Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 2

The Scriptures

To understand how John Calvin viewed the Scriptures, one need only arrive at the sixth chapter of his seminal work Institutes of the Christian Religion referred to by Millard Erickson as the most thorough statement of the new understanding of Christianity in his discussion of various theologies.[1] Calvin devotes the entire chapter to the need of Scripture as a guide and teacher for the elect.[2] Calvin does not stop there. Throughout the entire Book First of Institutes, Calvin again and again returns to Scripture even including the word Scripture in the titles of six chapters. Where Martin Luther began with sola sciptura, Calvin continued in detail using the Scriptures to support the need of Scripture to come to God, the doctrine of the Trinity, sanctification, etc. B. G. Armstrong states that Calvin consistently sought to make the Scriptures the sole source of his ideas.[3]

In his eighth chapter of Book First, Calvin goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the credibility of the Scriptures is well proven by the Bible itself as well as through the affirmation of history. In almost humorous fashion, Calvin chastises those who would question that Moses wrote the books that bear his name and even question the very existence of Moses himself. Calvin points out that questioning the existence of Plato, Aristotle or Cicero would rightly result in harsh punishment.[4] For Calvin, the truth of every word contained in the Bible was above question and one can easily imagine the man’s frustration in having to defend the Bible over and over again.

A treatment of John Calvin’s view of Scripture would be incomplete if mention was not given to two additional points. First, Calvin did not believe in a doctrine of dictation though he did refer to the various writers as God’s amanuenses on occasion. Instead, Calvin believed that the Holy Spirit revealed God’s will and work and in often mysterious ways guided the writers as they recorded their respective books.[5] Since the Bible is the written word of God, Calvin affirmed that it is authoritative in all matters it deals with. Calvin also believed that the Bible does not deal with everything.[6]

The second point to keep in mind was the approach Calvin used to interpret Scripture. Calvin’s preferred hermeneutic insisted that the literal meaning of the text be taken in the historical context in which it was written. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church he left in favor of Protestantism, Calvin rejected the fourfold interpretation of his day that allowed allegorizing, moralizing, and spiritualizing the word of God.[7] Interpretative methods matter. For Calvin, to seek God without His word is to labor in vanity and error.[8] Lacking a proper understanding of that word is an equally useless endeavor.

[1] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 63-64.

[2] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 26.

[3] Douglas, J. D., Phillip Wesley Comfort, and Donald Mitchell. Who's Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997), 131.

[4] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 41.

[5] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 201.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 29.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 1

**This series was taken from a term paper submission for my studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary**


The number of books, articles, and papers written about John Calvin over the centuries is such that a small library would be required to contain them all. As such, the scope of the current work must necessarily be rather narrow while still thoroughly academic in the treatment of the subject matter selected. Here it is appropriate to make mention of the eagerness with which this particular work is approached. Whether or not one agrees with Calvin, one must admit that he is one of the giants of the Protestant Reformation. While not in agreement with many of his doctrines, Calvin is a personal hero.

Rather than provide survey of the life of John Calvin and his ministry that students at the master’s level should already be reasonably well acquainted with, this paper will instead focus on what the author views as the core of Calvin’s theology. A second generation reformer and careful thinker, Gonz├ílez refers to John Calvin as the most important systematizer of Protestant theology in the sixteenth century.[1] The work Calvin did binding together the various doctrines of Protestantism has survived the centuries and can still be strongly felt to this very day. The key parts of Calvin’s theology that will be discussed here are his views on the Scriptures, our Lord, the fallen nature of man, and the church.[2]

It also bears noting what this paper is not intended to do. As this work is in partial fulfillment for a course on church history, the topics discussed will be focused on in a historical context. The nature of these topics are theological but must be approached from the historical perspective. Calvin’s theology will certainly be on display but will neither be defended nor refuted. Such would be well outside the scope of this work and more than likely beyond the modest academic qualifications of this seminarian.

[1] González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 61.

[2] The perseverance of the saints, or more commonly known as “once saved, always saved”, is intentionally not discussed here as it is the area of agreement of LBTS with John Calvin’s theology as well as that of the author. Omission of the subject by no means suggests that such a discussion would not be profitable. Rather it is believed to be unnecessary in the context of this work.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review: The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys

Noll, Mark A. The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitfield, and the Wesleys. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 330 Pp. $28. ISBN 0-8308-2581-9.

Reviewed by Christopher L. Sanchez, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

One of various authors delivering a five volume series titled A History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements, and Ideas in the English-Speaking World, Mark Noll published the first volume with his book The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys. Focusing primarily on the prominent leaders from 1730’s to the 1790’s, Noll seeks to discuss the contributing factors and people that led to the rise of evangelicalism. With the skill of a seasoned author and accomplished historian, Noll sets the bar high for the series with this work suitable for use by seminarians yet still accessible for the average reader desiring to know more about this aspect of church history.

As one might expect, Noll’s first order of business in his introduction is to provide a framework of common beliefs held by evangelicals from the 1730’s to this present day. Noll calls these core commitments that serve to identify a large kin network of churches, societies, books and periodicals, and personal networks that allows for both flexibility and focus in the five volume series. These familiar commitments are conversion, the Bible and the fact that all spiritual truth is found in its pages, service to God primarily through evangelism and missions, and the sufficiency of Christ’s death in providing atonement for sin (18 – 19).

In his first two chapters, Noll skillfully details developments across Europe and the colonies in what became America and the movement towards what is referred to as “religion of the heart (52) while careful to note that these elements had always been present but their proliferation led directly to evangelicalism (53). Pietism, Calvinism, and High-Church Anglicanism all play roles in the development of evangelicalism and Noll spends a sufficient amount of time demonstrating how each influence is part of the character of the emerging movement.

In his fifth chapter, Noll provide a critical assessment of explanations of why evangelical revivals broke out in the 1730’s and 1740’s. He argues that these explanations are only sufficient in specific situations or regions and fail to explain the overall rise of evangelicalism. Noll goes on to state that became clear is the desire for revival was more important that the actual revival itself (136 – 37). Noll also notes that the early leaders were excellent communicators and were rather young most being in their 20’s as evangelicalism developed. Noll also briefly touches on the importance of human agency in the development of evangelicalism (141 – 42).

A great deal of time is spent on the development and later diversification of the movement before a rather lengthy conclusion. According to Noll, evangelicalism was never as much about changing the world as it was about changing the self or creating spiritual communities where changes people could grow in grace (262). It did not go unnoticed that more women than men were attracted to early evangelicalism. Anglicans, Moravians, Baptists and Methodists to varying degrees encouraged women to give testimony about their faith and join men in sitting in judgment on the rest (263 – 64).

Noll’s generous footnotes and select bibliography is certainly a wealth of resources that should excite the serious student interested in delving deeper into this period of church history. Though scholarly, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys is an enjoyable read that should not intimidate the casual reader or layperson interested in the origins of evangelicalism specifically or church history in general. At times Noll does seem to get more focused on the ancillary historical details and key leaders when time may have been better spent giving a few paragraphs discussing the common people whose lives were changed a bit more. Still, Noll set out to focus on the leaders and events that led to the rise of evangelicalism. With that goal in mind, it is easy to conclude that Noll accomplished what he set out to do in this book. As an introduction to Noll’s work for this reader, it served to both inform and whet the appetite to explore his other works as well as the additional volumes in the series.