A reader sent us this question, and I realized that not only does it line up with a couple book releases we recently made, it also points out a real need:
Over the years that I have been casually reading of American History in light of Reformed theology, I have heard many times to the effect of, “if it weren’t for John Calvin, there wouldn’t have been an America,” or even “John Calvin is considered the founding father of America.” In addition to this, speakers have followed such statements with the similar claim that Calvin wrote or formed America’s Capitalistic economic structure.
No doubt I can see aspect of this, however I’ve never heard an author or book cited that seems to thoroughly develop this. I’m interested in a book that may trace the legal, religious, social and cultural, and economics lineage back to Calvin. And even a book that could teach Capitalism, specifically and somewhat directly from the scriptures.
One great book, and the most thorough on the first point, is David Hall, The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding. David Hall is a good and experienced Calvin scholar and a PCA pastor (soon to be my own pastor as a matter of fact). It is kind of hard to find copies of this, however, and they are a little pricey on the used market.
I don’t agree with everything Hall argues (I don’t think John Adams was anywhere near as Christian as he presents, for example), but this is certainly a very worthwhile read for the overall main point. After all, any book that has a first chapter named “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God” deserves some attention. (And I’ll be you didn’t know that before he founded the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson headed up a plan to transfer Calvin’s Academy of Geneva to American soil. When that could not materialize, UVA was plan B. Hall tells you about stuff like that.)
A shorter book, but with a broader historical focus, is Douglas Kelley’s The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World. It shows exactly what the reader is asking for, only throughout the West and up to the American founding. Covering five governments in only 156 pages is probably a better bet for most readers. I was informed there are a few copies still available from the publisher P&R, but they are moving to print on demand. I am looking into a licensed printing of this through AV, because it is a story that needs to be turned into a teaching series.
Another book you’ll definitely want to read in this broader vein is Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism which we just re-released in a new edition. Kuyper does not cover the historical development so much, but he is a perfect example of the influence of the Reformed tradition in western republicanism, liberty, and worldview, and he explicitly makes the case that these principles derive from Calvinism and only from Calvinism. Kuyper also was fully aware of what this means for American history as he was delivering these lectures at Princeton in 1898. This is a must read, for young Calvinists especially.
The reader may also wish to check out our product Biblical Blueprints for Victory a compilation of 9 audio lectures on related themes, including one directly related by the same author from above, David Hall, “The Impact of the Reformation on America.” The other lectures are more moderately related, but just as good and important.
As far as the economic question, we can address that in a separate post.