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Mr. Bannerjee, you do not know Calvinism

Reader comment on item: Islamist Turkey vs. Secular Iran?
in response to reader comment: What are true "Freedom" and "Liberty" ?

Submitted by kepha hor (United States), Dec 12, 2010 at 11:12

Forgive me Debanjan, but your views of Calvinism are a hodge-podge of demonologies from 19th century Roman Catholics and Unitarians on the one hand and something akin to current Muslim demonologies about the Jews.

Contrary to Calvinists seeing the aboriginal Americans and Blacks as "non-elect", Jonathan Edwards, perhaps one of early America's leading divines, believed the day would come when there would be learned tomes of [Calvinist] divinity penned by "Negroes and Indians". He himself spent part of his life teaching seminary for American Indian pastors and supported missions to the Indians. Outside America, Calvinist churches took root among the aboriginals in southwestern Taiwan during the 17th century (and seem to have survived a century or so after the expulsion of the Dutch) and in parts of the East Indies.

The doctrine of election in the Reformed (Calvin was a second generation leader, following men like Zwingli, Butzer, and Bullinger) churches holds that God has chosen in Christ all of the saved (and knows them individually--"by name", in New Testament idiom) from before the foundation of the world and goes on to call them through the preaching of the Gospel. The number of the elect is seen as including both a remnant in Israel and a vast number whom no man can number from every people, tongue, and nation (echoing the book of Revelation in the New Testament). There is no racial element in the classical Reformed doctrine of election except that in God's economy of salvation, the people of Israel were established in ancient times as the seedbed from whence salvation would spread to the rest of the world.

Granted, Calvinists like Timothy Dwight (a late 18th, early 19th century president of Yale College) got a bit overboard on America's national calling, using elements from Calvinist theology. But, speaking as an American and a Calvinist, our view of the national calling has not been uncritical. As students of the Bible, we are aware that a people once called can drift from its moorings.

I would also add that Calvinism has been the vector through which the intensely self-critical vision of the Hebrew prophets (the Greeks were Johnny-come-latelies in this regard, and Plato's criticism of Greek polytheism led some Christians like Huldrych Zwingli to suspect he was influenced by the Jews) was transmitted to the modern West, including America.

And, as a matter of fact, Reformed ("Calvinist") belief that human nature is so corrupted by Adam's fall that it needs God's predestining grace and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in order to be saved led to a political doctrine that held that absolute power was a burden "too great for mortal shoulders" (Samuel Rutherford, 1644). The Reformed churches worked out a system of church government by plural elders, compact, and consent of the laity before that system appeared in polities such as America's; and throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Calvinists opposed the pretensions of monarchs to absolute rule by divine right.

How do I know all this? Believe it or not, there actually are Calvinists still running around, and some of us have bothered to do our own research into our own history and doctrine, rather than refer to learned ignoramuses like Perry Miller, Max Weber, Christopher Hill, and others. If you want, I can share 30 pages of bibliography with you.


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