Friday, March 18, 2011

“Calvin as Journalist” by Warren Smith (Ch. 12)

This review, written by Glenda Mathes, completes our series of reviews of chapters of David W. Hall & Marvin Padgett, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (P&R, 2010). We welcome your engagement and responses.

Calvin and Culture’s editors Hall and Padgett may have placed “Calvin as Journalist” in its penultimate position because the connection initially seems almost surreal. Author Warren Cole Smith acknowledges the obscurity of the correlation, particularly compared to Calvin’s influence on church polity:

“There is a straight and heavy line that connects Calvin to, for example, the forms of church governance and discipline used by many denominations today. But the line between Calvin and modern journalism is not quite so firmly etched. It requires the connecting of dots, both historically and intellectually” (p. 277).

Few people are more qualified than Smith to connect the dots between Calvin and journalism; he is the associate publisher of WORLD Magazine with over 20 years of professional experience, including a stint as the publisher and editor of the Evangelical Press News Service, and the author of the intriguingly titled A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church (Authentic, 2009).

Before Smith pinpoints ideas of John Calvin and links them to aspects of modern journalism, he relates a brief history of journalism that frequently cites Marvin Olasky, Rodney Stark, and others. Although the advent of the printing press is widely recognized as the technological impetus that accelerated journalism’s growth as well as the Reformation’s momentum, Smith emphasizes the courage of printers in addition to the convenience of the printing press. While famous Reformers could (and often did) flee for their lives, Reformed printers frequently risked their lives and livelihood, especially when Protestant areas came under Roman Catholic control.

I’ve often thought that anyone who characterizes Calvin as heartless or obtuse has never read his Institutes of the Christian Religion. As Smith details how Calvin became a man of letters, he points out that the Institutes especially “show us a writer who was journalistic in style and argumentation” and “drew praise, even in Calvin’s day, for a lively and readable style” (p. 282). These comments established Smith as a reliable narrator in my mind.

Calvin “built the foundation for modern journalism,” according to Smith, by devoting his life not only to “speaking truth to power but also to giving language and opportunity to millions of others who could and did speak truth to power” (pp. 283 & 284). Smith notes that this “notion of the reporter as prophet, as one who speaks truth to power” is “deeply rooted in the ethos of modern journalism” (p. 283) and remains true today.

Smith shows how the Reformation concept of God’s sovereignty unleashed the natural inquisitiveness of humankind and what he calls the “peculiar curiosity” of the journalist (p. 285). That natural and legitimate curiosity about all aspects of creation has degenerated in modern times to an often prurient interest that creates tension “between man’s God-given curiosity about the world and man’s tendency to overreach — to ‘become as God’ ” (pp. 286 & 287). Smith contrasts modern journalistic excess with the early “propriety” of The New York Times, established in 1851 by a “Bible-believing Presbyterian” (p. 288).

In his section on “The Rise of the Fourth Estate” (journalism), Smith draws parallels between Calvin’s influence on governing institutions (the Consistory, in particular) and the establishment of an American government with its provision for a free press. As Calvin became more powerful, his Consistory became “increasingly intrusive” (p. 290). Recognizing the “will to power” in himself, Calvin developed the Presbyterian system of church governance, which “distributes power rather than centralizes it” (pp. 290 & 291). This system came to secular expression in the federal system of checks and balances with three branches of government.

Admitting that Calvin “certainly did not invent or practice journalism,” Smith quickly adds “while Calvin may not have been the first modern journalist, his ideas and the institutions that came into being as a result of his ideas made modern journalism possible” (p. 291). Smith concludes that Calvin expressed the biblical promise about the truth setting us free in the famous opening line of his Institutes: “Nearly the whole of sacred doctrine consists in these two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves” (p. 292). Smith’s last dot pricks the parchment as well as journalism’s collective conscience: “The truly great journalism of the past five hundred years has passionately pursued knowledge of both God and man. The extent that journalism can recover these twin pursuits clearly put before us by Calvin is the extent to which journalism can be great again” (p. 292).

Some of the lines Smith draws between these dots are heavier than others (the line in “The Peculiar Curiosity of the Journalist” seems heaviest, while the line in “The Rise of the Fourth Estate” seems most faint); however, Smith smoothly transitions from each topic to the next and clearly delineates each connection.

