Theologian’s Valentines…

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From our friends at Eerdmans-


That’s A Strange Thing For Calvin to Say…

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In his commentary on Psalm 65:1 Calvin writes

With the verse which we have been now considering, that which follows stands closely connected, asserting that God hears the prayers of his people.

Fair enough. God hears the prayers of his people. But then Calvin takes an odd turn-

This forms a reason why the vow should be paid to him, since God never disappoints his worshippers, but crowns their prayers with a favourable answer.

The man best known for his description of God as Sovereign Lord suggesting that God always answers prayers favorably?

Thus, what is stated last, is first in the natural order of consideration. The title here given to God carries with it a truth of great importance, That the answer of our prayers is secured by the fact, that in rejecting them he would in a certain sense deny his own nature.

And in always answering them favorably, he denies his Sovereignty. What a curious thing for Calvin to suggest.

The Psalmist does not say, that God has heard prayer in this or that instance, but gives him the name of the hearer of prayer, as what constitutes an abiding part of his glory, so that he might as soon deny himself as shut his ear to our petitions.

And yet he does shut his ear to our petitions.

Could we only impress this upon our minds, that it is something peculiar to God, and inseparable from him, to hear prayer, it would inspire us with unfailing confidence. The power of helping us he can never want, so that nothing can stand in the way of a successful issue of our supplications.

So very odd.

What follows in the verse is also well worthy of our attention, that all flesh shall come unto God. None could venture into his presence without a persuasion of his being open to entreaty; but when he anticipates our fears, and comes forward declaring that prayer is never offered to him in vain, the door is thrown wide for the admission of all. The hypocrite and the ungodly, who pray under the constraint of present necessity, are not heard; for they cannot be said to come to God, when they have no faith founded upon his word, but a mere vague expectation of a chance issue.

Now we have a bit of backpeddling by Calvin. There is a certain class of persons whose prayers are not in fact heard.

Before we can approach God acceptably in prayer, it is necessary that his promises should be made known to us, without which we can have no access to him, as is evident from the words of the apostle Paul, (Eph. 3:12,) where he tells us, that all who would come to God must first be endued with such a faith in Christ as may animate them with confidence.

So, in point of fact, it isn’t any prayer that is heard, but only the prayers of those who have authentic faith in Christ. That sounds more like the Calvin we all know.

From this we may infer, that no right rule of prayer is observed in the Papacy, when they pray to God in a state of suspense and doubt. Invaluable is the privilege which we enjoy by the Gospel, of free access unto God. When the Psalmist uses the expression, all flesh, he intimates by these few words that the privilege which was now peculiar to the Jews, would be extended to all nations. It is a prediction of Christ’s future kingdom.*

Ah- so the truth is that prayer is only heard by God if the petitioner is a member of the Kingdom of Christ. And even then, the answer is as likely to be no as yes- but no is as much an answer as yes.

And the point of this little excursion into Calvin’s mind?  To show that snippets of Calvin drawn out of context are not only misleading, but unrepresentative of what he actually said.  Quotes should always be understood from their wider context and not simply as they stand.

Ad fontes is as important for citations of Theologians as it is for citations of Scripture.  If you can fit something on a bumper sticker, it probably isn’t true.

*J. Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 2, pp. 452–453).

Fun Facts From Church History: The Day Calvin Published his Commentary on Hosea

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CalvinWas 26 January, 1559.  He dedicated it to Gustavus, King of the Goths and Vandals, or, as the editor of the English edition notes,

GUSTAVUS was the KING OF SWEDEN, the inhabitants of which were then called Goths and Vandals. He was the first king of that name in Sweden, and had the surname of VASA. He was born in 1490, and was a descendant of the royal family of Sweden. He delivered the kingdom from the attempted usurpation of Christian II. of Denmark, was made king in 1523, abolished Popery, and introduced Lutheranism in 1530, and died, at the age of seventy, in 1560, the year following the date of this Epistle.*

