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

Weber and Vocation

Written by: on February 14, 2019

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Protestant Reformation lately. Luther has been a mainstay in my research on vocation and calling, understandably so, which is why I wasn’t all together too surprised to see Max Weber spend a good portion of time with Luther in The Protestant Work Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism. Ultimately, Weber makes the claims in this work that the seeds of capitalism could be found in the Protestant work ethic, as the title suggests.[1] He states that, “Our secular and materialistic culture is partly indebted to a spiritual revolution: the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.”[2]

Max Weber was born in Germany, studied law, and hopped about from teaching position to teaching position.[3] He spent the time of 1903 to 1905 working through the key themes and writing The Protestant Work Ethic, after a significant battle with mental illness.[4] In this work, and “’Churches’ and ‘Sects’ in North America: An Ecclesiastical and Sociopolitical Sketch”, Weber postulates that church membership is a “physical demonstration of financial and commercial probity”[5] or moral principals. This church membership then becomes highly valued and members must continually prove to others, above themselves, that they are hardworking and disciplined.[6]

Here’s where Luther and Calvin come gallivanting into the picture. Luther believed strongly in the Beruf which translates to “occupation” in German.[7] Luther went on to radically challenge the notion that the only work that was worth anything was God’s work. He argued that God has called every Christian equally in their work, not just those who work in or for the Church.[8] Luther paved the way for the Protestant Reformation.

Calvin came later, and while I don’t have time to indulge their main disagreements in this blog, Calvin ultimately believed in the predestination of all believers. This concept of predestination leads Max Weber to argue that one of the main ways to find assurance of salvation was through “rigorous, scrupulous, methodical work within a calling.”[9] Since Luther had done his due diligence at legitimizing all types of work, this desperate need of assurance of salvation led Calvinists to lead frugal lives while investing in the work, or “calling” in which they found themselves. Weber said, “they must continually and indefatigably attest by their actions that they are meticulous, hard-working, punctilious, and disciplined in their vocations.”[10]

It should come as no surprise then, to read individuals like Polanyi who remind us that we must take into consideration the relationships between the economy and society and how economic systems can affect how individuals relate to one another.[11] In fact, we are reminded that embeddedness expresses ideas that economies, including capitalist ones, cannot be viewed as autonomous, but must be subordinated to politics, religion, and social relations.[12]

Ultimately, both Calvin and Luther point to different streams to understanding one’s own vocation. While Weber would stress the importance of Calvinism to the development of the capitalism[13], I believe it is Luther who made the more significant contribution to society as a whole. Ultimately, Luther has a more well-rounded perspective of calling and vocation, which legitimizes all work as God’s work, even if it isn’t tied to the economic benefit of a community.


[1] “Max Weber,” The Library of Economics and Liberty, accessed February 12, 2019, https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Weber.html.

[2] Max Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, eds. and trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), ix.

[3] “Max Weber,” The Library of Economics and Liberty, accessed February 12, 2019, https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Weber.html.

[4] Max Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, eds. and trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), ix.

[5] Ibid., xix.

[6] Ibid., xix.

[7] Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Penguin Books, 2016), 58.

[8] Ibid., 59

[9] Max Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, eds. and trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), xviii.

[10] Ibid., xix

[11] Karl Polanyi. The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. 2nd Beacon Paperback ed. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001, loc. 152.

[12] Ibid., loc. 389.

[13] Max Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, eds. and trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), xviii.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

5 responses to “Weber and Vocation”

  1. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I find it fascinating that Luther and subsequently Calvin and Wesley all landed in these places of asserting work functioned as assurance of salvation. I’ve been considering how the role of work today has been elevated to be salvific in and of itself in the west. Technological advancements have resulted in many of us working in the midst of family life. I remember reading that often people aren’t even taking all the holiday and leave time they are entitled to here in the west. Work has become a prevelant option for the meaning of life. And yet I would hedge that this obsession is resulting in degradation of our souls. From your research, how would counsel people to approach work? Vocation? The spiritualised ‘calling’? Is there somewhere you would adjust the trajectory that Luther set us on now that we have seen the outcome?

    • Hi Karen and Jenn. Good observation Jenn on how we in the West overdo our work to the neglect of other priorities. There’s a segment of Americans today who are overly consumed with work, for the most part, because they simply wish to support, in Weber’s words, a luxuriant lifestyle. This is antithetical to his own research and observation.

      I’m convinced more work needs to be done to help the church reorient our work ethic to comport better to a proper understanding of our theology of work. Learning to sense our calling, which Weber uncovers in his book, follows from this.

      Karen, if this is part of your research, kudos to you.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Both of these are such good points, friends. Thanks for the dialogue!

      Jenn, to answer your question – I do think that while we continue to live in a society that is product-driven, we will always have this struggle. The need to produce something of value at the end of the day shows up in everything. Ultimately – it does tie back to Calvin and Luther and so many others. It’s the assurance that we’re WORTH SOMETHING. If we can produce something valuable that makes the world a better place than we found it, then we’re worth something. Honestly, that’s a hard pill to swallow, even for me. I find a significant portion of my value in the work that I do, at home, in the Church, at my workplace, with my family, etc. I live to produce. I love checklists and feel satisfied when before I hit my head to the pillow my list is all perfectly checked off.

      So to your question – how would I counsel someone in their work? I think it starts by first bringing the Church back in to Monday through Friday. I think it’s a constant remembrance of rewriting the narrative of work. If work is only good for how much it benefits us, why did God work to create the world? He didn’t do it as an assurance of his goodness, he did it as a gift to us. Ultimately, work is a gift. The more we can rewrite the narrative of work, and reconnect work work and faith, the more wholehearted we can become.

  2. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Karen. Thanks for sharing your informative blog. I appreciate your comparison of Calvin and Luther. I also appreciated your explanation that Luther has a more well-rounded perspective of calling and vocation in that he legitimizes all work as God’s work, even if it isn’t tied to the economic benefit of a community. I agree that Luther’s view more closely aligns to my perspective with regards to our calling and/or vocations in life. Thanks for the clarification. Very nice post, Karen!

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    I am loving this and your direction!

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