The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism by Max Weber makes the argument that John Calvin’s doctrine of predestination paved the way for the formulation of the protestant work ethic and in doing so birthed the ethos of capitalism. Weber, a German sociologist, fancied himself as a historian of economies. His book offered a study of the relationship between Protestant aesthetics and the emergence of the capitalism economy. Dr Clark’s dissertation, Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship provides a strong critique to some of Weber’s claims, including “Weber’s Protestant ascetic is that he offers scant methodological explanation for it“, and Weber’s narrow application of aesthetic “other than his Protestant Ethic.” The critique that peaked my interest is whether Weber’s understanding and use of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is sound. It seems as though Weber did some creative proof texting of Calvin’s institutes and in the end seems to misinterpret Calvin’s theology.
There are two key elements of Calvin’s doctrine of Predestination we must hold together, The Sovereignty of God and no free will. Weber grounded his argument of “salvation anxiety” on Predestination. Interestingly Luther’s concern of salvation was focused on the selling of indulgences, while Calvin was focused on idolatry. Both Luther and Calvin’s foci played a part in understanding sin and salvation. When one closely reads Calvin’s Institutes, one begins to see that for Calvin, the fall of creation in the Garden of Eden revealed our compulsion of idolatry. He saw humans bound to the desire to make themselves like God; this was the heart of his unpacking of no free will. For Calvin, humans will is “in total bondage to sin, sinning willfully yet under necessity (not coercion), making him utterly dependent upon God’s irresistible grace to liberate him”. Calvin believed that in God’s sovereignty, God held everything together even though so much was a mystery to humans. He believed that when humans begin to think and act out of an entitled heart, to demand we deserve to know what God is thinking or planning or saving, in our petulant hearts, we have attempted to tear down God and put ourselves in God’s place. “The human mind, when it hears this doctrine, cannot restrain its petulance, but boils and rages as if aroused by the sound of a trumpet.” For Calvin, it is God’s prerogative to save or not to save, how dare we presume to tell God how to handle salvation? To believe God is Sovereign is to trust God implicitly which in turn is made manifest in how one lives. Weber does not seem to embrace Calvin’s important theological grounding of Predestination. Weber also does not seem understand Calvin’s intentional placement of this doctrine after his discussion of Redemption in his Institutes; Derek Thomas indicates that in doing so Calvin seems to say, “that predestination is a doctrine best understood by believers after they come to know the redemptive work of Jesus Christ applied by the Holy Spirit.”
Though Weber may have misinterpreted Calvin, Clark points out that Weber’s work pushes the conversation of religion and its influence on economic markets especially concerning the curating of the ethos of capitalism. I concur with Clark that, “Ironically, ‘Weber may be right about a connection between the Protestant Ethic and the spirit of Capitalism in spite of or even because of his possible misreading of theological doctrines.’” The ever burgeoning Protestant work ethic from the time of the Reformation has had a staggering impact on social welfare. The Reformation’s turn towards personal responsibility swung the pendulum toward complacency in the church to care for the marginalized. This reality has fed the ethos of capitalism.
The “so what” for me as a leader in the church is to understand the psychology wrapped up in the identity of humans and their money. I must find the courage to challenge the inherent problems of hyper-individuality when removed from the Sovereignty of God. I must challenge the places that the Protestant work ethic and personal responsibility have mutated the humans willingness to see the Imago Dei in others. I must challenge the hearts whose “love of money” has modulated to an assurance of salvation. And if indeed, Weber’s notion that it is the anxiety of salvation that is the driving culprit for capitalism, I must utilize Friedman’s call for self-differentiation to manage that anxiety (you knew I had to go there).
 Clark, Jason Paul. n.d. “Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” 287. Page 95
 Ibid. Page 97
 Ibid Page 93
 John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960) 3.23.1
 Derek Thomas, “Bowing before the Majesty of God,” Preaching Like Calvin: Sermons from the 500th Anniversary Celebration, ed. David W. Hall (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 2010), 252.
 Clark, Jason Paul. n.d. “Evangelism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” 287. Page 79
 Ibid. Page 94