Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 129:514 (Apr 72) p. 142
“The Protestant Work Ethic Today,” Dwight T. Gregory, The Asbury Seminarian, October, 1971, pp. 20-39.
“Footnotes:The Christian Work Ethic,” Carl F. H. Henry, Christianity Today, January 7, 1972, pp. 22-23.
Work is a four-letter word among many segments of the youth subculture today. Some of the street people shirk work almost as zealously as they do soap and water. They insist that life as structured by contemporary capitalistic society is a dehumanizing rat race that they refuse to be a part of. To justify their actions they argue that capitalism has cloaked its exploitation of people in the theological and moral robes of a Protestant work ethic which is a perversion of the biblical teaching. Some liberal theologians have endorsed these accusations. In fact, both capitalism and the Protestant work ethic have become popular whipping boys of contemporary liberal theological writers.
This hue and cry does raise at least two valid questions for consideration. The first is whether or not contemporary capitalistic society has perverted the Protestant work ethic and, if it has, how. The second is whether or not the Protestant work ethic faithfully reflects the biblical teaching. These two articles briefly discuss these questions from the perspective of evangelical theology. The issue was also the topic for a day-long discussion at a recent Conference on Faith and History (a scholarly society of evangelical historians) meeting.
Both Gregory and Henry agree that the work ethic of contemporary capitalistic society is a perversion of the work ethic developed in the Protestant Reformation. Henry says, “The nineteenth-century American ‘success ethic’ is more deeply rooted in the Horatio Alger myth than in the sixteenth century Protestant ethic” and “Not a few elements now often associated with a Calvinist work ethic really have their roots
BSac 129:514 (Apr 72) p. 143
elsewhere” (p. 22). Both authors attribute the problem as much to misunderstanding, if not misrepresentation, of the Protestant work ethic by its critics. Gregory writes, “It is important to realize that parts of the stereotype of the Protestant work ethic in the minds of its Critics, as well as much of what is said and done in its name by its defenders, is neither Protestant nor biblical” (p. 31).
Gregory and Henry also agree that the Protestant work ethic as developed by Luther and Calvin and later Wesley is essentially biblical. The problem lies in its implementation in life by Christians. Henry asks, “If Weber misrepresented Calvin, could he nevertheless have drawn his conclusions from Protestant Christians?” (p. 23). At the close of part of his ...
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