Sovereign Grace: The Place and Significance of Christian Freedom in John Calvin's Political Thought

Sovereign Grace: The Place and Significance of Christian Freedom in John Calvin's Political Thought

Sovereign Grace: The Place and Significance of Christian Freedom in John Calvin's Political Thought

Sovereign Grace: The Place and Significance of Christian Freedom in John Calvin's Political Thought

Synopsis

The Reformation thinker John Calvin had significant and unusual things to say about life in public encounter, things which both anticipate modern thinking and, says William Stevenson, can serve as important antidotes to some of modern thinking's broader pretensions. This study attempts to give a coherent picture of Calvin's political theory by following the stream that flows from his fascinating short essay, "On Christian Freedom," one chapter in the magisterial Institutes of the Christian Religion. Stevenson argues that a full examination of this essay yields not only a more thorough explication--and historical placement--of Calvin's political ideas proper but also a more complete and coherent picture of their theological underpinnings.

Excerpt

My interest in John Calvin's political ideas began to develop in earnest only after I came to teach courses in the history of political thought at Calvin College in fall 1989. Before that time I had not been drawn to study Calvin's writings and as a result knew little about them. That ignorance quickly began to dissipate as I sought to learn more about the Reformed tradition reflected in the educational mission of the college. I began to study John Calvin, that is, to learn more about Calvin College. This book is the best evidence that for me, Calvin's writings have been difficult to put down.

Just before the spring semester, 1990, I decided to include in my course in the history of modem political thought the compact John McNeill collection of Calvin's political writings, On God and Political Duty (New York: Macmillan, 1950). As I was reading through that collection, preparing to compose a syllabus, the thought occurred to me that Calvin's essay "On Christian Freedom" might serve as a kind of organizing framework for the course. Thinking about his three "parts" of freedom caused me to consider a categorization of the key modem thinkers according to their views on the sources, content, and goals of human freedom. Somewhat tentatively, I decided to try out this framework on my Calvin undergraduates. They were supportive enough that I determined to solicit from the college some release time to put together for presentation at the "1991 American Political Science Association (APSA) meeting a paper detailing the ways which Calvin's idea of Christian freedom both anticipates and serves as an "antidote" for the primary modem ideas of freedom. At every stage I was encouraged and supported by colleagues, both near and far, and the college administration. Seven years later, that paper has now become a book.

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