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This article is a slightly revised text of the 23rd Paul B. Henry Lecture, delivered at Calvin University on April 7, 2022. The annual Paul B. Henry Lecture is sponsored by the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, located at Calvin University. The lecture and the institute are named in honor of Paul B. Henry, who, after teaching for eight years in the political science department of Calvin, beginning in 1970, went into electoral politics. He was elected first to the Michigan House of Representatives, then to the Michigan Senate, and then to the US House of Representatives, where he served for nine years until his tragically early death in 1993. Nicholas P. Wolterstorff is the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School.

In the last decades of the nineteenth century and on throughout the twentieth, the magisterium of the Catholic Church issued a remarkable body of official teaching on social and political matters. That official teaching has stimulated a large body of thought and writing by Catholic scholars.

We Protestants have nothing like the magisterium of the Catholic Church; all we have is a multiplicity of denominational boards, synods, conventions, etc. Though many of these have issued official pronouncements on social and political matters, none of those comes close, in scope and depth, to official Catholic teaching.

But if we turn our attention away from the official pronouncements of the Protestant churches and cast our gaze more broadly, a remarkable development may draw our attention. In the version of Reformed Protestantism commonly called neo-Calvinism, a body of social and political thought has developed that, in my judgment, rivals in scope and depth that of contemporary Catholicism.1

Unfortunately, the term “neo-Calvinism” is nowadays often used inter-changeably with the term “new Calvinism.” Those who call themselves “new Calvinists” are a group of theologians and preachers who, over the past several decades, have set about reviving a highly doctrinaire version of traditional Calvinism; the now-disgraced Seattle preacher, Mark Driscoll, was prominent among them. Neo-Calvinism is definitely not the same as New Calvinism!

What defines the neo-Calvinist tradition of social and political thought is that the participants in the tradition trace the basic lineaments of their thought back to the writings of the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century Dutch theologian and activist, Abraham Kuyper.2Kuyper’s writings function for those in the neo-Calvinist tradition in roughly the same way that the pronouncements of the magisterium function for Catholic writers.

They function in roughly the same way. Though Kuyper was a very creative thinker, he was not a rigorous thinker. And in his prose he often indulged in Romantic excess; not infrequently his high-flown rhetoric leaves the reader wondering what exactly he wanted to say. Further, there are elements of his thought that are specific to the Netherlands of his time, and worse, elements that have to be repudiated. I have in mind especially his overt racism and his defense of colonialism.

The result is that thinkers in the neo-Calvinist tradition sit more lightly on Kuyper’s writings than do thinkers in the Catholic tradition on the pronouncements of the magisterium. They feel free to reject parts of Kuyper’s thought, to correct others, to apply it to situations quite different from those with which he was familiar. Nonetheless, there is a discernibly Kuyperian tradition, developed by a large number of writers from around the world. I locate myself in this tradition. Matthew Kaemingk’s recent collection, Reformed Public Theology: A Global Vision for Life in the World, is an excellent collection of essays by neo-Calvinist thinkers from around the world on current social and political topics.3

Paul Henry moved from being a political theorist to being a political office-holder. In honor of that transition, I will focus on Christian political activity rather than on Christian thought about the political order. I recognize, of course, that the activity is intertwined with the thought. When I speak of political activity, I have in mind both the activity of ordinary citizens and that of office-holders.

The project I have set myself is to identify some of the hallmarks or major themes of Christian political activity as understood by those in the loosely unified, wide-flung, neo-Calvinist tradition. The topic merits a long and thoroughly researched book. Obviously this will not be that; it will be no more than an extended synopsis of what might be discussed in such a book.