Smith enables Reformed readers, who easily visualize the lines between Calvin and modern theology or church polity, to open their eyes wider and discern previously unconsidered connections. His conclusion reminds Reformed writers and all curious Christians of journalism’s noble past and calls us to work toward a righteous future.

As an older, non-traditional student, Glenda Mathes graduated from the University of Iowa in 2006 with a Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree. She has reported news for Christian Renewal since 2001 and has been the Managing or Contributing Editor for Mid-America Reformed Seminary’s newsletter, the Messenger, since 2003. She freelance writes and edits from her home near Pella, Iowa, where she and her husband, David, are members of Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA). She regularly blogs at Ascribelog.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“Medicine: In the Biblical Tradition of John Calvin with Modern Applications” by Franklin Payne (Ch. 11)

This review, written by James Rusthoven, is one of our series of reviews of chapters of David W. Hall & Marvin Padgett, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (P&R, 2010). We welcome your engagement and responses.

Author Franklin Payne is a retired associate professor of family medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta, Georgia in the US. He has published several books on medical practice and ethics, including Biblical/Medical Ethics (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1985) and Biblical Healing for Modern Medicine: Choosing Life and Health or Disease and Death (Augusta, GA: Covenant Enterprises, 1993). In this chapter, Dr. Payne sets out to show that modern science and medicine are direct legacies of John Calvin, that the Calvinist theologians Cotton Mather and Abraham Kuyper made considerable contributions to medicine, and that the Decalogue has considerable application to modern medicine. His attempt to blend theological themes and the lives of these formative Reformed theologians and scholars with aspects of modern medical care is laudable but at times is difficult to follow while important intermediate worldview and philosophical connections are lacking.

As a Christian, he addresses several fundamental concerns about contemporary medical practice in the American context. Two key premises of his critique are 1) a person’s health is greatly dependent on his belief system and 2) health care in the US has become an idolatrous worship of the body. The former is expressed through the belief that health and healing must be prescribed within biblical virtues such as love, patience, and self-control. The latter is demonstrated through factors such as high medical care costs, concrete manifestations of materialism exemplified by abortion and euthanasia, and failure to identify and translate the knowledge of God into a normative understanding of medicine.

I empathize with Dr. Payne’s criticism of prominent Christian scholars who support the revival of a transcendent and covenantal character for medicine grounded in the pagan Hippocratic Oath (though I don’t condone his intimation of blasphemy). I also agree that patients need to be informed fully about their illness and available treatments. However, I disagree on several important points. He fails to reference quotations but, more importantly, major concepts and positions suffer from insufficient depth and clarity of presentation. For example, Dr. Payne alludes to a book by Mather as “mostly a book on medicine” due to its small number of chapters devoted to sin, spiritual healing, and mental illness. This and other examples suggest an inherent conceptual dualism of medicine and spirituality in the author’s analysis. Ironically, in some sections he seems to consciously deny this perspective, claiming that human beings are a psychosomatic entity (which he interestingly distinguishes from a psychosomatic unity associated with pagan philosophical influences!).

Dr. Payne’s overall analysis is more theological than worldview in scope. Focusing on works of Mather and Kuyper, he fails to acknowledge the work of more contemporary Kuyperian successors who further characterize the structures of the created order beyond the five faculties he attributes to Kuyper. This leads to some serious analytical pitfalls such as the implication that all psychologists and psychiatrists are ‘materialist professionals’. He neglects to acknowledge the work of Reformed Christian physicians (including at least one psychiatrist [1]) with distinctly Reformed approaches to medicine. One in particular explores normative structures and directions of medical practice in a systematic effort to avoid reductionistic traps inherent in the materialist culture that Payne tries to critique. [2] Dr. Payne also confounds the normative role of government in health care. From a neo-Calvinist perspective, government need not withdraw from health care (e.g., the high cost of US health care that he largely attributes to government spending can also be attributable to private health care costs) but should rather provide better oversight of just and equitable availability of health care in society.

The author’s frequent appeal to Scripture would be strengthened by applying available intermediate conceptual connections between Scriptural teaching and medical practice such as a biblical covenantal ethic [3] and a multi-aspectual analysis of medicine drawn directly from the Kuyperian tradition. These could give a greater richness to the necessary critique that he has begun and thus lay stronger foundations for a Reformed Christian model for medical practice.

