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On Christendom and Calvin

December 7th, 2009 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I have often been perplexed by how Reformed thinkers like Francis Schaeffer, Herman Dooyeweerd, Abraham Kuyper, and others have such robust engagement with culture while still staying consistent with Calvinism.  Or at least with Calvin.  While I am still learning all the nuances of the development of this tradition, Calvin's anthropology and its ambivalence toward human nature hardly seems like fertile ground for cultivating the arts, literature, and politics.  

In other words, there seems to be a disjunct between the fountainhead and those who have drunk from the stream.  

Or maybe not.  In my reading this weekend, I came across this bit from Timothy George:

"By rejecting the Anabaptist concept of the congregation as a conventicle sequestered from the environing culture, Calvin rooted his reformation in the "placed Christianity" of the medieval corpus christianum.  In a perceptive article on "The 'Extra' Dimension in the Theology of Calvin," Heiko Oberman argued that the relatively more progressive element in the Reformed concept of the state could be traced to Calvin's view of God as Legislator and King and that the rule of God was not limited to the congregation only but also extended etiam extra ecclesiam: even beyond the church."

George goes on to argue that while sometimes Calvin spoke with sectarian tones about the visible Church, he also argued that the "rule of Christ was to be manifested, ideally, in the institution of a godly magistracy."  But for Calvin, the distinctions between them were to be maintained until the spiritual kingdom and the earthly kingdom were united in the eschatological revelation of Jesus Christ.  

In short, Calvin:  friend of Christendom, kind of.

(Want more Christendom thinking?  Go here).

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.