Calvinism: A history
D. G. Hart
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DARRYL HART is a conservative Presbyterian, well-known in the
United States for defending the separation of Church and State
against politicised Christianities (on Right or Left). So he would
seem to be ideally placed to write the history of the tradition
that he has so long defended.
Certainly, this book is peerless as a guide to Calvinist and
Presbyterian struggles with the state, and with structure and
polity. As well as on his American home turf, Hart is authoritative
on the disputes that have riven the Reformed Churches of Scotland,
the Netherlands, Germany, and Geneva itself.
Institutional history can be a little dry, but Hart keeps the
larger point in view: that Calvinists who have resisted political
entanglements have prospered far more than those who have succumbed
to the lure of Constantine. And on this theme he is passionate and
lively. The crisis in Heidelberg in 1719 becomes a symbol of how
the Faustian bargain of political establishment turns sour:
beleaguered Calvinists barricaded themselves into their church,
only to find Catholic officials descending from the tower into the
nave by ropes to expel them.
Unfortunately, this is not really enough to sustain a full-scale
history of Calvinism. The book repeatedly describes its scope as
"global", but for that read "North Atlantic". The rest of the
planet gets swift brushstrokes at best. If you want to know about
the indigenous Calvinist consistories of 17th-century Taiwan,or the
South African Reformed Churches and apartheid, you will be
disappointed. His chapter on foreign missions turns out to be about
European and American mission agencies and their structures.
The earlier chapters of the book, indeed, read like a slightly
awkward prelude (and are dotted with minor factual errors): a
narrative without much sense of direction or purpose, which
periodically comes alivewhen his political theme comes into
There is frustratingly little on the ordinary life, piety,
devotion, or social experience of Calvinists in any age. And there
are virtually no women at all.
If you care (and you should) about how Christians should relate
institutionally to political power, read this book. But do not
mistakeit for a rounded history of Calvinism.
Dr Alec Ryrie is Professor of the History of Christianity at