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

Working 9 to 5 Just to Make a Living?

Written by: on February 16, 2022

I recall hearing a story years ago that came to mind during this week’s reading. A fisherman rests under a tree in the afternoon after a day where he caught enough fish to feed his family. A businessman from another land comes and asks the fisherman why he is resting when the day still contains daylight. The fisherman states that he caught enough for the day. The businessman enthusiastically shares that if the fisherman catches more than he needs, he can sell the excess, eventually buy another boat, and catch even more. “Why would I do that,” asked the fisherman. “So you can expand. If you continue to build, you could own a fleet of fishing boats,” replied the businessman. “What would I do then?” asked the fisherman. “Then you could rest after all your hard work.” “But that is what I am doing now.” This story relates to the issue of capitalism and a work ethic that Max Weber seeks to connect to faith The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Weber’s premise asks: How did the ethics of Protestantism (especially Puritanism) influence the emergence of a “spirit of capitalism?” His work, classified as religion and philosophy, focuses on the ethics of ascetic Protestantism and its resulting capitalistic momentum. Differing from the Catholic view of ascetism applied only to religious life, Protestants expanded ascetism to an entire life structured as a means to please and reflect God. Weber argues that the modern understanding of capitalism views work and its financial rewards as an end in itself. The emergence of modern capitalism opposed traditionalism in which, like the fisherman above, people worked enough to survive and provide in the moment.[1] Not only did the capitalism view not condemn profit, but sees it as a virtuous pursuit. In seeking to unveil the source of that spirit, Weber turns to Protestant theology around calling in which one’s entire life could be dedicated to God, including one’s vocation and all that comes with it.

Weber traces Calvinistic beliefs, including predestination which believes that God determines those who are saved and those lost. The doctrine of God’s election of people before their birth gave adherents an individualistic attitude since they could not rely on others for any aspect of the expression of their salvation.[2] In order to gain confidence about those who belong to God, Calvinists looked to their success in life’s activities and the presence of profit took on the outward sign of God’s favor upon that person. Weber notes that groups like Pietists, Methodists, and Baptists also held a similar view, but not the degree of Calvinists.

Weber acknowledges that his work stands incomplete and only attributes Protestantism as one factor in the formation of the capitalist spirit. Dr. Jason Clark in his dissertation notes areas in which Weber misunderstood specific aspects of various theological streams of belief and application. Clark states “The daily life of Christians, especially their labour, becomes the sole activity for the glory of God, with attention to hard work and prosperity as signs of Christian assurance being established.”[3] As Protestantism grew, anxiety about one’s assurance of salvation also grew. Clark asserts that assurance got shifted onto “providence,” and which led not to a fulfillment of faithful Christian living but, rather, to “market imaginations” which included “non-religious imaginations for life.”[4]

In all honesty, I have never given consideration or study to the connection of faith to capitalism. As I write this blog, I sit with a view of the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon after a day of seeing a multi-faceted ministry that seeks to meet practical needs and share the gospel in a country collapsing economically. A ministry containing a school, farm, future hospital, and refugee shelter and more, requires fifty-thousand dollars to function every month. To meet those financial demands, entrepreneurship within the ministry and support from Western church and individual sources combine to sustain the effort. In this non-Western country, capitalism may be broken, but it exists painfully present every day. Beyond this country, a capitalistic movement born out of the Protestant Reformation dominates much of the world today. My naivete around the connection of faith and capitalism leaves me with more questions than answers today.

  • What theology of work and wealth do we teach beyond the obvious principles?
  • Are we subtly teaching a method of assuaging anxiety by giving a spiritual outlet for a portion of our wealth?
  • If various streams of Protestantism encouraged both accumulating wealth and living a frugal life as a way to honor God, do we still connect the totality of life to God’s glory or does a greater divide exist now than ever before?
  • In the discussion of a redistribution of wealth in this cultural moment, what do Christians add (or should they add) to the conversation?
  • What does the biblical word “contentment” mean in this discussion?