Dr. James Rusthoven earned his MD degree from the University of Illinois and his MHSc degree from the University of Toronto. He is currently Professor of Oncology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and is completing a PhD in theology and bioethics from Trinity College, University of Bristol, UK. Dr. Rusthoven is an active member of the first Christian Reformed Church of Hamilton, Ontario.

1. G. Glas, “Persons and Their Lives: Reformational Philosophy of Man, Ethics, and Beyond”, Philosophia Reformata v. 71 (2006) pp. 31-57 (online here or here). Dr. Glas is a Christian psychiatrist in the Netherlands and professor of philosophy at the Free University of Amsterdam.
2. J. Jochemsen, “Normative Practices as an Intermediate between Theoretical Ethics and Morality”, Philosophia Reformata v. 71 (2006) pp. 96-112 (online here). Dr. Jochemsen is former director of the Lindeboom Institute, a Christian centre for biomedical ethics in the Reformed tradition in the Netherlands.
3. J. Rusthoven, “Understanding Medical Relationships through a Covenantal Ethical Perspective”, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith v. 62 (2010) pp. 3-15 (available online).

Friday, March 11, 2011

“Calvin and Music” by Paul Jones (Ch. 10)

This review, written by Theo Lodder, is one of our series of reviews of chapters of David W. Hall & Marvin Padgett, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (P&R, 2010). We welcome your engagement and responses.

In chapter 10 of Calvin and Culture, Paul Jones, organist and music director at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, discusses Calvin from within the discipline of music. After briefly introducing Calvin’s worldview, which was characterized more by joy and less by austerity than is sometimes granted, Jones recounts Calvin’s colossal contribution to the retrieval of robust congregational singing, particularly psalm-singing. He traces in detail the development of the numerous psalters which Calvin published over the period of a quarter century, culminating in the Genevan Psalter of 1562. For the Canadian Reformed Churches, which claim the honour of publishing the first complete English version — the Anglo-Genevan Psalter — some 400 years later in 1972, this chapter provides crucial historical information about the formation of the Book of Praise which we use in our worship services and beyond from week to week. Jones also provides an intriguing survey of numerous historical contributors to music in the Reformed tradition in several lands as a further sampling of Calvin’s widespread impact.

In his discussion of Calvin’s famous “Preface to the Psalter” (1543), Jones remarks that Calvin, like Luther, “believe[d] that music can teach the Word of God as a concentrator of the text it carries.” His respect for the power of music, both for good and for ill, lay at the heart of Calvin’s caution about music and his misplaced fear of musical instruments in worship, according to Jones, a caution inherited from the patristic church. This respect for music’s power also motivated Calvin to engage the finest poets and musicians he could find to prepare a psalter.

Calvin’s choice of the ancient church modes for psalm-singing, Jones points out, was “intrinsically linked to Calvin’s program of restoring the face of the ancient church” and also reflected the influence of Renaissance musical values, such as “simplicity, a word-note relationship where music serves the text, clarity, intelligibility, and historical rootedness.” Thus, the Genevan Psalter was truly visionary and purposefully unlike the secular music of its day, aspects we should remember in our discussion about and use of this psalter in particular, and also in our thinking about and practice of liturgical music in general. The church needs to be the salt and light of the world also in her music and song.

Of particular interest to the Reformed musician, liturgist, and worshipper is the musical evaluation of the Genevan Psalter which Jones offers. According to him, the rhythms of the psalm tunes are the most captivating, characterized by “vitality and energy.” He also believes that “the breadth and quality of [its] melodies and metric forms [are] unmatched in any other metrical psalter.” These observations go a long way in explaining the growing interest in and use of the Genevan Psalter among many churches throughout the world. The Canadian Reformed Churches really do have something valuable in their psalter that is worth promoting and sharing with many others in the English-speaking world.

What about Calvin’s well-known objection to musical instruments in worship, including the organ? Jones points out two factors that one should remember when assessing Calvin’s position (and that of the Synod of Dort; Jones likely means the provincial and national synods of 1574 and 1578). The first factor, according to Jones, is Calvin’s stated dissent against how organs were used in the Roman services; the second factor is the reality that organs were concert instruments and not used for congregational singing in Roman churches either.

