Tag Archives: John Calvin

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Getting in touch with your inner Luther

I’m currently working on an essay on the Reformation. When I say currently, I mean for the last four hours I’ve been finishing my reading with just a few more articles. No seriously. Just a few more. And on Tuesday I’ll write my thoughts into something cohesive, which will then be submitted by Friday.

That’s the plan.

Anyway. I’ve been enjoying reading some of the polemics written around the period of the Reformation. And while I probably owe much of my theological heritage to John Calvin, as a Presbyterian, I find Luther resonates a bit better with my personality, as a young hot-head blogger.

Anyway. The Luther Insult Generator has been doing the rounds online. Its popularity led to a server change, and thus a change in web address. So. Update your bookmarks. Snot-nose.

The age old question…

Al Mohler is the thinking evangelical’s favourite Southern Baptist, he’s reformed, he’s intelligent, he’s eloquent. He seems like a nice guy. But in a talk at the Ligonier Ministries conference in the US he basically did the anti-Wattke (Wattke was the OT scholar who moved institutions after publishing his views on the possibility that Genesis 1 might be compatible with evolutionary theory). Mohler (as reported at Challies.com) says it’s not. And furthermore, that not holding to a young earth, 6 day, 24 hour, view of creation leads to theological disaster.

If there’s one thing I dislike more than stupid theological debates that can’t be resolved, it’s people who make such debates the yardstick of theological orthodoxy. There are people I love, and respect, on both sides of this debate. And I’m pretty sick of posts like this that caricature opposing views in order to attack them. There’s a word for that logical fallacy. It’s a strawman.

Here’s the first “strawman” from Challies’ post – it’s a rebranding of the “literary theory” that is pretty narrow, and doesn’t look like the literary theory any reformed evangelical I know holds to while questioning the function of Genesis 1-11:

“The literary theory. Here we take the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literary, understanding that the Creation story is merely myth, a story as understood by ancient Hebrews.”

It’s almost never held to be “merely myth” – any literary theorists will affirm essentially the same theological truths as the six day young earth adherent. This is a nasty carricature that pays no heed to the complexities of the debate, and certainly rules out any knowledge that we may bring to the text based on ancient Hebrew literature…

Mohler’s (or Challies’) conclusion based on that first strawman is another fallacy:

“The literary theory has to be rejected out-of-hand since it otherwise contradicts inerrancy. We cannot hold to a robust theory of biblical inerrancy and interpret the chapters in this way.”

Why does reading the Bible as literature, or at the very least, pondering the genre of the received text, rule out a “robust theory of biblical inerrancy”? It seems that by including the qualifiers “robust” in this sentence, and “merely” in the first, Mohler can dismiss anybody who agrees with him 90% of the way by lumping them in with the people who disagree with him 100% of the way. This shouldn’t be a question of semantics – a “plain reading” of Mohler’s views is that unless you hold to a young earth six day creation you think the Bible is an errant myth. This just isn’t true of most of the reformed guys I’ve read this year (and in the past) when it comes to disagreements on Genesis 1. Every big name in American reformed circles seems to have a different view on the question – Piper, Driscoll, Mohler, Keller… the reason thoughtful people reach different conclusions is simple – we weren’t there at creation (and neither was Moses), we weren’t there when Genesis was written, and any postulation on the question of the mechanics of creation (past the “God did it by his word” idea) is purely speculative. It’s guesswork. Some guesses may be more educated than others. But to make this some sort of yardstick for theological orthodoxy is perilously stupid.

This is the kind of issue people lose their jobs over. Because of this ludicrous desire to see the issue at front and centre. The bit I think is the most frustrating is the clamouring over the “reformed” label for your view – as though disagreement on the issue is new. Here’s what Calvin said (in a commentary on Genesis 1:16), if you want to be reformed you at the very least want to be agreeing with Calvin. Right?

“I have said, that Moses does not here subtly descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature, as may be seen in these words. First, he assigns a place in the expanse of heaven to the planets and stars; but astronomers make a distinction of spheres, and, at the same time, teach that the fixed stars have their proper place in the firmament. Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.”

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5 Points about Calvin

Calvin is famous for his slightly misattributed and grossly misunderstood “five points of Calvinism” – I’ve got a reputation for being “not a five point Calvinist” mostly because I don’t like hyper-Calvinism. Calvin was mostly terrific – having done some research though I can’t say I’m fully on board with his philosophy of government.

