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John Calvin's American Legacy$
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Thomas Davis

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195390971

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390971.001.0001

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Implausible: Calvinism and American Politics

Implausible: Calvinism and American Politics

(p.65) 3 Implausible: Calvinism and American Politics
John Calvin's American Legacy

D. G. Hart

Oxford University Press

From 1776 until approximately 1970, American Protestant clergy and academics argued that Calvinism was crucial to their nation’s political institutions and ideals. It was common among the mainstream Presbyterian groups (termed "libertarian Calvinists") to aver that Calvinism provided the only adequate basis for the American experiment of a republic based on limited government and civil liberty. This chapter examines the contortions necessary for these arguments. Then, the chapter examines the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (termed "authoritarian Calvinists"). It holds closely to the language in the original Westminster Confession, which calls upon the state to protect and foster Christian faith. Given these differing perspectives, the chapter concludes, agreeing with Philip Benedict, that Calvinism’s importance has less to do with its contributions to political theory and more to do with its role as a religion that shapes the personal and familial identities of its adherents.

Keywords:   Libertarian Calvinists, Authoritarian Calvinists, Presbyterians, Westminster confession, Philip Benedict, political theory, Calvinism, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America

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