to argue that Capitalism is the best in its purest form and earliest state. But, again, this was the same time people purchased and sold other people as property.

      Not to do too much of a deep dive into economics, I think there is something to be said about the state of Capitalism today as we face a recession. As market shares and profit margins have never been more significant in the history of the United States, corporations continue to raise the price of goods because they can. Should not Christians be at the forefront of advocating for restrictions against such measures, seeing the average person’s household cost go up as the rich get richer? Should we not advocate for fair wages without the excuse from corporations that the price of goods will go up as a result? At what point does unimaginable wealth have enough while the 99% of society continues to struggle to make ends meet? And are not all these things theological matters?

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Andy: In light of your questions about the church perpetuating an inequitable social system, have you discovered or developed and principles/practices that you model your church hiring and compensation structure over?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Kayli, great question.

      The answer is yes. We are currently working through a short-term plan and long-term policies to implement livable wages, especially for our hourly-paid workers.

      I advocate for my salaried folks and make sure they take their time off, vacations, sick days, and Sabbaths.

      Most non-profits, including the church, are in a financial pinch right now, making raises complex. As a result, let’s give people more time off and increase paid vacation.

      • Kayli Hillebrand says:

        I love the creativity of teams when you can make accommodations outside of just financial. You may enjoy “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Chapman. It’s been really impactful for me to learn how my employees feel valued and adjust my methods to meet those. It also addresses how the typical recognition/reward system organizations use is not meaningful to most.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Andy, it is interesting to me how our context informs our thinking. For example, in my context of community development among the poor, I see capitalism as a pathway for transformation.

    I appreciate your thoughts at the end of the blog as well, that we as the Church should be paving the way. On so many fronts I would agree, but I will also say that it has been a struggle for me to “be in ministry” these past 24 years as there has been a real desire to engage in the business world as well. Now, in all fairness, this could be driven out of my desire to “produce” and I see the business world as an easier place to do that, whereas, if I am honest, I feel a tad guilty being paid for ministry.

    Do you every struggle with that tension?

    For many today, capitalism means commercialization, shareholders, the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Eric. Your comment to Andy’s post is so thought-provoking as you raise some important tensions in the dynamics of capitalism–especially the element of how a capitalistic system provides entrepreneurial opportunity to move from impoverishment to more financial security. I’ve seen this in my international context as well. I do wonder, however, in what ways might Christian discipleship uphold this positive aspect of capitalism (it seems like it is a visible manifestation of the creative gifts given by God for the good of the community) and at the same time challenge the destructive/exploitive elements of capitalism? Your thoughts?

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Andy, thank you for your cogent and thought-provoking post. I too found myself revisiting the Institutes due to Weber’s skewed interpretation of Calvin’s thoughts. Thank you also for highlighting the tensions that for all of the opportunity created through the capitalistic system, so much of it was built on slave labor and other atrocities. I also valued reading your replies to our colleagues responses to your blog. Thank you to all for this important conversation.

    What scriptural framework are you working with in your context as you help the church and staff community move more equitable practices (including the living wage for hourly workers)? And, how do you relate this framework to the current realities you describe so well (in other words, how do you carry-out the twin exegesis conversation of biblical text/context and present-day context)? And, what questions, pushback, and points of agreement have you encountered with staff and congregation along the way?

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Andy,
    I am often challenged by your unique perspective and this time is one of those times. I appreciate you bringing in the Scriptural references. Your thoughts on church pay for their employees hit home. I recently shredded a teaching contract I had in 1990. I made more at that time than I do now. While I have no regrets it makes you ponder. I also wonder if the church has become too reliant on church staff over the use of volunteers to provide programs and services. Have the current unhealthy Capitalism views contributed to the lack or eager volunteers? As leaders how could we shift to parishioners taken greater ownership of the workings within their church home?

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