Was John Calvin a Nominalist or a Realist? Does this question even have meaning? What were the primary influences of this theology?
Last year (or was it earlier this year?) I published a three-part series addressing these questions and exploring the nominalist roots of John Calvin’s theology. Here are the links to my articles:
The following material is taken from my book Saints and Scoundrels, chapter 16.
On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, where the Berlin Wall separated the free world from the communist empire.
In one of the most memorable speeches in living memory, Reagan offered a direct challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev, general-secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. Gorbachev had claimed that he wanted to reform the Communist party on the principles of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). But Reagan believed that there was one thing left for Gorbachev to do to prove his earnestness.
“General Secretary Gorbachev,” Reagan entreated, “if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev – Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Two years later, on November 9, 1989, East Germans began dismantling the Wall. As if in silent answer to Reagan’s words, Gorbachev did nothing to stop them. Earlier in the same year, Gorbachev had allowed the first open elections since 1917 to be held in the Soviet Union. Also in 1989 the USSR lost control of its satellite nations in Eastern Europe. For the next two years the free world rejoiced as it witnessed the systematic downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. Communism had failed. Reagan and the free world had won.
Or had they?
I love The Calvinist International website. The Protestant world needs more Calvinists like the people who write for this site – Calvinists willing to return to their rich heritage after so many churches in America have truncated reformed theology to be about little more than the tulip. Those who, like myself, have completely abandoned Protestantism, would do well to be well-versed in what TCL calls “the old evangelical tradition, most of which is still largely forgotten”, before launching into historically misinformed tirades against evangelicalism.
That said, my recommendation of the website is not without qualifications. Many of their writers could practice a little more intellectual charity towards their opponents, including being a little more selective in the pejorative adjectives used to describe those with whom they disagree. I would also like to see their method of resourcement significantly widened to include more extensive engagement with the breadth of what is available from the classical Christian tradition.
In Chapter 2 of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of some of the factors that have contributed to the West’s spiritual decline. In his historical narrative there were five landmark events that played a pivotal role in this process. He summarizes these as follows:
“In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality [he is talking about Nominalism vs. Realism here.]
The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century
The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which displaced the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy
The Industrial Revolution (ca 1760-1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
The Sexual Revolution (1960-present).”