In the letter of dedication, Calvin writes

With the industry of others I compare not my own, (which would be unbecoming,) nor do I ask any thing else, but that intelligent and discreet Readers, profiting by my labours, should study to be of more extensive advantage to the public good of the Church; but as it has not been my care, nor even my desire, to adorn this Book with various attractives, this admonition is not unseasonable; for it may invite the more slothful to read, until, by making a trial, they may be able to judge whether it may be useful for them to proceed farther in their course of reading. Indeed, the fruit which my other attempts in the interpretation of Scripture have produced, and the hope which I entertain of the usefulness of this, please me so much, that I desire to spend the remainder of my life in this kind of labour, as far as my continued and multiplied employments will allow me. For what may be expected from a man at leisure cannot be expected from me, who, in addition to the ordinary office of a pastor, have other duties, which hardly allow me the least relaxation: I shall not, however, deem my spare time in any other way better employed.*

Did you catch that? He writes Commentaries for the good of the Church and he loves doing so- in fact, he would rather do that with his spare time than anything else. That’s why his commentaries are still fruitful reading.

*Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets.

John Calvin as 16th Century Prophet

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Jon Balsarek has written John Calvin as Sixteenth-century Prophet (Oxford: Oxford University Press)–in press, forthcoming February 20, 2014.  At the link above you can read the preface and chapter one.  It looks quite good.

Barth Was Wrong: Lutheranism and Calvinism Are Not Separate After All

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A New volume in the Refo500 Academic Series makes the point of this post’s title.  Calvin and Luther: The Continuing Relationship (available from V&R or ISD for inhabitants of North America).

978-3-525-55057-1Karl Barth’s argument continues to be representative of a generally accepted modern view that Calvinism and Lutheranism are complete separate, opposing movements and theologies. And yet, in many ways the movements built on the teaching of Luther and Calvin developed in relationship and resonance—not only opposition—with one another. Despite this fact, very few scholars have explicitly considered the relationship between Calvin and Luther or between Calvinism and Lutheranism. But does it have to be this way? Are the confessional divisions that historically defined these communities still as potent as they once were? It is part of the argument of this volume that the answer to this question is a qualified negative. Yes, historically, these were two very separate movements – but more remains to be understood that can best be analyzed in the context of the other.

But just as surely as the historical question of the boundaries between Calvin and Luther, or Lutheranism and Calvinism must be answered with a resounding yes, the ongoing doctrinal questions offer a different picture. In the more systematic doctrinal articles, an argument is forwarded that the broad confessional continuity between Luther and Calvin on the soteriological theme of union with Christ offers still-unexplored avenues to both deeper understandings of soteriology. Through such articles, we begin to see the possibility of a rapprochement between Calvin and Luther as sources, though not as historical figures. But that insight allows the conversation to extend, and bear far greater fruit.

Contributors are, J.T. Billings, Ch. Helmer , H.P. Jürgens, S.C. Karant-Nunn, R. Kolb, Th.F. Latini, G.S. Pak, J. Watt, T.J. Wengert, P. Westermeyer, and D.M. Whitford.

It looks quite good and it’s in the stack for review.

If You Want to Know How Calvin Really Handled the Bible… Don’t Read Serene Jones, Read Donald McKim

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calvin_bibleHe edited this exceptional collection whose authors actually do understand Calvin far better than Jones.

During the past several decades a growing number of scholars have come to appreciate the importance of studying John Calvin’s interpretive work as a commentator on Scripture in addition to his better-known writings on theology. In this volume ten essays by scholars specializing in Calvin’s exegetical methods examine the approaches and themes Calvin emphasized when he interpreted major portions of Scripture. These essays focus on Calvin’s work in his biblical commentaries with appropriate cross-referencing to his other writings, including his sermons. A concluding essay synthesizes the main features of what has gone before to present an overall view of John Calvin as an interpreter and commentator on Holy Scripture. An appreciation of Calvin’s exegetical labors and his work as a biblical commentator are now recognized as key elements in Calvin scholarship.

