Friday, September 10, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 6


Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, said that revolution is followed by reconstruction and consolidation and for this task John Calvin was providentially foreordained.[1] Joseph Scaliger, a Huguenot scholar in the generation after Calvin, described him as “alone among the theologians.”[2] The depth of Calvin’s thought and strength of his influence is felt across the centuries to this very day. His theology still sparks fierce debates among scholars and laity alike. Without a doubt John Calvin left a mark on Christianity that will likely never be forgotten.

Like Luther, Calvin found authority in the Scriptures alone. Preferring a literal hermeneutic, Calvin did not read things into the text that weren’t there. Calvin was also comfortable with the presence of mysteries in the understanding of God. Calvin never doubted the authority of Scripture in all matter in which it deals but also acknowledged that there are things Scripture simply doesn’t address. As with other mysteries, Calvin took no exception to this. It was enough that what God revealed about Himself was sufficient for man to come to knowledge of God.

Calvin also believed that the only thing man could know about God was that which had been revealed through His word. This concept is especially important considering Calvin’s acceptance of sola scriptura. Without even mentioning his view of the Roman Catholic Church, this single belief is a shot across the bow of Catholicism and the Catholic view of Scripture plus tradition. For Calvin, adding anything to the Scriptures was simply intolerable.

Perhaps misunderstood is Calvin’s belief in original sin and the depravity of man. Calvin strongly affirmed belief in original sin and the tainted nature of humanity. However, Calvin did not believe that man could not do good works. Of course sinful man could do good works. What Calvin did believe was that no amount of good works was sufficient for man to earn salvation. Redemption of sin is available only because of the grace of God though faith in Jesus Christ alone.

For one unacquainted with Calvin’s condemnation of the Catholic Church, his complete and total contempt for it might seem a bit extreme. For those who have spent only a modest amount of time studying the man, his reasons for his strong beliefs become instantly apparent. Calvin believed that the Catholic Church was responsible for nothing short of failing to carry out their commitment to Christ and through their negligence, pride and greed were responsible for causing people to falsely believe they had received forgiveness of their sins and attained salvation. In the Catholic Church Calvin saw apostasy, corruption, the unforgivable injuries inflicted upon Christ.

Much more could certainly be said about John Calvin and his influence on the Protestant Reformation. Touching on only four of his beliefs hardly seems fitting for a theologian whose ministry spanned 28 years in his lifetime and over four centuries since. His writings are still the measuring stick against which Protestant systematic theologies are compared. Few Christian ministers have the kind of impact Calvin did in his lifetime. Fewer still influence the faith across the centuries like Calvin. Continued study is certainly warranted for this seminarian.

[1] Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church 3rd Ed., Vol. VIII. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), 211.

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

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