Well-known German sociologist and historian, Max Weber made significant contributions to the fields of social science and cross-cultural studies. In his work, The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism, he argues that the stimulus of capitalism had a spiritual root, namely from the Calvinists. As a book categorized within the social sciences, the historical significance that Weber contributes to the conversation surrounding the relationship between religion and capitalism provides valuable understanding that only builds upon previous conversations we have had on Evangelicalism. I must admit that this reading was a bit drier for me to navigate through, but I found a few online videos that helped contextualize Weber’s concepts.
At the crux of what Weber articulated was that the Calvinists, and specifically their belief in predestination, became a driving force for the expansion of this “Spirit” of capitalism. Their conviction that their contribution to society came through the form of work encouraged them to find their assurance through industry, perpetuating capitalistic growth. In terms of the Protestant ethic, Protestants criticized the ascetic ideals of Catholics while Catholics accused Protestants of striving towards materialism and focusing on a secularized way of life. The well-known express of “either eat well or sleep soundly” referred to the Protestants desire to eat well, living in the lavish, while the Catholics chose to sleep soundly, committed to a more spiritual way of life. The tension that existed, and still does, between such dramatically opposing viewpoints has thus created and perpetuated ways of living and being that impact society at large.
While going through the reading this week, it was fascinating to hold conversations with my husband, a fifth-grade teacher, who switched from teaching at an Assemblies of God affiliated school to a Calvin affiliated school. While his theological training is much more advanced than mine, even he has been caught off guard by a small sect of staff that hold such extreme (perhaps fundamental?) views on certain religious topics. Recently in reflecting with the head of his school about conversations with the pastor of the associated church, my husband expressed that he has simply never encountered someone before that professes following Jesus but holds rigid views in terms of prayer, the Holy Spirit, and a host of other biblical concepts. The response from his supervisor: “you shouldn’t have met very many.” But in furthering our conversations at home and me discussing Weber’s discussion on capitalism and the emphasis of Calvinists building up capital through trade, he was able to recognize the mass amounts of wealth and industry leaders represented by the families at his school. And yet, the contrast between knowing about God and knowing God is crystal clear through his conversations and interactions with some.
While I have largely grown up and worked in non-denominational or Pentecostal environments, the readings of Bebbington and Weber have driven me back to reflecting on John 17 and the being in but not of the world. Verse 11 clearly states that we wouldn’t be taken from the world but kept from the evil one. In relation to capitalism and discussions of money throughout the Bible, similar sentiments are expressed: money in and of itself is not evil, but it is the love of money that is considered a root of all kinds of evil. Surprising even myself, I circle back to Augustine and his emphasis on why we love and seek after what we do. The Calvinists may have spurred on a capitalist economy through seeking assurance in their works which can be argued to have had both positive and negative societal impacts, but ultimately it makes me question how I can today, living and leading within a very capitalistic society, can keep my eyes fixed on the one who bring true, everlasting abundance through eternal life. How do I leverage industry for the advancement of the kingdom? How do I work with excellence and use the skills and giftings given me to meet real- and Kingdom-needs? How do I help usher those who may know a lot about God into a space where they can actually know Him in a personal, transformational way? How do I engage in this world in meaningful ways while the fruit of my life still reflect the Spirit?
 BBC, “Max Weber and The Protestant Ethic.” Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-0sIHDzsU4
 Weber, 5.
 1 Timothy 6:10