The widespread youth revolt against the work ethic now prevalent in Western capitalistic society is encouraging a new look at the contemporary view of work. Recently the Conference on Faith and History, a scholarly society of evangelical historians, devoted an entire day’s discussion to the Protestant work ethic.

Some modern secularists readily attribute all the distasteful aspects of our wayward work world to Christianity. Unless some balanced perspective is offered, the uncritical masses may rally to recently projected alternatives.

Calvin seems to attract the brunt of the “blame” in the current scorn for evangelical work attitudes. Weber contends that capitalism is an irrational and immoral system, and that Calvin was its psychological stimulant. Yet the Reformation work ethic probably owes more to Luther than to Calvin, and attitudes scornfully attributed to Calvinism were later commended also by many Roman Catholics.

Not a few elements now often associated with a Calvinist work ethic really have their roots elsewhere. That time is money, that money-making is life’s ultimate purpose, that one does his duty and glorifies God by the increase of wealth—these ideas find support in the outlook of deists like Benjamin Franklin rather than that of the Reformers and the Puritans.

Critics who find the assurance of divine election in worldly success or make earthly accumulation the evidence of genuine faith, who identify God’s will with material acquisition and dignify labor for money and things as one’s calling, hardly give an unbiased reading either of Calvin or of the later Puritans. Instead, they superimpose Enlightenment notions on evangelical sources.

From such modern critics one gains the impression that it required Calvin and ...

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