Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

This Day in Church History: Birth of John Calvin

calvin.jpg10 July 1509, the Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) was born in Nyon, France.  As one might suspect of someone like me (raised in a family of Methodists, pietist in orientation, student of Menno Simons and the General Baptist, Richard Overton, student of the Arminian Baptist Dale Moody), I am not the huge fan of Calvin that many are.  His violence and his persecution of Anabaptists (not to mention heretics like Servetus) and his fusion of church and state are huge deficits in my book.  Still, I like Calvin better than I like most of his enthusiastic followers, especially those at and following the Synod of Dordt!  Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, while far from perfect in my view, has a very pastoral tone and must be ranked among the classics of Christian theology. Anyone, no matter how anti-Calvinist they are, will profit from reading the Institutes with an open mind.

I appreciate Calvin even more as an exegete.  He wrote commentaries on most of the books of the Bible and, although they are pre-critical, they are as informed by historical and linguistic study as it was possible to be at the time.  Further, as is very evident in his commentary on Hebrews, Calvin worked hard to let the text speak and not superimpose his dogmatic theology on what he was reading in the text before him–an amazingly humble attitude before Holy Scripture.  I also greatly appreciate Calvin’s refusal to write a commentary on Revelation because, as he admitted, he didn’t understand it! Think how much grief both the Church and the world would have been spared if so many others who didn’t understand Revelation were as humble and followed Calvin’s example!! We might have been spared the heresies of Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, at least–not to mention the number of good trees that wouldn’t have had to die for the horrible Left Behind novels.

This appreciation may seem to some to be “damning with faint praise,” but that is not my intention.  My appreciation for Calvin is sincere–even if more limited than some others would want.

July 10, 2007 Posted by | church history, theology | 9 Comments