In an effort to reacquaint myself with the work being done here at AC I have been reviewing the wonderful back-and-forth exchanges between Mark David Hall and Gregg Frazer. I have been particularly interested in the disagreements over Calvinist resistance theory and its role (or the lack thereof, depending upon your persuasion) in the American Revolution.
Personally, I have a long way to go in gaining a better appreciation for Calvinist theology (which has always left a sour taste on my Mormon palate). I understand Dr. Hall's reasons for favoring Calvinist theology as being the "first cause" that got the whole resistance to authority ball rolling, but also understand why Dr. Frazer is hesitant to bestow all credit upon the Reformed Christian tradition, or as Frazer put it in one of his comments, "I am refuting Hall’s claims that Madison [and by extension many of the other key founders] was influenced by Calvin – I am not saying anything about whether Calvin’s view is right or wrong.
The jury is still out for Yours Truly. The majority of my free time these days is devoted to determining just how important of a role Calvinism played in developing a model of opposing authority, and just how much of an impact this model may have had on the American Revolution. Part of my problem in determining who played what role and how big of an impact that role may have been boils down to semantics. What do specific historians mean when they reference terms like "Calvinist resistance theory"?
I think fellow blogger, Tom Van Dyke gets to the core of what I am struggling with when he writes (in two different comment threads):
My favorite question to the Gregg Frazers and DH Harts and other paleo-Calvinists is, "Whose Calvinism is it Anyway?"
The thing is, the Reformation did not end with Luther and Calvin. It was a continuously evolving [and also liberalizing] jumble of theologies, and the historian-sociologist is not the one to decree which were Christian and which were not.
In Calvin's Geneva, Romans 13 was an iron-clad prohibition; only decades later, the persecution of the French Huguenots led to the development of "Calvinist Resistance Theory" that helped power the American Revolution.
The most immediate and pressing ecumenical question for Protestants is not their relationship to Rome but their relationship to one another. From the moment Luther refused to accept Zwingli’s memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper at Marburg in 1529, the history of Protestantism has followed the pattern that Roman Catholic critics predicted: ever-increasing theological and institutional fragmentation.
Insisting that the unity for which Christ prayed need only be spiritual, and not institutional, Protestants have become as divided from one another as they are from Rome."It seems to me that the whole of Protestantism is like an alphabet soup in which anyone with an agenda and a big enough bowl can spell out whatever appeals to their liking.
And when it comes to the topic of Calvinist resistance theory, which Dr. Hall seems to suggest was a concept that evolved over time and wasn't simply born in its entirety from the mind of Calvin himself, when do we arrive at the point of evolution in which we have a new specie? In other words, when are we safe to no longer label something Calvinist? It seems like tremendous liberties are being taken in applying the whole of resistance theory to Calvin alone, or even to Calvin and his Reformed Christian followers alone. Surely other factors and influences came into play.
My biggest issue with granting Calvinism credit for the exclusive development of resistance to authority centers on some of the foundational claims specific to Calvinist theology, specifically the "TU" in their "TULIP."
[I realize I am straying into the weeds of theology here but hear me out. Like I said, I am trying to piece all of this together in my mind].
If humanity is in a state of TOTAL DEPRAVITY and God arbitrarily chooses whom he will and will not save via UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION, how does resistance to authority become a thing? Calvin's somewhat strange understanding of free will (i.e. the notion that mankind is "hard wired" to sin thanks to the Fall of Adam, and therefore will always default to sin unless "re-wired" by God through Election), which reminds me of when my oldest son hit his brother and replied, "It's not my fault, he made me do it," implies that all actions, good and bad, are predetermined and mankind is simply acting out the script which God has already foreseen and foreordained.
In other words, man was not free to act, but to be acted upon.
The implications for resistance to God's authority figures would then be that God, in His infinite wisdom, predestined (or foresaw) the regime of an evil leader; a leader God himself predestined to assume power, who then deserved (or didn't deserve depending on your interpretation of Romans, 13) to be opposed and potentially removed from power. Such confusing and contradictory theology seems to fly in the face of so many later figures who tended to favor a more Arminian approach to mankind's participatory role in salvation. It is this Arminian perspective that seems, at least to me, to be more in harmony with resistance to authority than does Calvin.
These are just a few thoughts I wanted to write down. Now I hope to hear your $0.02 on the matter. Please, don't hold back. I need to figure this shit out! Lol.