A few caveats before we begin. As with any living tradition, the neo-Calvinist tradition takes different forms in different times and places. What I will describe is the form it presently takes in North America. My description of that form is not a purely objective, view-from-nowhere, description. It is my own “take” on it, the “take” of a white male philosopher who has lived a life of privilege. Those whose identity and social position is different from mine would likely describe it somewhat differently, with different emphases, etc. Further, I will not be able to identify all the hallmarks of Christian political activity in this form of the tradition, only what seem to me the most salient. Last, it should be noted that a good many of the themes I mention can also be found in other traditions of thought about political activity, especially in the contemporary Catholic tradition. There is, in fact, a remarkable and gratifying convergence between the neo-Calvinist and Catholic traditions. It is my judgment, however, that when we put together all the themes that I will mention, what we have is a distinct way of understanding Christian political activity.

I will organize the hallmarks or themes under five headings:

1. The neo-Calvinist understanding of human beings

2. The neo-Calvinist understanding of the well-formed social and political order

3. The neo-Calvinist understanding of the nature of political activity and of how it is properly conducted in a pluralist liberal democracy

4. The neo-Calvinist understanding of the aims of Christian political activity

5. The neo-Calvinist understanding of the virtues exhibited in Christian political activity

I. The neo-Calvinist understanding of human beings

A distinctive feature of political activity, in contrast, say, to gardening, is that the objects of the activity are human beings and the institutions created by human beings. Note the mention of institutions. An important and distinctive feature of neo-Calvinist social and political thought is the prominence of institutions in that thought—and, more generally, the prominence of what sociologists call social formations: clubs, societies, associations, corporations, churches, families, governments, and so forth. We’ll be getting to institutions and other social formations later; let us focus here on human beings.

By virtue of the fact that human beings are the objects of political activity, any understanding of well-formed political activity will perforce incorporate a certain understanding of human beings. Conversely, one’s understanding of human beings will have a decisive impact on what one regards as well-formed political activity. Let me identify three of the most prominent aspects of the understanding of human beings embedded in the neo-Calvinist understanding of Christian political activity.

Neo-Calvinists share with Christians in general the conviction that human beings, one and all, possess the ineradicable dignity of bearing the image of God—professed by Christians to be a trinity. It’s by virtue of our human nature that we image the trinitarian God, not by virtue of some accidental features that we happen to possess. And if one is a human being, then one has human nature. It follows that those who have committed serious crimes nonetheless continue to possess human nature, and thus continue to have the dignity of bearing the image of God. It follows that those in a permanent coma who can no longer function as persons nonetheless continue to possess human nature, and thus continue to have the dignity of bearing the image of God. It follows that infants who cannot yet function as persons nonetheless possess human nature, and thus have the dignity of bearing the image of God. It goes without saying that this doctrine of shared human dignity has profound implications for how we are to treat our fellow citizens when we engage in political activity: we are to honor them, each and every one.

It’s important to recognize, and keep in mind, that human excellence, human praiseworthiness, is not confined to the excellence of bearing the image of God. Some human beings are praiseworthy on account of their moral excellence, some, on account of their athletic accomplishments, some, on account of their intellectual achievements, some, on account of their capacity for empathy. And so forth. To each such excellence we are called to pay due respect.

A second aspect of the distinct understanding of human beings embedded in the neo-Calvinist understanding of Christian political activity is that there is an objective moral law—call it natural law—to which human beings are subject, and that all but the most impaired human beings have some grasp of that law. This is one aspect of what Kuyper famously called common grace. It is this shared grasp of right and wrong that makes democratic politics possible.

The Calvinist tradition is infamous for its embrace of the doctrine of so-called total depravity. Contrary to how it is commonly understood, that doctrine is not the teaching that every human being is totally depraved in the sense that there is, in them, nothing good. Nobody is totally depraved in that sense. The doctrine of total depravity is the teaching that there is no aspect of our humanity that is not subject to corruption. Our will is subject to corruption, but so too is our reasoning; business is subject to corruption, but so too is art. Corruption is pervasive, but never total.

When we combine the claim that all but the most impaired human beings have some grasp of the moral law, with the claim that we are one and all flawed, the appropriate political stance is what might be called cautious hopefulness.

