Calvinism

Calvinism is a set of doctrines and a distinct set of cultural assumptions associated with sixteenth-century Protestant reformer John Calvin. Born in France in 1509, Calvin was educated at the University of Paris, where he studied law and theology and eventually embraced the Protestant faith. Desiring a life of secluded study and contemplation, Calvin was invited to preach in Basel, Switzerland, and eventually settled in Geneva. Calvin established a theocracy in which God’s law was the civil law and the ministry held a decided political, ecclesiastical, and theological influence over the city. Protestant sympathizers from every corner of Europe came to Geneva to study, and the teachings of Calvin spread throughout the Continent during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Calvin’s followers at the Synod of Dort (1618 1619) coined the term Calvinism. Convened in Holland, this church meeting witnessed intense theological conversation between the followers of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, the Arminians (or Remonstrants), and the followers of John Calvin. Arminians believed that human beings were endowed with free will and could respond to or reject God’s spiritual overtures. Arminians also maintained that the death of Jesus Christ was sufficient and satisfactory for the salvation of the entire human race. Finally, Arminians held that human beings retain salvation so long as faith and holy practice are sustained. The Calvinists felt that the Arminians overemphasized human effort in matters of salvation and that they therefore placed a premium on God’s exhaustive knowledge and ability to instill irrevocable faith. Unlike the Arminians, the Calvinists maintained that human beings were sinful by nature and spiritually unable to respond to God’s spiritual prodding. Calvinists believed that God chose a special group for heaven and left the rest to suffer eternal damnation. The spirit of the Protestant Reformation was born in England with the fourteenth-century reformer John Wycliffe; William Tyndale, who first translated the Bible into English in the sixteenth century; and his contemporary Thomas Cranmer, who authored the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and served as archbishop of Canterbury. Calvin’s connection to England began with a French-speaking congregation in London and with significant and extended correspondence with the duke of Somerset. This communication was integral to several Calvinists gaining social prominence in England in the sixteenth century, including Martin Bucer, a professor of divinity at Cambridge, and Peter Martyr Vermigli, a professor of divinity at Oxford. After the reign of Mary I (known as Bloody Mary for her execution of Protestants), Queen Elizabeth’s moderate religious position allowed many Calvinists safe return to England. The Geneva Bible became the scripture of choice, and Calvinism was supported at the end of the sixteenth century by another archbishop, John Whitgift. Other major expositors of Calvinism in England were William Perkins and Richard Sibbes, who was instrumental in the conversion of John Cotton, the leading minister in the early days of the colonial Massachusetts settlement. The English Calvinists Thomas Hooker and William Ames also influenced Cotton and other colonial ministers, as did the Westminster Assembly, from which the Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith came. These formidable English Calvinistic influences provided the marrow for colonial North American Puritan theology. Puritans began migrating to North America during the 1620s and 1630s. Led by spiritual leaders such as John Winthrop, the Puritans fashioned a solid Calvinistic foundation for the colonies of New England. Serious in theology and purposeful in morality, the Puritans were noted for spiritual exactitude. The Calvinist outlook of the Puritans placed a premium on God’s action in the world and made prodigious use of the intellect in an attempt to understand God’s ways. Another key colonial Calvinist was notorious Salem minister Cotton Mather, famous for his role in the witch trials of the 1690s. Notable eighteenth-century Calvinists included Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, the major figures of the colonial religious revival known as the Great Awakening. Many of Edwards’s sermons, such as Justification by Faith Alone (1734 35) and Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741), along with his formidable A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746), bolstered the Calvinist cause in New England. Even though Calvinism still claimed notable advocates by the mid-eighteenth century, it had to compete with a plurality of ideas (e.g., Deism) in the growing religious marketplace of colonial America. It eventually succumbed to more voluntarist forms of religious expression. Phillip L. Sinitiere See also: Bible; Christ and Christianity; Religion (Chronology); Religion (Essay). Bibliography Benedict, Philip. Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002. Bouwsam, William J. John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. Reid, W. Stanford. John Calvin: His Influence on the Western World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982. The Calvinist Debate- By David Cloud holidaymapq

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