Calvinism And Revolution

Calvinism and the Political Order, edited by George L. Hunt (Westminster, 1965, 216 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by Dirk W. Jellema, professor of history, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This compact book (essentially 150 pages plus summary and notes) gives an excellent and scholarly introduction to two main themes: the political theory of Calvinism in its heyday (roughly 1550–1700) and the influence this theory had in America. The title is somewhat misleading; this is not a systematic study. In format, it is a series of essays on leading figures whose political ideas illustrate these themes. The essays deal with Calvinism, Calvin, Mornay, Rutherford (from the “classic age” of Calvinism); with John Locke, and the Puritans (strongly influenced by Calvinist motifs); and with Witherspoon, Lincoln, and Wilson (as Americans sympathetic to Calvinist emphases). The essays, originally given as lectures under the Woodrow Wilson Lectureship of the United Presbyterian Church’s National Presbyterian Center, are by experts, and the scholarship is thoroughly competent.

How did Calvinist political theory influence America? In at least two important ways, it becomes clear. First, much of the theoretical justification for our American Revolution is drawn from arguments developed by men like Locke, Mornay, Rutherford, and Calvin himself. Second, Calvinism’s stress on the civic responsibility of the Christian led, through Puritanism, to the American’s strong sense of this duty. Further, as the editor notes in his summary essay, concern with political and social problems does not begin with the modern social gospel but is part of a long tradition. Many other points of interest are touched on, such as the religious ...

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