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Debanjan, your knowledge of Calvinism is 4th hand

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 18:22

Debanjan, you have an awful lot to learn about the Reformed kind of Christianity ("Calvinism")--although I'm impressed that you seem interested enough in Western history to try to assimilate some knowledge about it, even if it is fourth- or fifth-hand, and quite inaccurate.

First of all, Calvinism's doctrine of election is not racial. Those whom God predestined to salvation are first a portion of the Jews (the seedbed through whom God would send the Messiah), then a vast multitude, whom no man can number, from every people, tribe, and nation. These elect are known by their lively faith working through love, not by skin color or social status. Further, God calls them by name, as individuals (there's a lot of Scriptural exegesis involved).

Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the foremost American Calvinist divine of the 18th century, looked forward to the day when there would be great works of [Calvinist] divinity written by Blacks and Indians. He devoted part of his life to directing a college for Christian Indians (it later became Dartmouth College). The first black man ordained as a minister in America (in 18th century New England) served a Calvinist congregation.

Yes, we American Calvinists sometimes went overboard with effusiveness about our country's calling--especially when we were the majority. But our tradition (or, more accurately, the one the first Purtian, Dutch, and Huguenot settlers brought over from Europe) was also the vector by which the highly self-critical character of the Hebrew prophets was transmitted to the modern West.

Add to that, our doctrine of man's utter lack of grace to save himself since the fall of Adam led to a political doctrine that feared the concentration of power. Absolute power, as sought by the European kings of the 1t6th and 17th centuries, was one that was "too great a burden for mortal shoulders" (Samuel Rutherford, _Lex Rex_, 1644). Hence, in our church polity, we had political compact, the consent of the laity in the call of their elders and ministers, and plural leadership. Calvin himself, in the section of his _Institutes of the Christian Religion_ dealing with political life, advocated a mixture of Democracy and Aristocracy as the best form of government, because kings could not always be trusted to do the right thing. John Locke, who is credited with the doctrine of social contract, himself grew up in a Puritan [English Calvinist] home, and virtually of the ideas found in his _Two Treatises of Government_ can be found in the Scottish Presbyterian and English Puritan writers of the generation that went before him.

I will agree that our American founders--Calvinist and otherwise--did not intend complete liberty without certain responsibilities, and would probably be horrified at their political ideas being used to justify things like abortion at will or homosexual marriage (although there probably would've been at least a few of them who would nod their heads and suppose that the full citizenship of at non-whites--the property-holding men, at least--was probably something that would have had to have come sooner or later in the polity they established).

However, the "staunch Calvinists" at the American founding did have a doctrine that God has left the redeemed free from the traditions of men [as opposed to what was found in Scripture], and believed in a consensual government based on compact and rule of law. Further, their doctrine of authority--whether ecclesiastical, paternal, or political--was that it was ministerial rather than magisterial, and could spill a lot more ink denouncing the sins of rulers and masters than the sins of subjects/citizens, servants, and children.

If you are interested in learning more, rather than the fourth- or fifth hand nonsense of H.R. Tawney and Max Weber (two who attempted to be the "anti-Marx" in their interpretations of economic history), Perry Miller (who tried somewhat to get behind the 19th century Unitarian, liberal Protestant, and Roman Catholic demonologies that passed for historical accounts of "Calvinism", but didn't quite make it), and Christopher Hill (brilliant synthesizer of Marx and Weber, but utterly at sea with anything written before 1840), I can send you a 30-page bibliography, including a number of original sources if you send me your e-mail.

How do I know this? There are a few of us Calvinists still running around--including in the northern and far eastern parts of India, BTW.


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