On balance, Reformed Protestants were no more responsible for the glories of the modern world (e.g., science, capitalism, education, liberal democracy) than were other western Christians. That is at least the conclusion of Phillip Benedict in his remarkable social history of Calvinism, Christâ€™s Churches Purely Reformed. But Benedict does detect a level of activism among the Reformed that differentiated it from Lutherans. And the difference has a lot to do with the Reformedâ€™s zeal for church polity and liturgical reform. Benedict writes:
It remains the case that at certain critical moments Lutheran church leaders held back from establishing churches under the cross or from defending such churches by force when the Reformed plunged ahead and did so â€“ most notably in the Low Countries in 1566, where the Lutheran refusal to oppose the duly constituted authorities contributed to the Reformed churchâ€™s assumption of leadership in the movement of resistance to Habsbourg rule. . . . Surveying the entire period of 1517-1700, one cannot avoid concluding the Reformed embraced and acted upon such views more than any other confessional group. This is not because of any enduringly distinctive features of Reformed thinking about political obligation. It stems instead from two other foundational stone of Reformed theology: its profound hostility to idolatrous forms of worship and its conviction that certain kinds of church institutions derived from scriptural authority. The former drove Reformed believers to separate themselves from the church of Rome in situations in which other evangelicals were prone to compromise, and thus to find themselves especially often on a footing of threatened minority impelled to fight for its ability to worship as it pleased. The latter [church government] sparked movements of resistance to perceived threats to the purity of the proper church order.
This is a key difference between paleo- and neo-Calvinists (not to mention other Presbyterian transformers of cutlure). In the case of old Calvinism, the aim was to reform the church, which in turn led to various forms of political resistance and activism in order to worship God truly. In the case of new Calvinism, distinct marks of Reformed worship and polity are sacrificed in order to work with other Christians for the sake of a righteous and just society.
So if neo-Calvinists really want to enlist the support of paleos for the sake of transforming society, theyâ€™ll need to clean up their liturgy and bone up their ecclesiology. Please no Fosdickian responses of â€œwhat incredible folly.â€