The Social Concern of Calvin
I recently gave a lesson on "Calvin the Christian Humanist" at my local church. The lessons was well received but the study time leading up to the lesson was more profitable to me. One books that was largely profitable in my study was William C. Innes's Social Concern in Calvin's Geneva. I'd like to highlight a couple sections of the numerous chapters in this book.
The book is the thesis work of Innes and is largely quite technical. But as an introduction to looking at this book, I wanted to highlight something from the chapter entitled "Calvin's Economic Theology" on what makes Calvin stand out amongst the other reformers:
"Many of Calvin's theological ideas on social ware for welfare and economic activity admittedly reflect the concerns in outlook, the morality and piety, found throughout the European cities of the late Middle Ages…He was essentially the first major theologian of this era to grasp the actual mechanism of economic processes and to grapple with the interrelation of secular economic development in the material and moral welfare of the individual.
Because Calvin conceived of money as just one more agent in the divine plan of salvation, he deeply believed that the church must speak out on economic issues and be a positive Christian influence for the spiritual and material well-being of society." (Social Concern in Calvin's Geneva, Pg. 237- 238)
According to Innes, it's not the social ideas of Calvin that are innovative but his coming to grips with the actual issues of the individual in Geneva. This concern about the local people of Geneva is what causes Calvin to stand out and warrant a thesis study of the social programs and reform implemented by Calvin and the Geneva City Council.
In all of this I was reminded of a quote from Karl Barth and the weighty concern of Calvin about the people of the reformation:
"Throughout his life his daily thought was to care for the persecuted, for those languishing in prison or the galleys, for those anywhere in the world for the sake of the gospel were threatened with death or the victims of it. He was also concerned for the pressure and threat under which the cause of God itself stood. Calvin felt that he had a part in all this, that he bore responsibility. No other reformer felt the burden of responsibility so keenly." (The Theology of John Calvin, 126)
As I slowly make my way through pieces of Innes's work, I think it will become abundantly clear that many representations of what Calvin did in Geneva are woefully tainted with disrespect and cluelessness. Calvin's profound concern for the social welfare of the people—and the role it plays in the communication of the gospel—cannot go underemphasized.