Jones also provides helpful guiding principles for Christian musicians drawn from Calvin’s theology and practice. Among these guiding principles are the centrality of the Word of God in the church musician’s labour and the importance of music in corporate worship. I fully agree with Jones when he claims that the church has a mandate, in line with the wise instruction and the good example of Calvin, to teach children psalms and hymns and to train young people musically. I also agree that church musicians, pastors, and other church leaders, such as seminary professors, should work closely together so that as church we may offer to God, through Jesus Christ, the jubilant music and song of which he is eternally worthy.

With an M.Div. from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, Theo Lodder, pastor of Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church in Surrey, BC, is about to graduate with his Doctor of Ministry degree from Covenant Theological Seminary (PCA). His dissertation is entitled “Musical Instruments and Musicians in the Worship of the Canadian Reformed Churches.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

“John Calvin’s Impact on Business” by Richard Chewning (Ch. 9)

This review, written by John Boersema, is one of our series of reviews of chapters of David W. Hall & Marvin Padgett, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (P&R, 2010). We welcome your engagement and responses.

The author of this chapter, Richard Chewning, is emeritus professor of business at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is a major contributor to the development of the integration of faith and business, being co-author of Business Through the Eyes of Faith (HarperOne, 1990), and editor of the seminal four-volume series Christian in the Marketplace (NavPress, 1989).

Chewning begins his chapter by sketching the practice of business between the end of the Roman Empire and A.D. 1600. “The breakup of the Roman Empire was followed by…instability…city states, feudal holdings and the divided lands of kings.” Safety and security disappeared, trade became hazardous, and common currencies and the rule of law disappeared. Survival through self-sufficiency within manorial estates and scattered towns became the norm. Economics was concerned with subsistence. The Church was the great pillar of stability, with economics subsidiary to the real business of life — salvation. Economic motives were suspect and needed to be repressed. Profits were considered sinful and lending money at interest was illegal. While over time, many forces necessary for a free market system had already been at work before Calvin, Chewning (similar to Terrell in Ch. 4) argues that Calvin made especially significant contributions to the flowering of capitalism. He focuses on Calvin’s pronouncements on (1) the value of work, (2) the payment of interest, and (3) a positive understanding of profits. [1]

Although both Luther and Calvin, according to Chewning, popularized the notion that work is a calling from God, Luther did not include the activities of merchants, bankers, and other business types in the category of “work,” because he “hated commerce and capitalism.” Calvin, however, also applied this Scriptural calling to the latter groups. Calvin argued that we should simply “work hard” in order to glorify God. Chewning makes it clear, however, that Calvin would not have agreed with the extension made subsequently by some of his followers that the wealth thus created was proof of salvation — an early form the “prosperity theology.” In any case, the focus on ordinary hard work was a major step forward from medieval Roman Catholicism. [2]

Chewning also makes the point that Calvin, in contravention of church doctrine at the time, “birthed the idea that charging interest could carry with it a sense of moral legitimacy.” The payment of interest for the use of capital was as reasonable as the payment of rent for the use of land (as long as it did not exceed the amount dictated by natural justice and the golden rule). Chewning makes the interesting suggestion that Calvin’s message possibly succeeded while earlier efforts had failed because (1) the time was ripe, (2) his thinking was logical and reflected common sense, and (3) Calvin’s overall teachings created the movement of “Calvinism” which carried his teaching throughout Europe and the New World.

Chewning further notes that although “profit is to business what a healthy blood count is to the body,” until the time of Calvin profit was most often considered to be sinful — “neither necessary nor the Christian thing to do.” Calvin, however, taught that profits were the fruit of one’s labour — a person’s good work. His teachings were transforming, setting people free to work hard and reap the benefits that followed from it. Business people influenced by Calvin thus accepted wealth from diligence but also promoted the morality of thrift. Investing one’s savings for productive purposes became an “instrument of piety.” In this way, the old medieval “‘ideal’ of economic and social stability was replaced by the acceptance of economic growth and material improvement for everyone.” Chewning is, no doubt, correct in concluding that Calvin by “nurturing such basic values as work, wealth accumulation, thrift, investment, risk assumption, competition, and productivity…had a profound impact on the formulation and acceptance of a new worldview regarding commerce.”

