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Calvin Wasn’t Bendy

“I continue to employ my usual severity while laboring to correct the prevailing vices, and especially those of the young. The right-thinking tell me of the dangers by which I am surrounded, but I take no heed of this, lest I should seem too careful for my personal safety. The Lord will provide such means of escape for me as He sees good.”  — Calvin to Viret, 1547.

Calvin would never be invited to speak at a PCUSA church nowadays.  Never.

Written by Jim

21/08/2016 at 7:54 am

Posted in Calvin, Modern Culture

Self Denial

Self-denial is very extensive, and implies that we ought to give up our natural inclinations, and part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns in us. We know with what blind love men naturally regard themselves, how much they are devoted to themselves, how highly they estimate themselves. But if we desire to enter into the school of Christ, we must begin with that folly to which Paul (1 Cor. 3:18) exhorts us, becoming fools, that we may be wise; and next we must control and subdue all our affections. — John Calvin

Written by Jim

20/08/2016 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Calvin

Westminster Seminary Videos on the Reformers

Who are the Reformers?  That’s a much debated question in the last centuries. Dr. W. Robert Godfrey and Dr. R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California teach about the reformers Theodore Beza, Philipp Melanchthon, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. You can watch the videos online.  Four videos are presently available:

Theodore Beza: Dr. W. Robert Godfrey teaches about impressive French theologian and scholar, Theodore Beza;
Philipp Melanchthon: Dr. R. Scott Clark teaches more about Philipp Melanchthon, one of the most unjustly neglected figures of the Reformation;
Huldrych Zwingli: Dr. W. Robert Godfrey teaches about Huldrych Zwingli;
John Calvin: Dr. R. Scott Clark gives a brief history of French Reformer, John Calvin.

Let’s see if they know what they’re talking about.


Not so much on Zwingli.  Zwingli wasn’t ‘from’ Zurich and he wasn’t heavily influenced by Luther.  But our presenter gets Zwingli’s intentions correct and he gets Zwingli’s serving as a Chaplain at Kappel right.  I’d give it a B- were it a paper on Zwingli.

The video on Melanchthon is better.  He’s got the Loci right and he understands Melanchthon’s aims well enough.  He’d get an A.  And an A on Calvin (although it’s not surprising that a Presby seminary Prof would like Calvin well enough to learn him thoroughly).

And finally, the Beza video…  wherein the presenter says that Lausanne is ‘outside’ Geneva… well, yes…  miles and miles and miles outside.  In the same way that New York City is outside Philadelphia.  This one gets Beza generally right but doesn’t really say much in detail.  And its presenter needs a re-look at the geography of western Switzerland.  C is what this one gets.

Written by Jim

12/08/2016 at 10:00 am

When Discussing The Trinity, Abandon Analogies…

Or, as Calvin put it

I really do not know whether it is expedient to borrow comparisons from human affairs to express the force of this distinction [among the divine persons]. Men of old were indeed accustomed sometimes to do so, but at the same time they confessed that the analogies they advanced were quite inadequate.

Thus it is that I shrink from all rashness here: lest if anything should by inopportunely expressed, it may give occasion either of calumny to the malicious, or of delusion to the ignorant. –  John Calvin

In short, analogies create more problems than they solve.  Abandon them for they arm the angry atheists and confuse the ignorant.

Written by Jim

11/08/2016 at 7:41 pm

After Merit: John Calvin’s Theology of Works and Rewards

9783525552483New from V&R and in the Refo500 Academic Series.  The TOC and introduction can be read here.

The focus of this study is John Calvin’s theology of works and reward, and the approach is to contextualize his thought in light of both medieval theological developments surrounding the doctrine of “merit” and his polemics against the doctrine as he understood it in his day. But this study also strives for something much more. The book, by analyzing this particular part of Calvin’s thought—his doctrine of works and reward—illuminates the whole in fresh ways. It provides a framework for reading and interpreting Calvin’s theology that strives to do justice to the reformational context in which it developed. It is able to do so because Calvin’s polemic against the merit-based soteriology of his “opponents” drives the vast majority of Calvin’s positive theological constructions (as we shall see). So while the book is not a full-on reinterpretation of Calvin, by emphasizing the centrality of this doctrine in Calvin’s historical and polemical context, it does reorganize the constellation of the rest of his teaching somewhat, allowing the various elements of his theology to fall more naturally into place and thus highlighting the function other various doctrines do—and don’t—fulfill.