A third aspect of the distinct understanding of human beings embedded in the neo-Calvinist understanding of Christian political activity is that we human beings are hermeneutic creatures. We are, by nature, interpreters. We all have God-given capacities for being aware of reality, of grasping it, of getting a cognitive grip on it. But we are not just aware of reality. We interpret reality. To some extent, our interpretations are shared; that’s true especially for our interpretations of what we perceive. But when we look beyond piecemeal perceptual interpretations to our interpretive activity as a whole, we see that human beings have what Kuyper called worldviews—in Dutch, wereldbeschouwingen, in German, Weltaanschauungen. And we see that while each human being shares elements of their worldview with others, in our modern liberal democracies individuals differ significantly in their worldviews.

This understanding of human beings as comprehensive interpreters is an important component of how those in the neo-Calvinist tradition understand religion. A common understanding of religion, both by those who are religious and those who are not, is that religion is an add-on: to beliefs about the mundane world that religious people share with secularists they add on beliefs about the transcendent—God, the soul, the afterlife, etc. Secularists, by contrast, make do quite nicely without any such add-on. Charles Taylor’s massive study, A Secular Age, is an extensive critique of this add-on view of religion.4

Taylor’s criticism of the add-on view is essentially the same as Kuyper’s more than a century earlier: both reject this reductionist view of religion in favor of a holistic view. Though almost all religions do include views about the transcendent, most of them also incorporate a distinct interpretation of this present mundane world and of life within this world. That is to say, most of them incorporate a worldview, a way of regarding the world, a way of regarding the world significantly different from that of secularists. This is true, in particular, of Christianity. A characteristic feature of the neo-Calvinist tradition is the insistence that being a Christian incorporates a distinct comprehensive interpretation of life and reality, a distinct worldview. Lest there be any mistake on the matter, it should be emphasized that being a Christian does not consist of holding a certain worldview, nor did Kuyper think it did. That is but one component. To be a Christian is to be in the world in a certain way, and that includes not just a worldview but a pattern of action, a complex of emotions, certain virtues, and so forth.

II. The neo-Calvinist understanding of a well-formed social and political order

The neo-Calvinist understanding of Christian political activity also incorporates a distinct understanding of a well-formed social and political order. Let me identify three themes.

From Kuyper onwards, neo-Calvinists have consistently defended liberal democracy as the best form of government in the developed modern world. There are different views concerning the core idea of liberal democracy. Let me identify what I see as three essential features of such a polity.

A liberal democratic polity is characterized by what is commonly called popular sovereignty. The idea is this: in a liberal democracy it is free adult citizens who have ultimate political voice or power—not a king, not an autocrat, not a dictator—and they share that voice or power equally. Political power flows upwards from the people. The people vote on referenda and elect officials who pass laws and appoint other officials, those officials in turn issue judicial declarations or bureaucratic regulations, and so forth. Equality of voice in this bottom-up process is insured by fair voting procedures, by constitutional limits on the powers of government, and by legal prohibitions on the infringement, by one’s fellow citizens, on one’s right to freely exercise one’s political voice.

Another essential feature of a liberal democratic polity is that there is a constitution or body of fundamental law that insures a full panoply of rights of citizens vis a vis the state: the right to free exercise of one’s religion, the right to free speech, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom from unwarranted search, the right to due process, the right to equality of treatment by the government, etc. The literature on rights contains a variety of attempts to account for the rights mentioned. It is characteristic of the neo-Calvinist tradition to hold that the rights mentioned are natural rights grounded in the dignity we possess as bearers of the image of God.

Yet another feature of a liberal democratic polity is what is commonly called rule of law: citizens are ruled by duly adopted and administered laws and regulations, not by the dictates of some authority.