[1] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Talcott Parsons, trans. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), 58-59.

[2] Ibid., 109.

[3] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship” (diss., George Fox University, 2018), 82, https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/gfes/132.

[4] Ibid., 120-121.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

8 responses to “Working 9 to 5 Just to Make a Living?”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: the interplay between Christian faith and how that fed into the spirit of capitalism is endlessly interesting to me. The shift that took place from working hard and receiving God’s blessings to how that can give you confidence that you are in fact saved was a dangerous one. That mindset creates anxiety and causes people to constantly work themselves to death to make sure that are in fact saved. That’s not the peace and contentment that Christ talks about. In your many years of pastoring, do you find people still wrestle with this notion?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Troy, in my years of interaction with people, I honestly have not seen the desire for assurance of salvation. My experience has been that people who work themselves to death or out of a marriage/family, etc., the main reason appears to be finding a sense of purpose or meaning for their lives. People trade the God-given value, including success in vocation, for a monument to self which means to say “I matter, I achieved, I will be remembered.” I must also say, I’ve seen successful people with a genuine desire to take their marketplace skills and invest in the Kingdom of God for all the right reasons, as best as I can tell. Some folks believe they are gifted for the purpose of generosity. I know a banker who makes over a million per year and gives most of it away anonymously for ministry purposes. I cannot say I’ve seen much desire to gain confidence for salvation.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Roy: I’m jealous of your view as you wrote your post this week. The illustration you gave at the very beginning is powerful and for me, it ties back to several of the books we’ve read over this last year in being able to differentiate ourselves enough, live & lead from a place that is genuine to us, that when others insist we do something we aren’t, we can recognize why we have made our decision without being persuaded by societal values.

    While I don’t have any answers to the questions you posed, I am challenged to sit and wrestle with them as we continue to process the readings this week.

  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Roy, I too am jealous! Send us a pic tomorrow! I pray you bounce back from jetlag quickly.

    I love your post and the questions you pose at the end. I think about those things a lot. Perhaps it is the work I have been involved in, or perhaps it is my entrepreneurial spirit, but I believe those are really important questions to be asking. In that, I also believe there is peace to be found in your particular gifts, talens, and ability (shall we say calling?). I am thankful for those with a pastoral call as I believe it is a challenging call, and so desperately needed. I suppose the question for you will be, how can you use the gifts and abilities the Lord has given you for equipping all the saints?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Thanks Eric. I also believe your work amounts to calling and ministry, just with a different strategy to accomplish the mission. One struggle we face today in ministry is the sheer volume of issues and discussions underway. Economics, politics, gender, racism, globalization, etc. seems to allow for little more than skimming the surface on deep issues. The other temptation is what I call the “issue of the week” approach where we focus on the hot topic of the cultural moment. With our staff, I have advocated for a systematic approach to life with God which, I trust, will provide a solid base for faith to speak to all issues that arise.

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy, I appreciate the truth of your fisherman story. How would all this discussion be applied to the mission of Heifer International?

    When I was doing reading for our blog a couple of weeks ago I came across this: https://neilkakkar.com/capitalism.html

    How do some of these pieces impact how we consider the protestant ethic?

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    I too can relate to your fishman story. I have been that “businessman/woman” who saw the possibilities beyond the nationals. The compassion that welled up in my heart seemed to have nowhere to go if I did not do something.
    It was not until Lord forced me to sit, not my nature, an observe. He reminded me that he provides for the projects he ordains, in his time. And when I fix it, whatever it is, it creates a dependency on me (or outside resources) and distracts from the growth and dependency on him.
    I still struggle with many of the questions. But I have found greater sustainability and more authentic partnership in taking more time to listen, honoring the existing culture, and empowering the nationals’ dreams while kneeing with them before the Father in intercession.
    I will be interested to hear the answers you find to your questions.

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