Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 5: Western Civilization

Other Posts in this Series:

In previous posts, I have focused mainly on the theological importance of Calvinism and the practical impact of Calvinism in terms of Christ's kingdom. Consider, now, the social impact of Calvinism. History bears out that Calvinism has had a profoundly formative influence on western civilization.

Constitutional Republic. Calvinism's doctrine of total depravity teaches that human beings are not as “bad as they can be,” but that they are corrupt in each human faculty. In Adam, our fallen minds, hearts, and wills are depraved (Rom 3:10-12), such that we are naturally selfish, sinful, and idolize creation rather than worship the Creator (Rom 1:18-32).  Therefore, any system of government that fails to include a careful balance of power will inevitably result in corruption because human beings will selfishly take advantage of unaccountable power.

If total depravity is true, then a “republic” is necessary. Power concentrated in the hands of totally depraved governing officials will be abused and corruption will result. Therefore, monarchies, oligarchies, and all feudal systems are excluded as workable forms of human government. Similarly, if power is concentrated in the hands of the masses, there will be corruption as the majority will tyrannize the minority. Therefore, pure democracy is excluded as a workable form of human government. Only a federal republic in which rulers are elected by the public and empowered to rule with authority successfully distributes power between the rulers and the public, such that the sinful human nature is held accountable.

If total depravity is true, then a “constitution” is necessary. While government can and must be “by” men, a nation's government must not be “of” totally depraved men. In other forms of government, laws change with the king or with the vote of the majority. But because human beings are totally depraved, government must be founded on a fundamental social “law.” A constitution is the most basic law of a constitutional republic. Basic law is necessary to penalize the societal sins of totally depraved people, both of governing officials as well as of the general public.

Capitalism. Calvinism's doctrine of total depravity means that human beings will never be naturally inclined to any form of socialism or communism. Basic fallen human nature is selfish and simply will not seek to work altruistically for the common good as a way of life.  

Capitalism is the only system of economics that accounts sufficiently for the innate selfishness of human beings. Capitalism motivates individuals to economic productivity and private ownership of material goods based on their own merit, and it penalizes individuals who fail to produce products and services demanded by the public. It is, therefore, based on the total depravity of human beings, which comports with the current fallen state of the world.

Calvinism, however, would never favor a purely laissez faire (hands off) system of economics because individuals and institutions will figure out ways to make money in the short run that cause great harm (even death) in the long run and before the public catches on to what's going on and the market corrects for misbehavior. Therefore, Calvinism also favors just laws, patterned on God's moral law, summarized by the Ten Commandments, imposed by the government to penalize external economic and social sins such as theft, violation of contracts (lying), murder, etc.

Civil Liberty. As a corollary to Calvinism's insistence on the need for just law to curb the behavior of totally depraved human beings, Calvinism also opposes all unnecessary laws. This is the doctrine of "liberty."  Romans 13 says that the government is “an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.” Therefore, government should impose laws that penalize the outwardly sinful actions of totally depraved human beings according to the second table of the Ten Commandments (the definition of “wrongdoing”). Romans 13:9 says, “The commandments: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Beyond, this, however, there is liberty, which is “freedom under the rule of just law.” Governments that attempt to regulate aspects of human life beyond just moral law are legalistic. Government has no right to make laws that regulate our eating habits, spending habits, educational choices, parenting choices, entertainment choices, religious choices, etc.  These things fall in the sphere of "civil liberty."

Religious Liberty. Finally, Calvinism provides a strong argument for religious liberty. If human beings have the contra-causal freedom to “choose between two options” as “A Statement of Traditional Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation” affirms, then why shouldn't governments force all men to become Christians? If the choice is really up to each individual and each individual really is capable of choosing Christ or rejecting Him, then why not do what is best for their souls and help them make the right choice at gunpoint? A little government coercion might secure great numbers of free will choices that could send multitudes to heaven.

The problem with forced conversions is that human beings don't really have a “free will.” They are totally depraved, incapable of choosing Christ on the basis of their own volition. Only the Holy Spirit can effectually call any man to salvation. Therefore, the government must not attempt to force any conversions. It cannot and will not work. The most that the government could accomplish would be to fill the churches will false converts who deceptively profess Christ while secretly despising Him in their hearts. This would pollute the churches and corrupt our witness in the world. Therefore, Calvinism is the foundation of religious liberty.

Calvinism matters because it is part of the foundation of Western Civilization.

For further study, I recommend:
Calvin in the Public Square by David W. Hall
Calvin and Commerce by David W. Hall and Matthew D. Burton
Calvin and Culture by David W. Hall and Marvin Padgett

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