A second hallmark of the neo-Calvinist understanding of a well-formed social and political order is that it will exhibit what Kuyper famously called sphere sovereignty. Though the term enjoys wide currency in the tradition, I regard it as not very apt for the central point that Kuyper had in mind. That central point, as I understand him, was this: in a well-formed social and political order, civil society will contain a multiplicity of institutions and other social formations exercising authority that has not been delegated to them by the state. The state may license them to exercise authority; but it does not delegate authority to them. Kuyper said that their authority is given to them directly by God. That seems to me not correct. The authority of a university to govern certain activities of its staff is not handed down to it by God but derives from a complex matrix of laws, regulations, and contracts.

By virtue of its emphasis on the importance of civil society containing a wide variety of social formations wielding authority, neo-Calvinism is emphatically anti-individualist in its thinking; by virtue of its insistence that the authority of most of those authority structures has not been delegated to them by the state, neo-Calvinism is emphatically anti-collectivist. In being, in this way, neither individualist nor collectivist, neo-Calvinism is a close relative of contemporary Catholic social thought, with its doctrine of so-called subsidiarity. What is distinctive of Kuyper’s thought on the matter is his emphasis on the fact that most of the subsidiary components of a well-formed society wield authority.

Let me briefly explain why Kuyper used the term “sphere sovereignty.” Kuyper shared with his contemporary Max Weber, the great German sociologist, the view that the essence of modernization is the emergence of distinct social spheres—the sphere of business, the sphere of education, the sphere of the arts, etc. Weber was of the view that each sphere is distinguished by the fact that activity within that sphere is relentlessly aimed at a distinct goal. On Weber’s view, activity within the sphere of business, for example, is relentlessly aimed at the bottom line; anyone in business who aims at something other than the bottom line sooner or later finds themselves out of business.

Kuyper’s view was different. It was his view that the spheres are differentiated not by reference to what activity within a sphere does in fact typically aim at in the modern world but by what it ought to aim at—but which, all-too-often, it does not. Kuyper’s thought on this point has given rise to a flowering of normative discussions in the neo-Calvinist tradition concerning the proper goal of activity within the various spheres. The Dutch economist Bob Goudzwaard, for example, has written extensively on the proper goal of business, arguing that its proper goal is stewardship rather than profit.

It was furthermore Kuyper’s view that all-too-often institutions and other social formations in one sphere take over activities belonging to another sphere. This infringement inevitably results, he argued, in distortion. Each social formation has legitimate authority or sovereignty within its own sphere and only within its own sphere. Hence sphere sovereignty. Or to use Kuyper’s more expansive term: souvereiniteit in eigen kring: sovereignty in its own sphere.

The example Kuyper most often gave of sphere-infringement was that of state or church taking over day-school and university education. Hence the name of the university he founded, The Free University of Amsterdam—free, that is, of state and church control. If he were talking about the United States today he would surely cite for-profit educational enterprises as prime examples of sphere infringement. Businesses have no legitimate authority in the sphere of education. Kuyper gave surprisingly little attention to the attempt of an enterprise within a certain sphere trying to monopolize activity within that sphere.

A third hallmark of neo-Calvinism’s understanding of a well-formed social and political order is its insistence that among the most important rights to be recognized by the state—perhaps the most important—is the right to the free exercise of one’s religion. The neo-Calvinist rejection of the add-on view of religion plays a decisive role in how members of the tradition understand this right. The right includes not just the right to worship as one sees fit but the right to form faith-based organizations within the various spheres.

In his recent magisterial book, The Blessings of Liberty: Human Rights and Religious Freedom in the Western Legal Tradition, John Witte, professor in the law school of Emory University and Calvin University graduate, shows in detail how prominent the defense of the right to religious freedom has been in the Calvinist tradition, and he highlights the fact that that right carries in its train a sizable number of other freedom-rights, among them, the right to freedom of speech and the right to freedom of assembly.5

Parenthetically, the Reformed tradition, unlike some other Christian traditions, has never shied away from thinking and speaking of rights. To the contrary. Witte shows that, from the second generation onward, members of the Reformed tradition have freely thought and spoken about rights.