Fun Facts from Church History: The Solemn Adoption of the ‘Ecclisiastical Ordinances’

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calvin_opera“Ecclesiastical Ordinances,” … [of Calvin] were solemnly ratified January 2, 1542, as the Church law of Geneva. In themselves they are an interesting milestone of progress, and in addition they are of vast concern as having passed into the life of most of the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of the Old and the New World. The official text begins with the following words:

“In the name of God Almighty, we the Syndics, Small and Great Councils with our people assembled at the sound of the trumpet and the great clock, according to our ancient customs, have considered that the matter above all others worthy of recommendation is to preserve the doctrine of the holy gospel of our Lord in its purity, to protect the Christian Church, to instruct faithfully the youth, and to provide a hospital for the proper support of the poor,—all of which can not he done without a definite order and rule of life, from which every estate may learn the duty of its office. For this reason we have deemed it wise to reduce the spiritual government, such as our Lord has shown us and instituted by His Word, to a good form to be introduced and observed among us. Therefore we have ordered and established to follow and to guard in our city and territory the following ecclesiastical polity, taken from the gospel of Jesus Christ”*

Geneva would forever after be changed. In the view of some, for better, in the view of many, for worse.

*R. Stevenson, John Calvin: The Statesman (pp. 128–129).

Fun Facts From Church History: Calvin’s Letter to Geneva

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history-of-the-reformation-in-europe-in-the-time-of-calvinIf you desire to have me for your pastor, correct the disorder of your lives.  …  I cannot behold without the most painful displeasure … discipline trodden under foot and crimes committed with impunity.  I cannot possibly live in a place so grossly immoral. …  I consider the principal enemies of the Gospel to be, not the pontiff of Rome, nor heretics, nor seducers, nor tyrants, but bad Christians.*

* D.G. Hart, Calvinism: A History (p. 18).

Calvin and His Money

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calvin39Unlike today’s super wealthy mega church Pastors, Calvin accepted barely enough income to survive.

He received at Geneva only just sufficient to support him with the greatest parsimony. His pay consisted of fifty dollars, twelve measures of corn, two tuns of wine, and a dwelling-house. The state-protocol of October, 1541, says, indeed, “that a considerable stipend was granted to Calvin, because he was very learned, and visitors cost him much.”

But what proves that this income was very small, according to the price of things at that time, is the circumstance, that the council frequently found it necessary, from mere kindness, to lend him a helping hand. True however to his principles, he refused ten dollars offered him when he was sick in 1546, and two which the council wished him to accept for his journey to Bern, in 1553, on the affairs of the republic.

On December 28, 1556, the council sent him some wood to warm his chamber; he carried them the money for it, but they would not take it. The same body sent him, May 14, 1560, a tun of the best wine, because he had only what was very indifferent.

He borrowed however twenty-five dollars to meet the expenses of his sickness, and on the 22d of June, 1563, earnestly entreated the council to receive them back.* He protested indeed, “that he would never again enter the pulpit, if he were compelled to retain another indemnification.”

Twenty dollars, that is, almost half the amount of his stipend, he had formally rejected,—a plain proof this of his desire to remain poor.

In a letter to Farel (January 21, 1546), he expressly relates how he was once obliged to argue with an anabaptist before the council. This person had treated him badly, till at length driven into a corner, and being full of malice, he answered Calvin, that all the clergy led a life of luxury. The reformer replied, and the anabaptist then called him a miser, which excited general laughter; “For it was recollected what I had given up this very year, and that I had sworn I would not preach again if I were pressed any more on the subject. It was also known that I had refused additional presents, and had given up twenty dollars from my income. All fell upon him when they heard this.”*

Benny Hinn and Mark Driscoll and Kenneth Copeland and all the rest of the pentebabbleist rabble may live like kings and queens, but Calvin, whose life and work matter 10,000 times more, lived on only what was absolutely necessary.

*P. Henry, The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer (Vol. 1, pp. 269–270).