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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

So What is the Protestant Ethic?

Written by: on February 16, 2019

Max Weber contends that empirical evidence of greater Protestant participation in the ownership of capital, management, and the upper ranks of labor may be the result (but not the cause) of religious affiliation.[1] It would appear that the rejection of economic traditionalism often led to the tendency to question all traditionalism, even the traditional forms of authority influencing the community including the church (i.e., the Roman Catholic church).[2] Therefore, opening the door to considering an alternative form of community authority, perhaps from among the various Reformation movements. For me, while this is a curious question that this text attempts to address, I find little application towards my research concerning the development of coaching networks in global church associations. That is, while Reformation history starting in the sixteenth century is engaging and fascinating, I find little application to my research and will not be including this text among my sources.

Weber seems to recognize he is not nor is he making a theological argument but rather a cultural and psychological argument for how these Reformation religious traditions evolved and gave direction to the practical conduct of individuals.[3] I found this curious as he seemingly spent much (154 out of 183 pages) of his book parsing out the theological and historical minute details of the various sects and movements. He views predestination (as championed by Calvinism) as the genius dogmatic belief for its practical significance of providing a psychological connection between faith and conduct.[4] I am not seeing the logic of how a predetermined destiny would form the moral imperative and energy for ethical behavior in general and the zealous expenditure of labor in particular for the benefit of self and others of the community.

Weber goes on to contend that the doctrine of proof best exhibited as part of Pietism, led to methodically controlled and supervised (ascetic) conduct.[5] He goes onto provide vocational examples of Pietism (e.g., official, clerk, laborer) as compared to Calvinism (e.g., capitalistic entrepreneurs).[6] Since these doctrines and streams of the Church are not part of my faith journey, I guess I accept his claims and examples although I struggle to see the connections to his arguments.

Weber turns his attention next to Methodism with its emphasis on the emotional act of conversion including the sense of forgiveness as confirmed by the Spirit. However, per Weber, John Wesley continued to emphasize the Puritan belief of works (performed solely for God’s glory) not as a cause but as evidence of divine grace. Eventually, emotionalism led to enthusiasm coupled with rational conduct.[7]

I find Weber’s lumping together of Baptists, Mennonites, and Quakers into the
Baptists sects, again, curious. He contends that predestination has been rejected and has been replaced by the simplicity waiting on the Spirit. Also, daily conduct includes a sincere repudiation of worldly interests to demonstrate one’s new birth.[8] Weber summarizes this as a rationalization of behavior for the “sake of the world beyond.”

Weber allegedly set out to show how Protestant asceticism, while not causing, could help explain the empirical evidence of greater Protestant participation in capitalistic ventures. That is, economic forces alone were not entirely causal of producing capitalism in post-Reformation Europe and (by extension) beyond. I found his history of the Reformation movements somewhat absorbing but not necessarily compelling in articulating his arguments.

[1] Weber, Max, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, rev. ed. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003) 35-36.

[2] Ibid

[3] Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 97.

[4] Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 126.

[5] Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 132.

[6] Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 139.

[7]Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 141-143.

[8] Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 144-148.

 

About the Author

mm

Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

6 responses to “So What is the Protestant Ethic?”

  1. mm Mary Mims says:

    Harry, it is funny that we almost chose the same title for our blog. I guess I do think the book was helpful, although it is a theory, of why Christians can be so focused on getting more and believing that we are blessed because we have so much. I think Weber had some good points. For me it helps also explain why Christians were able to justify slavery, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole. It’s a lot to think about as we go forward and develop ministries. I think this book helps us know how governments run and operate, which is helpful.

    • mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Mary,
      My professor from my theology of race class emphasized the Evangelical focus on saving souls as a major justification (that is separating the body from the soul). I am curious, per Weber, if the vast majority of slave owners were Protestant rather than Catholic. I know the Catholic colonial powers of Portugal and Spain treated indigenous peoples horribly but wondered if this carried over to slavery. I never was quite sure what was Weber’s premise. Since ascetic Protestantism did not cause greater capitalism, what exactly was its relationship? Thanks Mary, for always making good points and asking good questions.

  2. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Harry. Having grown up in a strongly ascetic tradition, I can see how Weber came to some of his conclusions. There was and in some circles, still is, a strong sense of works orientation for proof of grace or continued grace. Add to this the morality that is central to much of Christian teaching as well as the theology of God’s “favor” and “blessing” and it makes sense that Weber connected these as he did. It reveals the outward emphases of these teachings rather than the transformation of the heart which Jesus continually addressed.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy, Maybe to use different language, I can see how holiness teaching would advocate one to avoid wasting resources on worldly entertainment and excesses, but I am not as easily seeing the connection to greater participation in capitalism. Have “favor” and “blessing” always been a part of holiness teaching? I had always thought this was introduced by marrying flagrant American consumerism to Pentecostal/charismatic flamboyant excesses. I so appreciate your experience helping me understand Weber.

  4. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Harry. Great critique of Weber’s writing! You noted that Weber allegedly set out to show how Protestant asceticism could help explain the empirical evidence of greater Protestant participation in capitalistic ventures, which is a good summation of his book. But I agree that his summation was not always a solid proving point for his arguments. Thanks for your engaging synopsis, Harry!

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Hello Harry, great synopsis!

    You write “Weber states the rejection of economic traditionalism often led to the tendency to question all traditionalism, even the traditional forms of authority influencing the community including the church (i.e., the Roman Catholic church).[2] Therefore, opening the door to considering an alternative form of community authority,” I wonder what form of community is the coaching community and how does one gain authority within it? Is coaching traditional or an alternative form of community? I don’t know but am just trying to make a connection to your research. Great job!

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