III. The neo-Calvinist understanding of the nature of political activity and of how it is properly conducted in a pluralist liberal democracy

In its understanding of the nature of political activity, the neo-Calvinist tradition, in line with the Reformed tradition generally, emphatically affirms the teaching of Paul in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans that those who hold political office are servants of God. The New Testament book of Revelation reminds us that government can become so corrupted that it is what the writer calls a beast. But three times over within the span of just three verses, Paul, in Romans 13, calls governmental authorities “servants of God.” Clearly what he means is that when they do what they are called to do, they are servants of God.

In a passage in his Institutes, John Calvin carried this theological under- standing of political activity to what seems to me hyperbolic excess. He writes: “No one ought to doubt that civil authority is a calling, not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal man.”6 Did Calvin really think that serving as a government official is a nobler calling than the calling, say, of a pastor? I doubt it.

A teaching that became a hallmark of the Calvinist tradition is that all occupations that serve the common good are of equal worth; none is to be singled out for special honor. There is, in the Calvinist tradition generally, a deeply egalitarian strand. All work is Kingdom work. This includes serving in government. Serving in government is not inherently “dirty business”; it’s an honorable calling. Those who do what they are called to do are to be treated accordingly; in the words of Paul in Romans, they are to be treated with “respect.”

Another hallmark of the neo-Calvinist tradition is the conviction that, in a religiously pluralist liberal democracy such as ours, political activity, both that of Christians and that of others, is to be guided by the principle that has come to be called principled pluralism.

The contemporary political philosopher John Rawls is well-known for holding that, in a pluralist liberal democracy, citizens should conduct their political debates and form their political decisions by appealing to a body of shared principles that Rawls called public reason. Rawls acknowledged that citizens of liberal democracies have diverse worldviews—he called them comprehensive doctrines. But he held that, when engaging in political debates and making political decisions, citizens should refrain from expressing and appealing to their diverse worldviews and should appeal, instead, to what, in spite of their diversity of worldviews, they agree on. And what do they agree on? The core principles of liberal democracy. Rawls’ idea was that all those who willingly live in a liberal democracy share its core principles.

Those of us who locate ourselves in the neo-Calvinist tradition are dubious. There is, for one thing, significant disagreement as to the core principles of liberal democracy. But secondly, whatever principles anyone has suggested as being the core principles of liberal democracy, those principles always fall short of being sufficient to settle the political issues that face us. Whether or not abortion should be legal is among the most obvious examples of the point.

So what, by contrast, is the position of principled pluralism concerning how we should conduct our political debates and make our political decisions in a religiously pluralist liberal democracy? Here the point made earlier, that we are hermeneutic creatures, comes into play. Our worldviews typically incorporate views on the political issues facing us, different worldviews incorporating different views on the issues. Citizens embracing different worldviews will agree on some political issues; but, overall, they see the issues differently. They have different views on how health care should be structured; different views on the extent to which business should be regulated; different views on the importance of justice; etc.

So when adherents of different worldviews debate some political issue, they should explain to the other party how they see the issue and listen to the other party’s explanation of how they see the issue. It may be that, in the course of this back-and-forth, they discover that they agree on the matter at hand. If, instead, they disagree, each party then does what it can to bring the other party to see the matter as they see it. If they fail in this, if they still disagree, they try to reach a compromise that is fair to both parties. And if they also fail in that attempt, they take a fair vote and live with the results. This is principled pluralism. It’s hard work and requires a great deal of patience. One can understand why many find it too hard and too slow and prefer to use whatever legally permitted means are effective to enforce their own view, riding rough shod over the other party.

An implication of the principled pluralist view of how politics is properly conducted is that, in a religiously pluralist liberal democracy such as ours, neo- Calvinists are firmly opposed to Christian nationalism. Our nation is not the exclusive possession of Christians—and neither is any other. The neo-Calvinist is opposed to Christian nationalism in all its forms: American Christian national- ism, Afrikaner Christian nationalism, Russian Christian nationalism, all of them.

