Saturday, November 9, 2013

Calvinism A History by D. G. Hart

This book is not what I had hoped. Rather than a discussion of the development of the doctrines or theology of Calvinism, it is a history of the people and institutions associated with Calvinism. A more appropriate title might have been something like Calvinism: a History of its People and Institutions.

Being of Dutch descent and deep Calvinist background, I still read the book. I found out that the Reformation in the Low Countries produced the most martyrs of any nation. There were no strong independent nobles buffering Protestants from the Holy Roman Empire. More than 1,300 Dutch believers were executed between 1523 and 1566 (compared to around 500 in France, a nation with nine times the population). By 1555 the Netherlands had produced more martyrs for the Protestant cause than any other European country.

My heritage is the Reformed Church in America and Hart covers the Dutch exploration and the founding of colonies, such as in what would be New York, and establishing a church in 1628 (that makes the RCA the oldest denomination in America with continuous activity).

He also reports on the mission activity of the Calvinistic churches. “Three centuries later [after the Reformation], Reformed Protestants had taken their faith and churches to every corner of the habitable world.” (200) Colonialism and migration accounted for some of that in the 17th and 18th centuries but foreign missions and the efforts of pastors in the colonies produced the greatest growth in the 19th century.

Hart details the political situations as he follows the history of those associated with Calvinism. He does write about the confessions developed over time but with a view to the results of the documents, not their content.

If you want to see how Calvinism spread, the political situations encountered, and the people involved, this is the book for you. If you are interested in a history of the beliefs associated with Calvinism you will have to go elsewhere.

D. G. Hart is visiting professor of history at Hillsdale College. He is the author of over a dozen books.

Yale University Press, 340 pages.

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