Dutch Neo-Calvinism And The Roots For Transformation: An Introductory Essay -- By: William D. Dennison

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 42:2 (Jun 1999)
Article: Dutch Neo-Calvinism And The Roots For Transformation: An Introductory Essay
Author: William D. Dennison

Dutch Neo-Calvinism And The Roots For Transformation: An Introductory Essay 1

William D. Dennison*

I. Introduction

In his famous lectures delivered at the Yale University School of Law in 1931, Carl Becker maintained that the prominent thinkers in the Enlightenment (e.g. Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau) attempted to demolish the heavenly city of St. Augustine only to rebuilt it with modern materials. 2 In my judgment, Becker’s thesis correctly contrasted the eschatological approach to life found in medieval Christian Europe and the eschatological approach to life found in the French philosophes. For the common believer in medieval Europe, this world is not one’s home; rather, the believer looks forward to final perfectibility in Christ in the next world. In contrast, the philosophes of the Enlightenment advanced their own doctrine of progress and perfectibility of humanity through a radical regeneration of morality and social institutions. 3 For the philosophes the quest for modernity was to transform the Biblical notion of the Garden of Eden and the eternal heavenly city into an earthly egalitarian society and cultural utopia. 4 In their estimation, the future (posterity) would rationally and naturally bring this transformation. For this reason, “posterity” was often reverently addressed by the philosophes as a divinity as well as an object of prayer. 5 Indeed, the quest for modernity will be realized; the dominance of the medieval Christian world will be uprooted and transformed into the world of fraternity, liberty, and equality. For them, the process towards modernity had begun: the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe (Copernican revolution), nature is controlled by

* William Dennison is associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Covenant College, Scenic Highway, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750.

its own inherent power (Newton following Lucretius), exploration focused human attention on this world and not the next world, the expulsion of original sin made the perfectibility of humanity a realized possibility, war can possibly cease by getting rid of religious sects or Christian Protestant denominations—creating an air of tolerance never experienced by humanity (Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s proposal)—and hence, the new rational humanism has created the best of all possible worlds here on earth. 6

As the Enlightenment fathers called for r...

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