Another hallmark of the neo-Calvinist understanding of properly con- ducted political activity is that it makes a clear distinction between the moral and the legal.7 To a considerable extent, a well-formed legal order inscribes what is morally required of citizens and their government. But it is characteristic of neo-Calvinists to insist that, in arguing for some proposed piece of legislation, it is not sufficient to note that it inscribes into law what one views as morally required of citizens; one has to adduce additional considerations, such as the consequences of trying to enforce the law. Inscribing all morality into law would be a horror; it would be a horror, for example, to inscribe into law that citizens never lie to each other.

I find a good many Christians violating this principle nowadays, especially when it comes to the issue of abortion. They argue that since abortion is morally wrong, it should be legally forbidden. Period.

IV. The neo-Calvinist understanding of the aims of Christian political activity

In his famous 1898 Stone Lectures on Calvinism, Kuyper argued emphatically that the primary goal of Christian political activity is justice. It was not his view that justice should be the only goal. Citizens and government officials may also seek various aspects of the common good not required by justice—provided that that aspect of the common good is not achieved at the cost of wreaking injustice on some citizens. Indeed, sometimes it is not only permissible but necessary to seek certain aspects of the common good—regulating traffic, for example. But justice is primary. It is significant that the collection of Paul Henry’s essays edited by Douglas Koopman is titled Serving the Claims of Justice.8 In making justice primary, the neo-Calvinist tradition echoes the picture of the good king in the opening verses of Psalm 72 and echoes what Paul says about the task of government in Romans 13.

A striking feature of what Kuyper says in his Stone Lectures about the task of government with respect to justice is that government is called to insure not only that citizens treat each other justly but that organizations and other social formations treat clients and workers justly—and treat each other justly. For example: a central task of government in our society is to regulate our free market economy so that it does not perpetrate injustice.

Benjamin T. Lynerd, in his recent publication Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals,9 presents an exhaustive analysis of the political theology of American evangelicals over the past century. With striking consistency, evangelical leaders have declared protecting individual liberty to be the task of government. Justice is seldom mentioned. It’s true, of course, that liberty of various sorts is important; witness our discussion, above, of freedom of religion. But liberty without the constraints of justice is freedom for the lions and eagles of the world to maul the weak and powerless.

In a justly famous speech that Kuyper delivered in Amsterdam in 1891 to the first Christian Social Congress, titled “The Social Question and the Christian Religion” (“Het Sociale Vraagstuk en de Christelijke Religie”)10 he argued with ex- traordinary eloquence that in their pursuit of justice in society, Christians are to give priority to the underclass in society: the poor, the powerless. It was a time of great rural poverty in the Netherlands. Here is just a bit of what Kuyper said:

When rich and poor stand opposed to each other, [Jesus] never takes His place with the wealthier, but always stands with the poorer. . . . Both the Christ, and just as much His apostles after Him as the prophets before Him, invariably took sides against those who were powerful and living in luxury, and for the suffering and oppressed.

It has to be said that not all those who locate themselves in the neo-Calvinist tradition have followed Kuyper in his insistence that, in our struggle for social justice, we are to give priority to the vulnerable. But Kuyper’s insistence does live on—notably, in the writings of the South African theologian and activist, Allan Boesak.

V. The neo-Calvinist understanding of the virtues exhibited in Christian political activity

Political activity of the sort I have been describing requires the exercise of certain quite specific virtues, both by those who hold political office and by citizens in general. More than anyone else in the neo-Calvinist tradition, Richard Mouw has addressed this topic, most expansively in his book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.11 As the title indicates, Mouw identifies as the core virtue of Christian political activity what he calls civility or decency. I would add fairness and empathy. One can be civil to one’s dialogue partner without treating their views fairly; and one can be civil and fair to one’s dialogue partner without empathizing with the victims of injustice.

