For immediate release: Blaming Moses: Rejections of Mosaic Civil Law during the Early Reformation. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2016. $30.00.
The published version of my doctoral thesis is finally here. Let me tell you why this is so important.
If you have any affinity for biblical law at all, you’ve probably tried to talk with other Reformed folk about it. But if you’ve ever had any discussions with other Reformed folk about it, you’ve probably had this quotation from Calvin thrown at you as a conversation-stopper:
For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common laws of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish.
This is Calvin’s famous rejection of the need for Mosaic civil law, and it is used routinely by mainstream Reformed pastors and theologians as a staple Theonomy-beater (as if it actually proved much). (I have dealt with the fallacious aspect of it here.)
The quotation always intrigued me because it has never been clear who exactly Calvin was speaking of when he said this, “there are some. . . .” When I was in seminary, I was going to do a paper on it, but I got sidetracked in a wonderful way. I instead wrote on the historical background of Article 7 of the 39 Articles—the Article on the Old Testament, which carries a similar dismissal of the need for Mosaic civil laws. That sidetrack led to me discovering some wonderful history—the tragic story of the city of Münster—and this eventually led to a tremendous understanding of the composing of Calvin’s Institutes when I later did the doctoral study (Calvin himself tells the story in the Preface to his commentary on the Psalms—it’s quoted in the book).
Between Calvin and Luther, there is enough seething at Moses during the early days of the Reformation to go around. But it turns out that it arises from everywhere. In an effort to find Calvin’s culprit, we turn over a lot of stones, examining the writings of all major figures of the era and some minor ones. It won’t spoil it for you to say that Calvin’s “some” never actually existed. No one at the time ever made the argument Calvin pretended to refute (grandstanding for King Francis I, clearly), but Calvin was not the only one to level the accusation. Finding out why in my new book will be just the kind of historical-theological journey that gives you some whole new perspective on the Reformation as its most famous sons.
The fact that Calvin’s man never existed has not stopped some of the best scholars in history from making claims of who he or they were. It is with no small amount of humility subdued that I can confidently say I disproved the scholarly claims of giants like George Huntston Williams and Calvin’s translator, Ford Lewis Battles himself on this point. Both had figured the radical Lutheran preacher Jacob Strauss as a culprit, and Andreas Karlstadt was also named. Battles went so far as to say Karlstadt proposed substituting the “entire Mosaic code” for European law. But after a thorough review of his works, and a first-ever translation of Strauss’ 51 thesis on Usury from 16th-Century German, I show these claims are all false and untenable. Nevertheless, we get men like Michael Horton repeating similar claims today. It’s pretty inexcusable.
So, it is with please that I release this rip through history, revealing a side of the Reformation you’ve probably never considered: one critical of our own heroes, but in a necessary way—a mythbusting way designed to set the stage for major discussion and healing.
In the process, you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about some figures: Andreas Karlstadt, Thomas Müntzer, the city of Münster, Zwingli’s love of the classics (he even seems to have thought he would see the pagan classical writers in heaven), Melanchthon’s not-so-gentle side (rather bloodthirsty, actually), Luther’s ego and duplicity, the role of mysticism, the role of charismaticism, the hard-core last days madness of the era, and much more.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll walk away with an understanding of how deeply intertwined the Reformation was with the geo-politics of the day, and the inescapably political nature of a full-orbed biblical worldview. During this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when so many men are repeating the same old things all over again, you owe it to yourself to delve deeper.
Here is one of the few places you can do it.