Chewning concludes his chapter by recognizing that although Calvin’s economic thoughts still influence us today, they have frequently been perverted and misinterpreted. Hard work and its fruits (wealth) became the “self-assuring measure of one’s right standing with God. The work ethic has been transformed into “workaholism” with entrepreneurs, particularly, developing a faith in their own efforts — the worldview of the secular humanists. The heart and soul of Calvin’s teaching that works are “for the glory of God” has been lost. Concerning interest, Chewning makes some useful comments about current disclosure requirements. He further stresses that whereas in Calvin’s days the issue concerned the paying of interest for money borrowed for productive purposes, today’s society accepts the paying of interest by consumers “for the purpose of consuming tomorrow’s income today” — “clearly poor stewardship of one’s resources.” He further points out that Calvin’s idea of “profits meeting the needs of the poor” has been lost in today’s marketplace.

Terrell and Chewning tend to agree on the basic contribution that Calvin has made to the field of economics and business. They do so, however, in quite different ways. Both are strongly recommended.

John Boersema, a professor emeritus at Redeemer University College, holds a Ph.D. in Business and Applied Economics from the University of Pennsylvania and is a member of the Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church.

1. It is not surprising that these three points have similarities to those of Terrell. After all, economics is the theoretical underpinning of business.
2. In this, Chewning agrees with Terrell although Chewning does not explicitly deal with the Weber thesis.

Friday, March 4, 2011

“Calvin and Science” by Don Petcher (Ch. 8)

This review, written by Gerrit Bos, is one of our series of reviews of chapters of David W. Hall & Marvin Padgett, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (P&R, 2010). We welcome your engagement and responses.

Don Petcher, professor of physics at Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, Georgia) and co-author with Tim Morris of Science & Grace: God’s Reign in the Natural Sciences (Crossway, 2006), makes the case that science is a wonderful enterprise for a scientist in the Calvinist tradition. Calvin’s worldview gives a high or special place to the Scriptures, but leaves much freedom for science. Petcher rejects the warfare hypothesis (science and religion are at war) and advocates a return to Calvin, setting the stage for a common sense approach to and a rich understanding of science. Petcher rightly points out the centrality in Calvin’s theology of God’s sovereignty over all creation. He figures God’s providence fits within His sovereignty and within that yet again, God’s “radical sustenance,” which includes all creation, not just supernatural events. This helps us to understand how to view laws of nature. Petcher then works with writings of Davis A. Young, William J. Bouwsma, R. Hooykaas, James Orr and others to describe Calvin’s principle of accommodation. God accommodates limited human understanding by using everyday understandable language. E.g. Calvin explains that Moses referred to ‘greater’ and ‘lesser lights’ on the basis of their appearance to us, and does not address the fact that Saturn is larger than the moon. Petcher and the other authors consider the accommodation principle a doctrine, and build approvingly on it to include the Big Bang theory, long age of the earth and non-literal six days of creation. After mentioning some recent scientific discoveries, and a short critique of the Intelligent Design movement, as well as Young Earth Creationism, Petcher concludes by saying: “Thank God for the wonderful grace of the scientific enterprise.”

This chapter presents quite a few things which can be readily agreed to such as Calvin’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty, his worldview which sets the stage for a rich understanding of science, and God’s occasional accommodation of our limited understanding by using everyday language. But as Petcher extends the occasional accommodation into a principle, and then a doctrine, it seems to acquire an overriding role in his understanding. Instead of God accommodating our limited understanding, the doctrine increasingly takes on a meaning of God’s Word accommodating changing scientific understanding. Thus Petcher’s final position of a long-age of the earth contradicts Calvin’s explicit writing that the earth is no more than 6000 years old (e.g. Institutes 1.14.1). And while Calvin nowhere explicitly denies the possibility of extended-length creation days, it is beyond doubt that he understood the creation days to be normal days. I base this conclusion on his discussions of whether the first day began with evening or morning (Commentary on Gen. 1:5), creation accomplished in six days, not in one moment (e.g. Institutes 1.14.2), God creating the world in six days, resting on the seventh, manifests His works and creates a model for us to imitate (Commentary on Fourth commandment – Ex. 20:8) and even his discussion on whether the seventh month might have been the first month, the month of creation (Commentary on Fourth commandment – Lev. 23:24). Calvin likewise criticizes those who “reconcile the doctrine of Scriptures with the dogmas of philosophy” to “avoid teaching anything which the majority of mankind might deem absurd.” (Institutes 2.2.4) These contradictions seem irreconcilable.