In the second chapter of the New Testament epistle First Peter the author writes, ”Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” In the context of Greco-Roman society of the time, this was incredible. “Honor the emperor.” Yes, of course. But honor everyone? One was to honor those above one in the social hierarchy. No matter. “Honor everyone,” writes the author. If one truly believes that every human being possesses the dignity of bearing the image of God, then one will pay to each and every one of them the honor of treating them with civility. If one also believes that we are called to imitate God by doing and seeking justice, then one will also treat each and every one of them fairly, justly. And if one believes that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, one will feel empathy for those who are victims of injustice.

American politics today is woefully short on civility, fairness, and empathy. It is pervaded by cruelty, by insults, by bad-mouthing, by power plays, by the spreading of falsehoods, both by those who hold political office and by ordinary citizens. Many of those who perpetrate these evils identify themselves as Chris- tians. I don’t understand. “Honor everyone,” Scripture says. Pay to everyone the honor of treating them as befits their bearing the image of God.


This completes my sketch of the hallmarks of Christian political activity in the neo-Calvinist tradition. Additional hallmarks could be identified, and those I have identified call out to be discussed at greater length and in greater depth. (I have myself discussed several of them extensively elsewhere, as have others.) But I hope enough has been said to render plausible the claim made at the beginning of our discussion, namely, that in the twentieth century neo-Calvinist tradition, there has emerged an understanding of Christian political activity that rivals, in depth and scope, that of contemporary Catholicism.

Is it all pie-in-the-sky idealism? Is it possible, in the present political climate in the United States, to engage in Christian political activity as I have described it? Surely it is possible for ordinary citizens. When debating political issues, we can treat our fellow citizens with civility and fairness; and when casting our vote, we can ask what justice requires. But is it possible for those who run for political office and for those who hold political office? On the basis of some personal acquaintances, I conclude that it is possible on the local and state level. Is it also possible on the national level? I hope and pray.

Cite this article
Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Fidelity in Politics: Hallmarks of Christian Political Activity in the Tradition of Reformed Protestantism”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 52:3 , 9 – 20


  1. Full disclosure requires that I declare myself to be a loyal and active member of the neo-Calvinist tradition; I am not an impartial observer.
  2. There was also an important and influential theological component within the neo-Calvinist movement. If we were discussing the theological component, rather than the social and political thought component, we would have to give equal attention to Kuyper’s colleague Herman Bavinck.
  3. Matthew Kaemingk, Reformed Public Theology: A Global Vision for Life in the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021).
  4. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007).
  5. John Witte, Jr., The Blessings of Liberty: Human Rights and Religious Freedom in the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2021).
  6. Calvin, Institutes, IV.xx.4.
  7. The Dutch neo-Calvinist philosopher Harman Dooyeweerd called the moral and the legal distinct “modalities.”
  8. Paul B. Henry, Serving the Claims of Justice: The Thoughts of Paul B. Henry, ed. Doug- las L. Koopman (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College University Alumni Assocation, 2001).
  9. Benjamin Lynerd, Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  10. The speech has been translated into English by Harry van Dyke under the above title and is included in a collection of Kuyper’s speech and writings titled On Business and Economics, ed. Peter Heslam, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021). Translations into English have also been published separately under the title Christianity and the Class Struggle, trans. Dirk Jellema (Grand Rapids, MI: Piet Hein Publishers, 1950), and under the title The Problem of Poverty, trans. James W. Skillen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991).
  11. Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1992).

Nicholas Wolterstorff

Yale University
Nicholas Wolterstorff was Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale from 1989 until his retirement in 2002. Previously, he taught at Calvin College, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the University of Notre Dame. He has written many books including: On Universals; Reason within the Bounds of Religion; Art in Action; Works and Worlds of Art; Education for Responsible Action; Until Justice and Peace Embrace; Lament for a Son; and Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology, from his Gifford Lectures at St. Andrew’s University.