DMINLGP

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

Those Calvinists have a lot to answer for….

Written by: on February 9, 2017

 

Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

 

In this work on the intersection of religion, society and economics, Weber considers the link between Protestantism and wealth and capitalism. He tries to explain how capitalism was created by looking at religion and the Protestant Reformation. The this-wordly Protestants, particularly the Calvinists, seem to be outperforming the other-worldly Catholics. Weber examines why this is the case.

He links the sense of “Beruf” expressed by Martin Luther with regard to work. The German word means both work/job/occupation and calling, and Luther saw hard work as a calling and the creation of wealth as an ethical imperative.

Equally, the Calvinists stressed the importance of rationalism, honesty, punctuality, industry and frugality, which makes up what Weber refers to as the “Spirit of Capitalism.”

With their emphasis on predestination and election, and fear of not being part of the elect, the Calvinists began to see economic and business success as a sign of God’s favour and blessing, and an indication that they were heading towards heaven as part of the Elect. (Sounds a bit like the modern prosperity gospel of the affluent West. Wealth and success are a sure sign of God’s blessings and favour!)

The Spirit of Capitalism was the pursuit of ever-increasing wealth and profitability, linked with a sense of asceticism. Profits and wealth would be reinvested into the business, and increasing financial gains would follow. The Calvinists did not believe in overly luxurious lifestyles, but lived frugally and ascetically.

Thus, argues Weber, modern-day capitalism has a theological source. As rationalistic secularism spread, however, the making of money became an end in itself, and capitalism moved away from its spiritual roots and belief systems. The early moorings of a sense of calling, frugal living, honesty and constant reinvestment that marked the early Protestant work ethic, gave way over time to greed, the maximisation of profit, and the making of money as an end in itself.

 

  • The concept of calling (Beruf) to work as outlined by Luther is an interesting one. As time has gone on, many in the church have used the language of calling to refer to “spiritual” pursuits or positions. Yet we are all called of God to be creative and productive where we are, and we would do well to see the teacher in the classroom or the nurse in the hospital ward as being just as “called” as the pastor in the church. There is no sacred/secular divide.
  • The disconnection of money-making from an ethic, from its moral moorings, has led to greed, globalisation, and the near financial collapse of the banking system. As Christians, we need a theology of work and a strong ethical framework. The Protestant work ethic could be such a framework.
  • Secularisation has left the Protestant work ethic behind and seeks, for the most part, to maximise profit come what may.
  • We could do far worse than follow the guiding principles of rationalism, honesty, punctuality, industry and frugality.
  • In spite of the excesses of the prosperity gospel, thankfully most of us no longer equate wealth and prosperity as a sign that we are part of God’s elect and heading towards heaven. That would mean Trump would be near the front of the queue?!

 

About the Author

Geoff Lee

8 responses to “Those Calvinists have a lot to answer for….”

  1. Geoff, if I struggle with punctuality, does that make me a bad Calvinist?
    “Equally, the Calvinists stressed the importance of rationalism, honesty, punctuality, industry and frugality, which makes up what Weber refers to as the “Spirit of Capitalism.”
    I never knew that was attributed to Calvinists! I have learned that time was a male way of thinking and certainly a strong American principle, and blamed my struggle with punctuality on that. But then again, I guess most if not all leading Calvinists were male. When I’ve visited other countries, I see how nutty we are about time and work! In analyzing them, Calvinists seem like type A personalities and stressed out. Good for my job security, but stressed out to live with. I wonder if Oprah struggles with punctuality?

    • mm Katy Lines says:

      Time is cultural. Some contexts value it more than others. Some contexts value the present situation and relationship over a potential future situation/relationship, and thus don’t stress about arriving “on time” for something.
      Not valuing punctuality, I imagine you would do well in many parts of Africa. Living there taught me that I didn’t need to be controlled by time. 🙂

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Thank you Geoff for pointing out the differences in how we view things today from Luther’s or even Weber’s day. I admit I had to turn my modern brain off while reading the definitions of “calling”, “asceticism” and “capitalism”. It was a bit of a challenge because as you say some of the meanings are different.
    As you say, there is no sacred/secular divide (and for having a calling no male/female divide as Jen points out).
    We all are called and we all have responsibilities as individuals to be unselfish with our wealth. My question is, “Why is the prosperity Gospel so appealing?” What does that say about our hearts?

  3. Geoff I agree “Yet we are all called of God to be creative and productive where we are, and we would do well to see the teacher in the classroom or the nurse in the hospital ward as being just as “called” as the pastor in the church. There is no sacred/secular divide.”

    Working in the business world I do see my contribution and responsibility as a calling! I was once told by a minister that I would one day have to make a decision whether I would be a minister in the church or be a business woman. I told Him that God has never convicted me to make that choice but if we are not out in these sectors how can we be light in the world.

  4. Geoff, I agree with your statement to a point. “Secularisation has left the Protestant work ethic behind and seeks, for the most part, to maximize profit come what may.” The Protestant has yet learned how to be in the world but not apart of it. We, therefore, bring our worldly views into the sanctuary. We promote capitalism under the misguidance of a few scriptures, i.e. bring all ye tithes into the storehouse and watch God pour you out a blessing.

  5. “We could do far worse than follow the guiding principles of rationalism, honesty, punctuality, industry and frugality.”
    It’s interesting to me how frugality has become sort of a dirty word. Even dictionaries list synonyms as “miserly” or “scrimping” when the reality is that being frugal is about being prudent with our resources and not wasteful. Frugality is not the opposite of generosity in any way. It’s a good thing.
    I think where this list actually brings about trouble for Christians is in rationalism because it is a doctrine that places reason above all else. Sometimes, the things we are called to do as Jesus followers don’t rise to the level of reason, so when being frugal or punctual, or industrious is filtered through the lens of rationalism, we forget to put people first and discount the voice of the Spirit telling us to do something that seems completely irrational.

    • mm Katy Lines says:

      “Sometimes, the things we are called to do as Jesus followers don’t rise to the level of reason,… we forget to put people first and discount the voice of the Spirit telling us to do something that seems completely irrational.”

      Yes!

  6. mm Katy Lines says:

    “As time has gone on, many in the church have used the language of calling to refer to “spiritual” pursuits or positions. Yet we are all called of God to be creative and productive where we are, and we would do well to see the teacher in the classroom or the nurse in the hospital ward as being just as “called” as the pastor in the church. There is no sacred/secular divide.”

    Yes, I strongly affirm that, Geoff. Working with college students, I often hear them being challenged, “what is God calling you to do?” It seems almost paralyzing, as if they need to wait until they hear a “still small voice” suggesting they pursue a specific vocation. What I respond with is– “calling” is to live faithfully in the midst of where you are. Want to teach? Or do accounting? Or counsel? Or act? Great! Honor God and serve God faithfully in the midst of what you do.

Leave a Reply to Lynda Gittens Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *