Teaching Calvin in California

To persuade them, in short, that theology matters to a liberal education.

.. But nothing outrages them — not the writings of Augustine or Erasmus or Luther — more than two or three pages of John Calvin.

.. Calvin was the most influential religious reformer of the 16th century. His theological imagination and organizational genius prepared the way for almost all forms of American Protestantism, from the Presbyterians to the Methodists to the Baptists. He was also a severe and uncompromising thinker. The Ayatollah of Geneva, some have called him.

.. “Some are born destined for certain death from the womb, who glorify God’s name by their own destruction.” This is the heart of Calvin’s teaching of predestination, his insistence that God determined each human destiny before the creation of the world. The elect are bound for heaven, the reprobate to hell, and there is absolutely nothing to be done about it, ever.

.. Your merits, your good will, your moral action: None of these make a difference. The chosen Jacob is no better than the rejected Esau. The damned glorify God’s name. And God is pleased by the whole business.

.. The first lesson that Calvin teaches us is about the power of an idea, uncompromisingly expressed and shrewdly argued.

.. Be careful what you believe in. Consider the consequences of your commitments. Investigate what your own views demand.

.. The third lesson is this: that we don’t need to take Calvin’s bait.

.. “All those who do not know that they are God’s own will be miserable through constant fear.”

.. The German sociologist Max Weber’s view — that it was precisely the uncertainty generated by Calvin’s doctrine of election that helped spur the rise of capitalism — is one canonical analysis that I can now share with them. The historian Perry Miller’s view — that the inability to hew to election was crucial to the formation of colonial American Protestantism — is another.