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Religion Library: Presbyterian and Reformed

Vision for Society

Written by: Ted Vial

A thinker on the possibilities for society from the Reformed tradition who remained perhaps closer to Calvin's thought was Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), who grew up German Reformed.  Niebuhr's view of society is informed by a Calvinistic view of human nature as sinful (though Niebuhr gives biological reasons for this human nature).  In his classic work Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) he argues that even when individuals can act selflessly, their actions are almost always in the service of a group that is acting selfishly.  This is true of nations, classes, and races.  His blueprint for creating, not a just society, but a "just enough" society through the practice of non-violent resistance, was influential on the civil rights movement.  His tone of cautious optimism (we can and should do better, but we will never do very well) recapitulates the tone of Calvin's efforts in Geneva.

Study Questions:
     1.    Where does the optimism of a Reformed Christian originate?
     2.    Why should it be noted that Calvin did not write a commentary on the book of Revelation? What did this say about his faith?
     3.    How has the Reformed movement tied itself to progressive social issues?
     4.    Who was Niebuhr? What did he offer to the Reformed Church?


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