New Perspective on John Calvin


With all of the negative feedback that I constantly receive on John Calvin here at Cumberlands countered by the positive feedback I receive on him from some of my Christian mentors, I have decided to dive into his life and writings to determine for myself the truth of his doctrines. I recently purchased two books to introduce me to this man of the 1500’s. I am currently reading T.H.L. Parker’s Portrait of Calvin. Four chapters down and I have been amazed at Calvin’s intelligence, truth-seeking mind, and devotion to God in Scripture. I just finished a chapter on an introduction to Calvin’s theology. Parker details how true Calvin was to Scripture and even illuminates how Calvin believed that we were lost in a maze unable to reach God without the Scriptures. The centrality of Christ was also vital in Calvin’s writings. Granted, Parker also describes two areas of flaw within Calvin’s theology: predestination and the knowledge of God the creator. The flaw, Parker says is leaving out Jesus Christ in both areas. Parker states Calvin’s problem as “[taking] over the classical church doctrine of predestination (perhaps because he saw in it an excellent witness to the primacy and initiative of God in salvation) and tried to fit it into the framework of salvation in Jesus Christ.” His great flaw is His inconsistency in declaring that we are chosen “in Christ.” It is obvious that these two blemishes do not reflect the whole of Calvin’s theology and heart as he once wrote, “For Christ alone makes all other things suddenly vanish. Hence there is nothing that Satan so much tries to effect as to call up mists so as to obscure Christ; because he knows that by this means the way is opened up for every kind of falsehood. This therefore is the only means of retaining as well as restoring pure doctrine–to place Christ before the view just as He is, with all His blessings, that His excellence may be truly perceived.”

Nevertheless, despite these two blemishes, the focus of my post this morning is to illuminate Calvin’s overwhelming majority of what he taught, preached, and wrote. I have only heard of these blemishes, particularly predestination. I have never known of the rest of Calvin’s theology. Is it fair to judge a man based on two theological blemishes? I have enjoyed this biography so far and it has led me to look into Calvin’s writings (I have been warned not to begin with Institutes). I want to give you a brief glimpse into the heart and mind of Calvin and I hope you leave with a new perspective on this theological giant during and following the great movement of the Reformation.

When we preach the gospel, Calvin says we must tell a man:

“…that he was alienated from God by sin, an heir of wrath, liable to the punishment of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation, a total stranger to the blessing of God, a slave to Satan, a captive under the yoke of sin, and, in a word, condemned to and already involved in, a horrible destruction; that, in this situation, Christ interposed as an intercessor; that He has taken upon Himself and suffered the punishment which by righteous judgment of God impended over all sinners; that by His blood He has expiated those crimes which make them odious to God; that by this expiation God the Father has been duly satisfied and atoned; that by this intercessor His wrath has been appeased; that this is the foundation of peace between God and men; and that this is the bone of His benevolence towards them.” (John Calvin, Institutes)

What a glorious excerpt this is! With this new perspective on John Calvin, who was nicknamed “The Theologian”, I have been opened to his teachings, theology, and doctrines which have Christ completely at the center (with the exception of a couple blemishes) and are proclaimed with boldness and ferver. I have taken great delight in these excerpts and I cannot wait to begin reading and studying Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture and further disecting his theology. Maybe you will reconsider your previously conceived notion that you once had about Calvin. Indeed, he is far more than one or two mistakes just as any fallible human being is. I just pray that I become as devoted to the reliability and truth of Scripture as Calvin was. In searching the truth of Christian doctrine and true theology by studying Calvin and the Scriptures, I keep these words of Calvin in mind: “This therefore is the only means of retaining as well as restoring pure doctrine–to place Christ before the view just as He is, with all His blessings, that His excellence may be truly perceived.” Before making assumptions, find out for yourself what this man truly stood for, believed, and taught. You will be pleasantly surprised!

By His Grace — For His Glory — For our Joy

 

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