Book Review: John Calvin’s American Legacy – Conclusion: John Calvin at “Home” in American Culture

Chapter 11 review here. Chapter 10 review here. Chapter 9 review here. Chapter 8 review here. Chapter 7 review here. Chapter 6 review here. Chapter 5 review here. Chapter 4 review here. Chapter 3 review here. Chapter 2 review here. Chapter 1 review here. Introduction review here. Initial thoughts here.

Thomas J. Davis, who edited this book, pens the final ado; it is an apt conclusion and he does it in just under four pages to boot! Kudos to Davis for writing a real conclusion; kudos for not giving in to the temptation of penning a verbose editorial tome.

In the Introduction, Davis stated that “the point of this book is that, despite all of the changes and challenges; despite Calvinism’s ultimate failure to hold the American consciousness . . . the fact remains that Calvinism in America has had an impact on American society and culture in every century, even if at times it has gone unrecognized. And behind Calvinism stands Calvin” (11). This book has certainly pointed that very thing out; each of the authors has provided an excellent article highlighting Calvin’s significance and the permanence of Calvin’s legacy in America, a legacy that has made its mark upon American culture, theology, and literature.

Davis’ “short conclusion” utilizes the work of Marilynne Robinson–whose “attempt to restore Calvin to a place in the American consciousness free from stereotypes” (13) is a perfect capstone to the proceeding eleven chapters. Davis examines several works by Robinson and quickly tells how she has put forth the effort to have Calvin “reinsert[ed] . . . into the cultural conversation,” displaying her “concern for the dignity and well-being of the human creature in Calvin’s thought–and the thoughts of his heirs–that could well serve as a bulwark against the dehumanizing and depersonalizing forces of the modern world” (268). In Robinson’s work, which oftentimes meditates on the relations between fathers, families, and friends, the “house” and “home” are landscape-ish, they function as the perfect context and backdrop within which to best display Calvin and Calvinism. Davis echoes Robinson’s artistic imagination, concurring that: 

Calvinism wrapped up in family rather than abstraction appears more genuinely human and, thus, acceptable. Perhaps through the work of Robinson, it will be easier to think of John Calvin and Calvinism as being at home in the American consciousness–as one of many influences that should have a recognized seat at the family table of American traditions (270).