Scottish Reformation and Religious Liberty–not really

Religious liberty is the holy grail among public theologians today.   If you can convince your audience that your position provides for religious liberty defined by the canons of liberal democracy (which presumably, your opponent’s does not) then you win.  Calvinists have picked up on this and a flood of books on John Calvin’s creation of liberal democracy etc have appeared.  One sees it in a smaller degree in the works on John Knox and the Scottish Covenanters.  But is this really the case that these positions provide the framework for liberal democracy?  The answer is a clear and obvious “no.”

It is true that all of these positions posit a (rightful) negation of the Romanist doctrine of papal political universality.   The negation of this point, though, does not entail liberal democracy.  Here’s why:

  • In Book IV chapter 20 Calvin says the magistrate must further the true religion in the land.   This is probably the most anti-American thing one can say.
  • John Knox believed the magistrate should use some Old Testament laws as his judicial base (and of course, he held to the above point).
  • The Scottish covenanters had no problem with the magistrate, for example, putting witches to death.  (It is true the Covenanters were anti-monarchist, but I think this is so primarily because the Stuart monarchy saw themselves as head of the Church.)

2 comments on “Scottish Reformation and Religious Liberty–not really

  1. Andrew Buckingham says:

    I don’t know all the specifics of what is going on with public theologians. But I do know Jesus tells us that we shall know the Truth, and the Truth will set us free. I think Jesus is the Word (John 1). With the Westminster Divines, the Bible is the Word of God. What is this word? Well, you dear reader of theology blogs, and fellow pilgrim, need to think and pray. You can find out about this Word by reading what it is. The Bible is about Jesus. And I think if you read the Bible, regularly and consistently, you will see Jesus more clearly. This is what is meant by the ordinary means of grace. Our shorter catechism (see around question 80, I think it is #82). The pastor is bringing you God’s Word. So go to church. I have a great book which is HTML by Machen, free, and resonates. I wish you Godspeed on your journey, pilgrimage, dear reader and writer of blogs. Grace and peace.

  2. Andrew Buckingham says:

    Nope, I mean question and answer 89. Basically, God especially uses the Minister. Check out question and answer 89 of WSC. Peace.

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