John Calvin’s Social Theology in Context. Part 1/4

John Calvin Speaking at the Council of Geneva 1549

A Maligned Social Reformer
John Calvin’s theology was forged in the cauldron of social conflict. Although Calvin as an exile in Geneva would have cherished his new found freedom from the tyranny of the king of France and from deadly attacks launched by militant Catholics, no one can downplay the trauma of his social dislocation after fleeing from France. For Calvin, theological reflection in exile became a desperate intellectual mechanism to secure a sense of harmony and well-being for one who was now a stranger in a strange land. Calvin’s plight was exacerbated by the fact that Geneva, his new ‘home,’ was a city of contentious factions competing for power as the city groped for ways to maintain order and security after breaking away from the Duke of Savoy in 1535. One may say that for both Calvin as an alienated exile and for the Genevans, finding the right balance between their precious freedom and preserving their precarious social order assumed an existential intensity.

Calvin had to contend with Genevan citizens who jealously guarded their newfound freedom (the Libertines) and resolutely rejected any semblance of social regulation which they regarded as a regress to the old oppressive order. He forcefully opposed the Anabaptists to prevent irresponsible libertarianism which would result in lawlessness and endless disputes. Finally, Calvin had running battles with the civil authorities of Geneva – the elected Council and its liaison committee working with the pastors (the Consistory) – to limit the jurisdiction of civil authorities in the ordering of church life. Continue reading “John Calvin’s Social Theology in Context. Part 1/4”

How a Minority Church Impacted Wider Society

The early church avoided active engagement with Roman politics, where the contestation for power was brutal and political fortune was fickle, brutish and short. The bedraggled religious community was already leading a precarious existence since it lacked political patronage. As such, it would be wise for it to avoid getting entangled with mighty Caesar who would not hesitate to snuff out any potential challenge to his throne. However, political realism did not mean that the church retreated into a cocooned existence in the ghetto. Instead, it sought to serve wider society by building effective social-economic networks for social renewal.

A Social Message of the Power of Love in Action
Continue reading “How a Minority Church Impacted Wider Society”

Has Evangelicalism Lost its Soul?

Recently, Scot McKnight writing in Jesus Creed, a prominent blog for ‘progressive’ evangelicals posted a lament, “The Scandal/Loss of the Evangelical Soul.” He begins with a standard definition of evangelicalism taken from David Debbington with the following pillars: (1) the authority of the Bible, (2) the centrality of the cross, (3) the necessity of personal conversion, and (4) Christian action in evangelism and social work.

McKnight identifies four disturbing signs pointing to the crumbling of evangelicalism: (1) The Bible Diminished, (2) Mission Work Has Become Social Work, (3) Where are the Pastors? And (4) Atonement Confusion.

The consequences are distressing: Continue reading “Has Evangelicalism Lost its Soul?”

Going Public with Lesslie Newbigin: Public Theology and Social Engagement in an Islamic Context

Thesis: Regarding both the commonality and the crucial difference in the way Christianity and Islam approach public doctrine and the ordering of society – “The issue of public doctrine cannot be evaded…Muslims and Christians share a common belief that life is not to be understood or managed without reference to God…Christianity and Islam have differing beliefs about how God rules in human affairs. The heart of the difference is in the fact of the cross. The Prophet rode into Mecca to conquer; Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die. The crux lies there. And that means that Christians cannot use coercion in the struggle between two different ultimate faiths. But struggle there must be. The field is the whole of our public doctrine.

That is to say, while Christianity and Islam agree on the theistic foundation for public morals, they disagree on how public morals should be exemplified and regulated, especially in a plural society. In particular, contemporary Christianity gives priority to embodying moral ideals rather than imposing moral rules and regulations backed by punitive measures. The basis for this Christian approach rests on the understanding that the church’s exemplary moral life best represents how the gospel redeems culture. Continue reading “Going Public with Lesslie Newbigin: Public Theology and Social Engagement in an Islamic Context”