First the disclaimers: I am not an authority on either Calvin or Calvinism. I have not read the Institutes, nor do I ever plan to do so. I also concur that Calvinism sometimes suffers cheap shots from its detractors, who know less about it than they imagine. And I have observed that you will often find some of the most intelligent and gifted people among its adherents.
That said, I am not a fan. This view does not rise from any dissatisfaction with a previous religious affiliation. Even back in my Protestant days, I was never, ever attracted to Calvinism. When I finally joined a church, my new tribe was equally and decided non-Calvinistic. My mother was the most nominal of Baptists. I always found this affiliation a bit ironic. To the extent that she thought about it at all, she disagreed with every one of the tenets that set them apart as Southern Baptists. I now realize that the things she disagreed with most were those beliefs rooted in Calvinism. And I agreed with her. Despite my lack of experience with Calvinism, I believe I can speak to the obvious fruits of Calvinist thought, not just in the religious sphere, but in the very formation and development of Americanism.
As to McKenzie’s defense of John Calvin, I found it surprisingly limp.
For starters, there's the fact that Calvin had a radical view of education. He thought that, heavens, people should read for themselves, including Scripture. He believed in truth being revealed through the mind, as well as the heart. He particularly had a passion for children learning to read and going to school, not necessarily the way things were done then. He began a school for children that grew into a university in Geneva.
Okay, so Calvin promoted education.
Calvin...embraced the intellect, which he personified by writing his landmark "Institutes of the Christian Religion." (The late historian Will Durant termed them one of the world's 10 most influential works.)
Well, I haven’t read Durant either. This also shows the limitations of list-making. From what I hear, the Institutes would also make the top-10 list for the most mind-numbingly unreadable works, as well.
"Calvin is to theology what Freud is to psychology: Love him, hate him, you have to deal with him."
Talk about being damned by faint praise…
The Frenchman got a closed sewer system built for his adopted hometown of Geneva, Switzerland. Like the pride Lyndon Johnson took in delivering electricity to rural Central Texas, Calvin considered that sewer one of his great accomplishments.
Again with the faint praise...(so far, McKenzie has compared Calvin to Dick Cheney, Sigmund Freud and Lyndon Johnson)
Similarly, his emphasis on the dignity of work is tied in the rise of capitalism. He didn't invent that economic system, but his challenging of the prevailing idea that work was drudgery reshaped the way people approached labor.
So Calvin is responsible for the Protestant work ethic, huh? I have been looking for someone to blame for that. Now I know who.
Like with Marx's communism or Freud's views on the mind, the rest of the world spins around the influence of Calvin, whether we know it or not.
Maybe…but if so, is that necessarily a good thing?
McKenzie closes with the thought that “John Calvin deserves a new look.”
Well, thanks…but I believe I will pass.
[To give equal time to Calvinists, I came across this article, which is actually in response to Jack D. Kinneer's "A Calvinist Looks at Orthodoxy." Apparently Kinneer spent some time at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary. The best I can tell, he takes us to task for supposedly not believing in "Justification by Faith" or "sovereign grace." Basically, he accuses the Orthodox of not being, well, Protestant. Guilty as charged!]