Here are some things I learned about Calvin this week that I thought were interesting.

  1. Calvin wrote some stuff under a pen name to avoid persecution from the established Catholic church – including Charles d’Es-perville, Martianus Lucanius, Carolus Passelius, Alcuin, Depercan, and Calpurnius – these would be good names to consider for your children or characters in a novel if you’re staunchly, but secretly, reformed.
  2. Calvin was, by nature, incredibly humble – he wanted a life of quiet scholarship. He requested an unmarked grave. He was pastorally sacrificial. He submitted all things to the sovereignty of God. He championed a doctrine that made human agency incredibly small. He instituted a political system in the city whose church he lead removing power and authority from the church and putting it in the hands of the people. The idea of having a theological movement named after him would have been an anathema. It seems to me that this aspect of his character is in stark contrast to the pillars of the “new Calvinism”.
  3. Calvin was, by nature, incredibly arrogant. He was so incredibly confident in his personal views on scripture and Government – and did not particularly like opposition. God seems to prefer to work through guys who are an incredible paradox of confidence and humility – I’m not sure that humility and arrogance are the polar opposites people suggest. They seem to be two separate characteristics with related distinctives.
  4. Calvin was politically savvy enough to know when not to be political. This greatly enhanced his influence on the political sphere.  

    He was expelled from Geneva the first time round because he wouldn’t pander to the rich and powerful (by serving them communion). He was brought back to reform the political structure of the city a few years later. But he didn’t use this as an opportunity to grandstand or point score (at least from the pulpit)… To quote the helpful biography of Calvin I linked to the other day:
     

    When Calvin returned to St. Peter’s Cathedral in 1541, he unceremoniously but symbolically resumed his pulpit activity by expounding the Scriptures at the exact verse where he left off prior to his exile.

    Several days earlier, Calvin had consulted with the Small Council, the real political powerhouse of the day, and encouraged them to make important reforms. They were so willing to help him in the Reformation of Geneva that they not only approved his proposals to revise the protocols for church order, but they also appointed him to a committee to design a constitution for the Republic of Geneva.

  5. Calvin’s post-reformation political realignment of Geneva pioneered the separation of church and state, and the separation of powers. His restructuring of Geneva’s government removed power from the head of the church to a church council, and to a separately elected government in the city. These groups functioned as checks and balances. He separated government of the city from the church to protect the church from the interference of the government and the wealthy – not the other way around.

    He was, however, not a fan of government being “secular” – his philosophy of government, or theology of government, revolved around the government acting in a Christian manner. Again, a couple of insightful quotes from that biography…

    Calvin practiced what he preached. A consistency of ideals, both in church and state, permeated his thought and action. He was prudent enough to realize that the best way to reform the culture was an indirect one, i.e., to first reform the church.

    ”With the publication of the Ordinances, Geneva created a unique Christian commonwealth whereby church and state cooperated in preserving religion as the key to their new identity.”

The Geneva Convention

The Christian blogosphere is drowning in a sea of Calvin posts. It’s his 500th birthday around now – depending on where you are on the planet. We’re taking things back to Geneva tomorrow at church as we “celebrate” the milestone.

I don’t have much to add – except to say that I’m putting the finishing touches on my “novella” on Calvin’s life for our conference tomorrow. My topic deals with Calvin and Servetus – a heretic killed on his watch (but not, as some would suggest, by him).

Heretics were killed back then. There was a very blurry separation of church and state, and heresy was a destabilising political force. It’s hard to reconcile the actions with our current system of government and our religious freedoms – but there wasn’t really much choice in those days.

Calvin had a hand in significant political reform too – helping move a number of theologically reformed countries towards more “democratic” systems of government.

Challies.com has a great article on the episode and I commend it to you – if you can’t be bothered reading all that, and you’re in Townsville, come along to the conference tomorrow afternoon at Willows.

I’m going to use the word antidisestablishmentarianism in my talk too – that should be a real highlight. I’m all about brevity and concise communication…

I’ll share a bunch of Calvin links for you all to enjoy in tomorrow’s link post. Huzzah.

Calvin and bobs

It’s Calvin’s 500th birthday this year. Not the comic character – the predestination guy (for all you Arminians out there).

To celebrate this milestone our church is putting on a Calvin Conference – at which I am presenting something as yet undetermined about his interactions with government. Exciting times. To get me in the mood I’m thinking I may purchase one of these John Calvin Bobble Heads.