Reframing the relevance of calvinism and the reformed tradition for 21st century bioethics

Jon C. Tilburt, Katherine M. Humeniuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many in academic bioethics worry that robust theological traditions, when articulated in the public square, damage the prospect of serious reflection about tough cases. Here we challenge that prevailing exclusion- by-default methodological impulse by correcting prevalent stereotypes about one particular Christian tradition that may offer relevant conceptual resources for bioethics. We briefly examine the man, John Calvin, and the Calvinist/Reformed Protestant tradition to show how it has been misconstrued in academic bioethics but can be reconstrued as a constructive, substantive theological starting point for tough bioethical questions of our age. Core Calvinist doctrines about the nature of an all-sovereign God and human beings' relation to that God, as well as related prominent themes from elements of the broader Reformed tradition, including the glory/sovereignty/majesty of God; the created goodness of the world; human beings as desiring/worshiping/image-bearing creatures; the pervasive influence of sin; the limitations of humanity for self-improvement; the completely gratuitous nature of redemption; the comprehensiveness of God's redemptive purposes; and the pending final completion of his redemptive work could and should influence the tone and content of moral deliberation that can be a positive influence on twenty-first-century bioethics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbercbu009
Pages (from-to)9-22
Number of pages14
JournalChristian Bioethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014


  • Bioethics
  • Calvinism
  • Reformed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy

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