The Neo-Calvinist Option to Reform Our Culture

Those who pursue the Benedict Option basically reject the post-modern culture of our times.  They would set up their own counterculture through communities that submit themselves to distinctive Christian practices, especially prayer.

Neo-Calvinists would take the opposite approach of trying to reform the political process of a country to support religious institutions.

The best representative of this Neo-Calvinist effort was Abraham Kuyper, a theologian, church leader, and politician active in the Netherlands in the decades before and after 1900.  A minister and journalist by occupation, he had the forceful personality that could win political office.  He served as Prime Minister from 1901 to 1905.

As a theologian, Kuyper was a leader in the Neo-Calvinist movement.  That movement rejected the notion that theoretical thought can be religiously neutral.  Jesus’ Lordship extends through every area and aspect of life – it is not restricted to the sphere of the church or of personal piety.  All of life is to be redeemed.

Neo-Calvinism is an offshoot of classic Calvinism, initiated by theologian and pastor John Calvin, who did his work about a generation after Martin Luther.  Many in this movement preferred the name Reformed over Calvinism because the emphasis was on Reformed living.  For Luther, the Reformation was about reforming churches.  Calvin promoted reformed living.

In Geneva, Calvin helped establish a reformed government based on a Protestant confession of faith where both church and state worked to serve and glorify God. Following the guidelines of his Institutes of the Christian Religion published in 1537, Calvin advocated compulsory church attendance, universal primary education, and the removal of all Catholic customs such as fasting, church hierarchy, or prayers for the dead.

Calvin’s approach led to the invitation for him to come and develop Reformed living in Geneva.  What emerged was called by many the Geneva Theocracy.  There, John Calvin established rules that clarified the standards for Reformed living.  There were penalties for failing to comply.  Usually, this was expulsion from the city, but sometimes the violations resulted in execution.  Admittedly, at that time Lutheranism could also mean execution to those who denied some of the basics of the churches in that principality.  The norm at that time was that whoever ruled the kingdom could define what the churches there had to believe and practice.

Basic to the practice of Calvin’s worldview is to have an influence on the government of that country.  In the American experience, fourteen presidents of the USA were Presbyterian/Reformed and four were Baptists, who share the same Calvinist worldview.  Indeed, these presidents did have influence in a time when America had what many called civic religion, which had Calvinist flavors

My point in these observations is that Calvinists did have some political influence prior to the 1980s.  They have had almost none since.

Is the Neo-Calvin Option a realistic possibility for living as a Christian in the emerging Post-Modern culture?  Not really.  Is there an option between these two opposite positions of Benedict and New Calvinists?  Yes. Consider the Luther Option.

What do you think of the Neo-Calvinist effort to promote Christian behavior through government action?  Will such efforts have much success in Post-Modern times?

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