I appreciate the review volume sent by the publisher.  Raith describes his purpose in a series of useful sentences in the introduction, noting first of all –

In light of recent Calvin scholarship, two particular points require exposition and defense: (1) the uniqueness of Calvin’s position on merit, works, and reward when compared to his predecessors and contemporaries, and (2) the centrality of his polemic against merit in shaping his soteriology (p. 16).

Then to bolster his supposition he cites Calvin himself, who wrote

“He, whoever he was, that first applied [the term merit] to human works when viewed in reference to the divine tribunal consulted very ill for the purity of the faith.” (p. 20).

As Raith continues to describe his project he remarks

The conviction of the present work is that Calvin’s theology is best read as a soteriologically driven enterprise, with his view of salvation being shaped by his polemics against his “opponents’” merit-based view of salvation (p. 22).  … by focusing on Calvin’s overall polemic against merit, we are able to draw together a number of theological loci into a coherent whole (rather than a “system”) that enables the reader to see the inner ratio for much of Calvin’s theology (p. 24)

Then when he launches into the presentation proper he can suggest

My analysis in this book presupposes that Calvin’s soteriology is best understood within a polemical context that consists both of Calvin’s refutation of the scholastic meritorious system as espoused by his contemporary “papists” and “schoolmen,” and of his pursuit of an alternative framework that also includes a positive soteriological role for works and reward (p. 67).

And so along he moves, step by step (take note of the table of contents in the link above) in an effort which is by no means a failed one to show how Calvin’s notions of merit were both influenced by those who came before and influenced those who have come after.  In terms, then, of achievement, it’s hard to argue against the suggestion that Raith has achieved his aim (as stated in the introduction) and that quite marvelously.  This is a brilliant study.  But it has a problem (which though minor is still important to note).  To wit, in a footnote, he writes

For more on Calvin’s teaching on “certainty” in light of Luther’s and Zwingli’s teaching, see Susan Schreiner, “‘The Spiritual Man Judges All Things’: Calvin and the Exegetical Debates about Certainty in the Reformation,” in Biblical Interpretation in the Era of the Reformation: Essays Presented to David C. Steinmetz in Honor of His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Richard A. Muller and John L. Thompson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 189–215.(p. 83, note).

This is, intriguingly, the only reference to Zwingli in the entire volume and this in spite of the fact that Zwingli had a good deal to say about the topic of Merit and was Calvin’s predecessor in the development of Reformed theology. To leave out of consideration Zwingli’s contributions on the subject is akin to talking about motoring shows on TV without making reference to the BBC’s Top Gear.  Indeed, it seems that Raith’s familiarity with Zwingli’s work is at second hand, from a single essay (if his citation of the same is to be taken seriously).  This is a lacuna which needs to be filled in Raith’s future work.

Not only did I learn a great deal about Calvin’s thought on Merit from Raith (and his lack of interest in Zwingli), I also learned two words which I’m sure I will have plenty of reason to use in the future:  “Damnworthiness” (p. 125) and  “Damnworthy” (p. 141).

I also learned that

Calvin never tires of reminding his reader that when God rewards a believer’s work, he is in fact rewarding himself. Calvin’s participatory understanding of divine-human activity enables him to affirma believer’s particular good work as a work that God produces without negating one of the two actors (p. 144).

Truth be told, I learned a good deal about Calvin from this book and I’m very grateful for its author’s devotion to historical and theological investigation and the thoroughness with which he approached his work.  This volume is a pleasure to read, a pleasure to absorb, and a pleasure to recommend.  And so I do.  But rather than allowing myself the last word I’ll let Raith have it in hopes that his scintillating remark will encourage you to read this book yourself.  You’ll be as happy that you did afterward as a teen girl who has just been asked to prom by the good looking quarterback of their high school championship team and far happier than you have ever been reading the Wrong book.

Whatever we may say about God’s will, it seems true to this author that systematizing
the various pieces of Calvin’s theology on merit, works, and reward remains outside
the grasp of reason as well (p. 180).

Written by Jim

09/08/2016 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Book Review, Books, Calvin

Quote of the Day

We will as he guides our heart, we endeavor as he rouses us, we succeed in our endeavor as he gives strength, so that we are animate and living tools, while he is the leader and finisher of the work. — John Calvin

Written by Jim

09/08/2016 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Calvin, Modern Culture

Calvin, Revised

The earlier graphics have been modified, quite accurately, by a local fellow-

Written by Jim

05/08/2016 at 11:03 am

Posted in Calvin, Modern Culture