Calvin and Culture, the final volume of a series celebrating John Calvin’s 500th birthday, focuses on the impact that the teachings of Calvin have had on the social culture in the years following his life. Experts from various fields weigh in with their impressions on the mark Calvin and Calvinism have left. The book seeks to answer the question “Is Calvinism a theological position only or is it a worldview?”
In the field of history, Calvinism has developed an interpretive restraint that allows the Christian to find meaning in history while still holding that God has a perfect knowledge of history. Although God has revealed only part of His mind to man, He does reveal an extensive amount of material about Himself in nature, in His written Word, and in His revealed Word – His Son. Calvinism impresses on the historian the realization that meaning will not be found outside the boundaries of Scripture. It is Scripture that gives meaning to historical events, nature, and society.
In the field of law, Calvinism’s impact is seen most clearly in the ability of both Church and State to work together while still maintaining separate expectations, evaluations, and distinct responsibilities. A discussion of the arts reveals that Calvinism is hard to trace, but is not absent. Calvin taught, and his followers continue, a balance between the extremes of sentimentality and nihilism. This balance demonstrates that true hope is only found in God alone.
Calvin’s contribution to the discipline of economics is intriguing. Calvin himself was personally inconsistent with his teachings regarding finance and economics, yet his teachings have helped others make tremendous advances in the field. Calvin’s stance on economics most closely parallels a historical classical liberalism that viewed wealth as helpful, not evil.
Literature has benefited from Calvin’s teachings as well. A faithful application of Calvinism will result in the understanding that we are created to be creative beings who can recognize and appreciate beauty. While some will reject certain aspects of literature, Calvin teaches that not everything needs to be rejected simply because all cannot be approved. Calvin teaches an informed model of evaluation for literature.
By insisting that God’s glory is of primary concern and that the only reasonable dependence fallen mankind may have is on God’s grace, Calvinism has had a voluminous impact on the field of philosophy. God’s grace and glory are key to thinking and to processing those thoughts. This careful thinking naturally leads to how societies govern. Indeed, Calvinistic thought led to more participatory forms of government. While holding that God is sovereign over all, Calvin teaches that God gives individuals responsibility for their actions and governance.
When considering the field of science, John Calvin taught that Scripture is not at odds with science, nor is science a stumbling block to Scripture. In fact, they complement each other quite well. It is not Scripture or science that is at odds with one another – it is the people trying to force one or the other into a pre-conceived notion or hypothesis.
Other chapters discuss Calvin’s impact on business, music, medicine, and journalism. Throughout the book, one is impressed with the realization that “Calvin wanted people to become Christians, not Calvinists” (p. 236). Indeed, it is this over-arching thought that characterizes not only Calvin’s life but this study of his impact on modern society. If believers today would focus more on increasing their knowledge of and familiarity with God, the impact on society would be just as great as the one made by the famous preacher from Geneva.
This book would be greatly helpful to clergy and laity, professional theologian as well as professional in any area of work. The helpful connections between what is believed and what is lived are carefully made and demonstrated. I commend it heartily. – Charles Eldred, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
John Calvin’s worldview extends far beyond the scope of theology, inspiring a multitude of followers to apply his thought to every form of human endeavor. The fourteen authors of Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview, the final volume in the Calvin 500 series, explore the worldview of Calvin and his disciples. They demonstrate how Calvin has transformed many fields of human study and activity and how the power of his worldview continues to this day.