Reading through Weber’s The Protestant Ethic raised a lot of questions and contained a lot of thought provoking ideas. I can honestly say that the notion that Calvinism serves as one of the roots of Capitalism has never crossed my mind, so this was a deep dive into new territory.
As I was reading, one of the themes that popped out was the question of our motivation when it comes to work. Why do we work? What is it that drives us?
I find it interesting that Weber attributes Calvinism as a driving force to the rise of Capitalism. To summarize the argument, Weber points out that it is the doctrine of predestination that serves as the catalyst for this. Weber writes, “This doctrine, with all the pathos of its inhumanity, had one principal consequence for the mood of a generation which yielded to its magnificent logic: it engendered, for each individual, a feeling of tremendous inner loneliness.” What this led to was a need to have an assurance of salvation that they could not get. Weber writes that “tireless labor in a calling was urged as the best possible means of attaining this self-assurance.” After all, if only God truly knows who the Elect are, how can one know they fall into that category?
What I find ironic in this line of reasoning is that the doctrine of predestination led to a mentality and lifestyle that is contrary to the fundamental tenets of the Protestant Reformation: That humankind is saved by grace alone and not by works. In order to have a sense that they were following the will of God, Calvinists would reinvest any surplus they made back into their community, thus adding fuel to capitalism. This is a fascinating thought to me because it shows the ramifications that theology has outside the immediate sphere of influence of the church. At the same time, it also shows the extent that Christians will go to in order to have assurance of salvation.
Practically, this begs the question of how our theology affects the way we live our day to day lives. I ask the question, “Why do we work?” as a means of identifying our motivation for why we do certain actions. Are we motivated by fear (i.e., in the case of the early Calvinists)? Are we motivated by love? Are we motivated by greed? Pride? Lust? The betterment of humanity? Filling our wallets?
This leads into the next major point: Calling and vocation. At some point in our lives, we have asked the question, “What is my purpose?” or “Why am I here?” The notion of calling is something that we yearn for. We want to know what God’s plan for our lives are so that we don’t waste our time doing other things. While there are many interpretations of what it means to have a calling or to “seek God’s will for our lives,” there’s something special about going to your job and putting your best effort into it.
When I first moved to Hong Kong, I took my current position as an English teacher because I felt I was called to serve in this capacity. There was no divine “Ah ha!” moment, but rather it was the gradual desire to work with teenagers in Hong Kong after my time volunteering in the summers. During the vision trip portion of my first summer volunteering, we were given the following quote by Hudson Taylor:
Finding one’s purpose with God can be a strange and mysterious journey. Or it can be as plain as asking God for a task and then watching your desire for that task grow within you. Problem is, most of us forget to ask God to fill us with a fervent spirit to serve Him. Then, years later, we wake up and realize we had our life. We made our small choices…our safe choices. But somehow, we missed the richness of following our God down an uncharted path.
While some people may have a “burning bush” moment where God explicitly reveals some grand scheme for our lives, for most of us it isn’t so extravagant. It’s seeing a need and wanting to work in that capacity because of our love for God and our love for people.
The problem is we don’t honor this notion of calling. I was talking with a friend recently who was saying that there were times that she felt she was looked down upon for working as an engineer because it wasn’t the kind of “calling” she should have. My heart broke over that statement and my frustration rose. I told her that if working as an engineer is the capacity in which God has called you into, be the best engineer you can. Work at it as if you were working for God (Colossians 3:23).
Not everyone is going to be a pastor or work in full time ministry. We have commissioning ceremonies for missionaries, ordination services for pastors, deacons, elders, etc., but when was the last time that we commissioned our church members for the jobs that they work?
When I first started working for my school, I noticed that there was a major difference in the way that I viewed our students versus the way my colleagues did. At first I thought it was simply a cultural difference, but the longer I’ve been here the more I’ve realized it comes from my faith. For many of my colleagues, this job is simply for the paycheck. For me, it’s something much deeper.
Why do we work? What is it that drives us in our various ministries and jobs? My prayer is that it wouldn’t be out of fear, but that our work is a natural outpouring of our love for Go
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Penguin Group), 73.
 Ibid., 77.