Alister McGrath writes in the introduction to his biography of Calvin:
Through his remarkable ability to master languages, media and ideas, his insights into the importance of organization and social structures, and his intuitive grasp of the religious needs and possibilities of his era, Calvin was able to forge an alliance between religious thought and action which made Calvinism a wonder of its age. … Through the extraordinary dynamism and brilliance of his colleagues, agents and successors, Calvin’s ideas were fashioned into one of the most potent intellectual forces history has known, directly comparable in its influence and pervasiveness to the more recent rise of Marxism. The German sociologist of religion Ernst Troeltsch suggested that it has been at two points only that Christianity has been able to decisively transform human culture and civilisation: during the Middle Ages, through the scholastic synthesis of Thomas Aquinas, and in the early modern period, through Calvinism. To engage with Calvin and his legacy is thus to wrestle with one of the rare moments in modern history when Christianity moulded, rather than accommodated itself to, society. [xii]
One wonders if the developing story of the conflict between Protestant believers and the government in China is not an aftershock of the same Calvinist earthquake:
The government has defended its actions, saying the churches violated zoning restrictions. However, an internal government document reviewed by The New York Times makes it clear the demolitions are part of a strategy to reduce Christianity’s public profile.
The nine-page provincial policy statement says the government aims to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities, but it specifies only one religion, Christianity, and one symbol, crosses. …
Christianity, however, is seen by some in the government as a colonial vestige at odds with the party’s control of political and social life.
“There’s also uneasiness that some of these Christian religions are getting infusions of logistical and financial and doctrinal support from abroad,” Professor Yang said.
Protestantism is also linked to a national debate about “universal values.” Some Chinese Protestants argue that rights such as freedom of expression are God-given, and thus cannot be taken away by the state. These beliefs have led many Protestants to take up human rights work. A disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent political cases, for example, are Protestant.
Fenggang Yang, a professor of religion at Purdue University, said that Protestantism did not directly challenge the state, but that leaders had come to see it that way.
“The political threat of Christianity to the regime has been exaggerated by some officials,” he said. “So much so that it’s become a shared perception by top officials.”
Andrew Fulford is currently studying for a PhD in Reformation history.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.