Observing that many of the most successful and well-educated business people of his day were Protestants, Max Weber, in his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, sought to answer the question: what is the connection between Protestantism and the emergence of the capitalism of his day? Drafted less as an economic expose, The Protestant Ethic reads like a sociological analysis that sought to understand why people behave the way that they do. Drafted within the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Weber, like so many others, was aware of the economic shifts that were occurring, believed he saw a unique contribution of religion to the transition and sought to articulate what that contribution was. While he is quick to point out that an ethos of capitalism had existed in myriad forms throughout history, he was especially interested in the Protestant (generally), Calvinist (specifically) ethical contributions that gave shape to contemporary capitalism.
Not a religious man, Weber was first and largely influenced by US American deist, Benjamin Franklin, who was successful at advancing business as the vocational ideal. This elevation of business to the top of the vocational food-chain replaced the previously well-regard occupations of art and spiritual contemplation as the most well-regarded vocations. Weber seemed to be attracted to Franklin’s idea that time was money and that one’s reputation as having a robust work ethic, vocational drive, honesty, and punctuality would serve the businessman well. That is, to embody such characteristics is to demonstrate to others that one is a trustworthy colleague. Influenced by Franklin, Weber adopted the idea that professional success was the highest ideal, respected those who were deemed economically elite, and thus, wondered about the connection between the perceived Protestant dominance of professional success and their faith.
Here, Weber entered into his exploration of Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist theologies and homed in on Calvinism’s doctrine of predestination. From his perspective, this doctrine was the fertile ground upon which Protestant work ethic and understanding of vocational calling emerged. In short, Weber deducted that this doctrine, which asserts that some are pre-ordained by God for eternal communion with God and others for eternal damnation, generated insecurity in the lives of Calvinist Protestants. Thus, the driving question for Calvinists was: How can I know that I am one of those elected for eternal communion rather than eternal damnation? To assuage their fear, Calvinists resurrected the Hebrew Scripture’s criterion of wealth as the metric by which they could measure their certainty on whether or not they resided within God’s favor.
In order to identify the locus of the spirit of capitalism, it is here that Weber offered his best work. He drew the connection between the doctrine of predestination, the fear it generated in Calvinists, the metric they adopted to gain confidence in their election, and the ethic of work or vocational “calling” that they developed. In so doing, Weber identified what was, from his perspective, the theological origins of contemporary capitalism: in order to pursue certainty of God’s favor measured in the acquisition of wealth, Calvinists transformed their theology of work.
While there are many detrimental implications to the doctrine of predestination, the emergence of capitalism is one that I have never considered. That said, there are three other implications that surface here that are worth our consideration. As we seek to become faith leaders within our global context who are can navigate the dynamics and implications of our history well, consideration of the following seems important. If predestination gave rise to capitalism, then it increases the doctrine’s emphasis on the individual, it encourages exploitation through unchecked consumerism, and it replaces sacrificial love as the defining characteristic of Christian faithfulness with accumulating wealth.
As Weber laid out his understanding of predestination, the notion of individualism surfaced as an unfortunate yet natural consequence. It is a natural response in that the doctrine itself successfully generates fear rather than hope. Individualism, often in the form of self-preservation, is a common response to fear. Individualism in practice seeks either the elimination of anxiety or the arrival upon a positive destination that is beneficial to the person. It is an unfortunate response in that individualism causes us to prioritize our own self-interests over and above those of others. In short, the individualism that emerges out of the doctrine of predestination and that capitalism requires is antithetical to the others-oriented, self-sacrificial way of Jesus.
In the traditional economy that Polanyi highlighted in The Great Transformation, the common good of the community was of central interest. While inequity certainly existed, the ethic of the traditional economy in some ways sought to reflect the vision of the prophet Isaiah in which he portrayed a way of life where each woman, man, and child was able to rest under the shade of their own fig tree. In this passage, work is implied, as is the equal distribution of space and resources. Within this equation of sorts, humanity is able to exist at rest with self and one another. Yet, Weber seems to suggest that, with the onset of Calvinism, the doctrine of predestination, the insecurity that it generated, and the spirit of capitalism that resulted, the accumulation of wealth in order to secure certainty of God’s affection become necessary. In short, the distortion of one’s understanding of work as an attempt to accumulation wealth in an effort to secure personal confidence in God’s favor requires the exploitation of others. The entire system is antithetical to the others-oriented, self-sacrificial way of Jesus.
Perhaps one of the most unfortunate implications of the doctrine of predestination is that it eliminates a core distinctive of the Christian tradition. Namely, in the work of Jesus on the cross and empty tomb, we do not have to wonder Whose we are. In his letter to the Ephesian community, Paul identified the entire community as “beloved.” In so doing, with confidence, he declared to them that the work of God in Jesus meant that each of them were God’s tekna, God’s beloved. God loved each of them as though every single individual was God’s only child. Because of the work of Christ, we do not have to wonder about Whose we are nor our eternal destination/existence. Fittingly, Paul continues like he did in so many other places, urging them to live lives marked by love. The fruit of love, as is designated throughout the entire New Testament was and is the indicator of Christian faithfulness. The individualism and exploitation of others generated by Predestination’s uncertainty of God’s favor replaces love with the accumulation of wealth as an indication of Christian faithfulness. This replacement, like individualism and exploitation, is antithetical to the others-oriented, self-sacrificial way of Jesus.
So where do we go from here? If, as Weber suggests, the spirit of capitalism is deeply influenced by Calvinism, Protestantism, and Evangelicalism, and if that spirit is incongruent with the Spirit of the Resurrected One, how do we think of and participate within the milieu of capitalism? From my perspective, more than taking this question very seriously, we must ask that Spirit to reawaken our imaginations to the reality of our belovedness and the necessity of courageous generosity.
 Weber, Max, Talcott Parsons, and R.H. Tawney. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003. 24
 Ibid. 17
 Ibid. 29
 Ibid. 35
 Ibid. 73
 Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Beacon Press: Boston. 2001, 258.