November 28th, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
I have said many times that the prefix “neo” is more important for understanding neo-Calvinism than the noun. But the more I read neo-Calvinists, I wonder if they actually read Calvin or simply make up what they contend to be the Reformed faith. Just this afternoon I was reading Henry Van Til’s A Calvinistic Concept of Culture and saw the classic Reformed triumphalism which turns Calvin into a reason for Reformed Protestants to take credit for all the blessings of modern Western society — his impact on economics, politics, and culture. Why I even read that Calvin was responsible for defending and maintaining civil liberty. That may be, but do neo-Calvinist cheerleaders ever consider the downsides of liberty and whether Calvinism deserves blame for libertinism and licentiousness? Most would respond, “of course, not, because Calvin properly grounded liberty in the Word of God.” But once people taste civil liberty is it so easy to avoid Rousseau or Voltaire (Calvin was a Frenchman, for those who may be ethnically challenged).
Meanwhile, the idea of redemption as the restoration of creation picks up more and more steam and neo-Calvinism puts more and more novelty into ideas Calvinistic. Here’s just a smidgeon of the contrast. Over at a website devoted to Kuyperianism, I ran across a whimsical essay by James K. A. Smith on the nature of redemption from a Reformed perspective. For Smith, salvation is not individual but cosmic:
The Word became flesh, not to save our souls from this fallen world, but in order to restore us as lovers of this world—to (re)enable us to carry out that creative commission. Indeed, God saves us so that—once again, in a kind of divine madness—we can save the world, can (re)make the world aright. And God’s redemptive love spills over in its cosmic effects, giving hope to this groaning creation.
Odd perhaps might be the idea that we can save the world. (Bad enough, as James Davison Hunter reminds us, is the idea that we can actually change the world.) Smith not only has us changing but also saving the world. Charles Finney and John Calvin have joined sides.