What to do with these things as a reformed academic? Well, take heart; science is indeed a wonderful vocation, and a Calvinist, reformed world-view allows it to flourish, rather than be still-born as in many other world-views. God’s creation has infinite areas to research, use, steward, and understand. Follow these with all your hearth, thought, and mind. Avoid thinking more highly of yourself than you ought, and eschew human precepts which would lead to pride. Live the Sola Scriptura of the Reformation, and use scriptural understanding to determine the object of your scientific enterprise, as well as the methods employed in it. Rejoice and give thanks for it, but continue to see its place subordinate to God’s and Scripture’s authority. Read literature like what is reviewed here with discernment; retain that which is good, discard that which is not.

Gerrit Bos graduated from the University of Guelph with a BSc in Engineering in 1987, and is currently the Information Technology Security Officer there, member of Emmanuel CanRC in Guelph, and chairman of the board of Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers College.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

“Calvin, Politics, and Political Science” by Paul Marshall (Ch. 7)

This review, written by Michael Wagner, is one of our series of reviews of chapters of David W. Hall & Marvin Padgett, Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (P&R, 2010). We welcome your engagement and responses.

Paul Marshall is an internationally-recognized expert on issues related to religious freedom and persecution. Currently a fellow of the Hudson Institute (an American think tank), he is the author of over 20 books on religion and politics and is highly respected in the field.

The main burden of his article is to disprove the modern notion that John Calvin made no distinct contribution to political thought. Quoting from Calvin himself as well as other scholars, Marshall convincingly demonstrates that “Calvin’s key contributions to the study of politics come not from the detailed particulars of legal theory but from the way he embedded politics in a Christian, particularly Protestant, worldview or cosmology.”

Calvin’s emphasis that each person could relate directly to God through Jesus Christ had anti-hierarchical and egalitarian implications for politics and society. No longer was the Church seen as the “highest body” of society and no longer were ecclesiastical vocations seen as more spiritual than other tasks. Furthermore, the Church was organizationally separate from the state.

Calvin favoured a form of government where citizens shared in political power to a certain degree, an “aristocracy tempered by democracy.” Monarchy (the dominant form of government at his time) could degenerate too easily into tyranny. Calvin’s view included “a system of checks and balances,” an idea that would later significantly influence American constitutionalism. In sum, his thought “led to a stress on moving politics from being simply an elite occupation to one that is participatory.”

Marshall also discusses the thought of Johannes Althusius (1563-1638), a philosopher who developed some of the implications of Calvin’s political views. Althusius played a key role in the creation of federalism (a system where political power is divided between a national authority and constituent regional authorities). He also may have coined the term “political science.”

The material presented by Marshall is helpful for demonstrating Calvin’s importance to political science and Western societies. It’s a worthy contribution to a volume on Calvin’s impact on the modern world. Personally, I would like to have seen greater attention placed on aspects of Calvin’s thought that confront powerful trends in the Western nations such as the marginalization of Christianity and the widespread acceptance of abortion and promiscuous sexuality of various kinds. As he argues in the Institutes, political rulers are not to be neutral with regard to religion but “should labor to protect and assert the honor of Him whose representatives they are, and by whose grace they govern.”

In two places Marshall quotes a certain passage from the Institutes showing that Calvin did not believe the judicial law of the Old Testament should be carried over into modern societies. Of course, this is true. Calvin did not believe that the judicial law could be transplanted from the Jewish people of the Old Testament to modern nations. In his view, each nation must have the latitude to make laws and punishments that suit its particular situation.

However, he did expect those laws to reflect God’s moral law. As he puts it, “together with one voice, they pronounce punishment against those crimes which God’s eternal law has condemned.” Calvin calls the moral law “the true and eternal rule of righteousness, prescribed for men of all nations and times, who wish to conform their lives to God’s will.” The Ten Commandments are normative for all mankind and all nations.

That is not a message that people will want to hear today. But is Calvin wrong? Is God’s moral law an enduring standard for political ethics? Or need we look to another source? It’s a stark choice, and an answer reflecting historic Reformed thought will not be popular even in some Christian circles. Clearly, faithfulness to God requires submission to His moral law.

In Calvin’s view the chief purpose of man is to glorify the one true God, even in political matters. And it is this God, as he puts it, “to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject, to whose decrees all their commands ought to yield, to whose majesty their scepters ought to be submitted.”

Michael Wagner holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Alberta. He is an independent researcher and writer, the author of Standing on Guard for Thee: The Past, Present and Future of Canada’s Christian Right (Freedom Press, 2007), and is a member of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton.