Calvin Makes the Huffington Post

Because of their size and the economy of scale there are two states that largely determine what will be in public school textbooks: Texas and California. For some time now the adoption of standards for textbooks has been highly political and thus controversial. The political and cultural left has run the table for most of the last 25 years. Recently the socio-political right recently won a round in Texas and, predictably, the left is whining about the impending end of the world. In the midst of the silliness Barbara Pitkin, a serious Calvin scholar at Stanford University, has published a thoughtful piece on the significance of the inclusion of Calvin in the latest Texas textbooks. (HT: Norman Van Eden Petersman)

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  1. Loved this line…

    “And religious heresy, as elsewhere in early modern Europe, was a civic crime, punished by the magistrates, not by the church.”

    Glad to see this noted.

    • But the following is even better:

      The most remarkable element, however, is that fact that Calvin was refreshingly undogmatic about both the proper form of government and the ideal relationship between reformed churches and their political rulers. Thus churches considered “Calvinist” have manifested a surprising variety of relations to civil governments, ranging from complete cooperation to open hostility.

      Funny what gladdens the theonomist versus the 2Ker.

  2. Pitkin’s article is very interesting and worth reading. Thanks, Pastor, for hooking us up with it. One fundamental problem with her thinking is that she seems to suppose throughout that, if Calvin were included, the students would analyze the historical sources and come to find…. I seriously doubt that students are doing much in the way of analysis of historical sources. In my experience (especially in government schools, sorry Zrim), a figure is held up for examination (maybe honestly, maybe not) and then weighed in the balance of our modern conceptions of how things ought to be.

    That said, it would be nice if the government school children “knew” more about Calvin than he personally burned Servetus. I mean, Servetus was just walkin’ along, minding his own business, when…

    • In my experience (especially in government schools, sorry Zrim), a figure is held up for examination (maybe honestly, maybe not) and then weighed in the balance of our modern conceptions of how things ought to be.

      First, it’s pronounced “gummint.”

      Second, no need to apologize, I can see that. Holding up, say MLK this way is commonplace. But I think it’s good remember that if gummint schools do this it owes in large part to the historical legacy of proto-transformationalists in American education. You know, the ones who thought that the school is the place where human beings are made; or at best, co-made in conjunction with, or at worst, to the exclusion of the home. Over-realizing the function of education didn’t just fall out of the sky—arguably it originates from a Constantinian-religious notion that education’s function (like statecraft) is societal betterment.

      But if we’re going by experience, I have found that modern secular educator’s have seen the foibles of this transformationalist outlook and understand the ordained power to the home to make people and how education isn’t the key to society. If they’re holding up MLK then weighing in the balance of our modern conceptions of how things ought to be, it’s mostly out of habit or leftover misguidance.

  3. From the comments:

    “please include in the Calvin studies his instructions that in the burning of Servetus at the stake green wood be used because it burned slower? (Look it up)…”

    and also:

    “John Calvin was a tyrant , do not take my word for it Google and Wiki”

    I think this just proves the point that some facts about the Reformer are certainly needed in schools. 🙂

  4. Yes, interesting. Contra the blogger who labeled Calvin a “religious right icon” — I know a lot of religious right fundamentalists who can’t stand Calvin.

  5. Zrim: Wow! “The historical legacy of proto-transformationalists in American education”! I love it.

    I can’t see how the knowledge imparted to people doesn’t change and shape the person receiving it. Since every teacher teaches from a perspective, and the knowledge they teach changes/impacts their students, education is necessarily transformationalist (even if not in the fullest sense of that two-bit term). It’s wet in the water no matter which way you’re swimming.

    • Tim,

      Impacting and influencing isn’t the same as making and nurturing. And imparting knowledge isn’t nearly as powerful as raising children.

      • Impacting and influencing, ISTM, is part of nurturing. Imparting knowledge is part of child rearing. No point in pitting a part against the whole. But also no point in mistaking part for the whole. So, on the whole, I agree. Education is a part of godly parenting. In any event, education necessarily transforms, even if it’s not the sharpest tool for the task.

        Have a great Lord’s Day!

        • Tim,

          I’m not sure what I am saying is to pit one parts and wholes. What I’m saying is that all human making (i.e. child rearing) is influencing, but not all influencing is human making. And all human making includes imparting of knowledge, but not all imparting of knowledge is human making.

          And maybe I over-react to the t-word, but often times when I hear it said that “education necessarily transforms” an individual I can’t help but think the above distinctions aren’t being carefully made. And what education does for an individual is being over-realized (which seems to have something in common, by the way, with how politics is over-realized for what it does for society). And this was my point about the proto-transformationalism in American education stuff: the idea was that education does more than deliver the three Rs, as it were, it shapes and makes human beings. No, it doesn’t; for better or worse, that’s the home’s role. Maybe Protestantism needs another sola when it comes to education, sola familia.

  6. I am still a bit confused on how those under the covenant of grace (believers in the biblical Christ of this covenant) are to relate to those (to use Klinean terms) under the covenant of common grace (those with faiths in others besides the redeeming Christ). Do we relate to them using only natural law language or can we make some theological appeals in our language? Do we have an obligation to try to evangelize in the common grace public square realm or do we allow the Church to take care of evangelism. I could go on about questions like this and I cannot seem to find any good resources to answer questions like these.

    The author of this article seems to be a good example of how to relate to others in the public square without wearing your theological beliefs on your sleeve. I know Kuyperian’s, Dooyweerdian’s, Van Tillian’s, theonomist’s and advocates of Vos and Kline would all answer the above types of inquiries differently too. Somebody ought to write a good book on this subject- how to relate to those who do not share your faith in the public square. And how God governs the common grace realm and the special grace realm differently.

    I also get confused on what exactly the common grace realm entails (institutionally). Is it similar to Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty? These terms get to be a bit confusing and seem to be used in different ways with different theologians and writers.

  7. John Y:

    Dr. VanDrunen’s “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought” surveys the topic within the Reformed tradition. An adage warns against judging a book by its cover, and you probably shouldn’t do that, but you can judge this book by its title–it delivers exactly what the title promises.

    Jason Stellman’s “Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet” is a good introduction to 2K theology and explains how it plays out in day-to-day life.

    Both are available here:

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