Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How are you celebrating Calvin's 500th?

July 10 marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth. His impact on western civilization is hard to measure. Recently I was asked to provide 3 reasons that Calvin is important today. Here is what I wrote:
1. Western civilization owes an incalculable debt to John Calvin because his exposition of Scripture's view that all creation is the theater of God's glory helped set a vigorous, world-changing agenda for vocation, culture-making and society. The political freedoms and other blessings that we enjoy have been granted to us by God, in large part, through the outworking of ideas that were first systematized and promoted by Calvin.

2. Calvin has left a great legacy for the church by virtue of his personal testimony of grace, humility, industry and perseverance through desperate times. It is far easier to vilify him than it is to consider his life carefully in light of his historical context. In a hard age when church and state were in complete upheaval, he maintained a steady course as a faithful pastor. Despite his preference to "die a hundred other deaths" than to give himself to pastoral ministry in Geneva, he nevertheless took up that cross and bore it well. Despite threats, opposition, sickness and mistreatment from those who should have been his supporters, he pressed on in his calling to shepherd the people of Geneva, strengthening the church through consistent preaching and teaching and leading them to send out missionaries to preach the gospel in hard places.

3. In my estimation the most significant reason that Calvin is important for us today stems from his exposition and theological writings. His commentaries are models of exegetical skill and power and set a standard for all successive Protestant commentaries. His Institutes demonstrate the inextricable relationship between doctrine and life by combining exegetical, historical, systematic and pastoral theology that is written not for the academy but for the church. Calvin's influence is so profound in this area that a man can scarcely regard himself as educated while remaining unacquainted with his works.
With all of his flaws--and as with all sons of Adam, he had many--all Christ-followers owe a debt of gratitude to the Reformer from Geneva. His advocacy of civil punishment, even to the extent of death, for religious ideas is something that most believers, especially those of us the free church stream, abominate. Likewise, we Baptists cannot tolerate his position on paedobaptism (a position that, according to this picture and this explanation from the ruins under the present church structure, the church he served evidently did not share with him in earlier centuries). After all, the best of men are men at best. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that he was--and remains--a great gift to the church.

How will you celebrate Calvin's birthday? In the true spirit of the Reformer from Geneva and, more importantly, in keeping with the biblical, missional gospel which he taught (see FJ 75), I am laboring with a team of 8 from Grace Baptist Church to make Christ known to an unreached people group in SE Asia. We got here today and look forward to 10 days of working with field personnel here with the IMB.

Pray that God will use us to make disciples and add to that glorious multitude of worshipers "that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" for whom our Savior shed His precious blood.


WesInTex said...

Brother Tom,

Thank you for your reminders concerning the significant contributions Calvin made not only to the church – but to western society as well. To this day I remember some of my professors railing against Calvin, going so far as to call him a murderer. Admittedly it turned me away from his work for many years. I’m grateful to have come to see him for what he was … not what others say he was.

I will pray for your team in SE Asia. We have personal connections to that part of the world. My former pastor and his family are in that area (can’t say what country) and my niece just landed in her assignment for two years (again, can’t say what country). Stay safe, stay faithful and may the glory of our God overshadow you all.


Jared Nelson said...

How else? By drinking Calvinus beer!


proxigean said...

Reference "Likewise, we Baptists cannot tolerate his position on paedobaptism . . ." as one who agrees completely on Baptist practice, intolerance of those who baptize infants can not be pleasing to a Christ who offers his grace for all of our sins. That we divide over the doctrines of grace should grieve our spirit to a far greater extent.


Tom said...


Reread my words. What I said that we Baptists cannot tolerate is his position, not those who hold it.

Darrin said...

I regret not organizing a gathering with friends for this occasion. Geneva, Alabama is not too far from us, but there's probably nothing going on there!

But seriously, my prayer and desire is to more diligently apply this Reformer's sentiment to my life: "My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely."

May this momentous occasion inspire us all the more to faithfully study, faithfully serve, and faithfully love the One who died for us.

pastoraaronrobb said...

Thanks for these well-stated comments. I am one, as well, who thanks God for this faithful pastor, theologian, and reformer. I am going to place a link to this post on my blog.
Thanks again.

Rob Mart said...

I try not to celebrate those who commit murder.

Bill said...

Moses, David, Paul

stev4n said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jared Nelson said...

"I try not to celebrate those who commit murder."

That's totally unfair. Calvin never killed anyone. The state he lived in had the death penalty, and if you think that is murder then you are a murderer too for giving taxes and serving in a judicial system in America that has the death penalty too.

Jeff said...

And then there are those passages in the O.T. where God tells the Jews to wipe out every living being.

I suppose you don't celebrate God?

Todd Pylant said...

What is the best biography you would recommend on the life of John Calvin?

Darrin said...

THL Parker's biography of Calvin is good, if you don't mind lots of detail. The edition I borrowed (and only read parts of thus far) is from 1975, but apparently the edition at Amazon is from 2007. In some places it appeared to me that the author was expressing disagreement with certain of Calvin's doctrines, yet he actually articulated these Calvinist views quite well.

Recently it appears that several newer books on Calvin have been well received. I don't remember them all (some have appeared on several Reformed blogs and in World magazine), but a few that look interesting to me are:

- "John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology", various contributors
- "John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God", Piper
- "John Cavin: Pilgrim and Pastor", Godfrey
- "John Calvin", Selderhuis

Blessings on your studies.

proxigean said...

Another good biography is David W. Hall's "Legacy of John Calvin."

It reads well and at 128 pages, it is a quick read as well. Enjoy!

biblicallanguages said...

For an interesting biography written by a close friend of Calvin, you could read Theodore Beza's biography: _The Life of John Calvin_. It's available in several places; here's one:



Phillip Marshall