You know who gets a bad rap?

John Calvin.

Here’s how it works: If you’re not a Calvinist, or especially if you’re an anti-Calvinist, then you usually think Calvin is the Dark Prince of Theology– someone who thought God hated little babies or some such. If you are a Calvinist, it makes you a little nervous that it will you look like you follow Calvin instead of Jesus, so you get used to saying things like this: “I’m not a Calvinist because of Calvin. I could care less what John Calvin says; I care what the Bible says.”

Fair enough; Calvin would want you to care more about what the Bible says. But I discovered something in seminary: Calvin is absolutely amazing. Here’s a man who wrote the first draft of his systematic theology at 27. That’s around my age. You would not want to read whatever systematic theology I wrote; his is easily one of the 10 most influential books in Christian history. He essentially invented the modern commentary with his philosophy of pursuing “clarity and brevity.” Expelled from his native France, he led Geneva in becoming a haven for Protestantism, and from there he sent missionaries and church planters throughout Europe. Calvinism didn’t kill missions, it spawned revival all over a continent.

His writing is amazing, something I rediscovered this week when I picked up his commentary on John to read in the mornings. He clearly explains what the text means, correcting common misunderstandings and locating each passage in its context. Then he effortlessly slips into devotional writing, showing how our hearts should respond to the text. He was certainly human and imperfect, but he is a near-ideal model of the pastor-scholar. His intellect was second to none, but it was employed in the service of God, with the goal that God’s people offer him the worship he deserves.

Over the next few days I’ll try to offer some especially insightful and convicting comments from Calvin. If you haven’t heard much specific about him, hopefully I can leave you wanting more.

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Comments

  1. I’m not a big fan of Calvin but I agree, he gets a bad rap. One of my first year profs said that Calvin wouldn’t be a Calvinist as they are often known today

  2. Careful– sounds like the Geisler fallacy to me. Of course Calvin wasn’t a hyper-Calvinist, but there are actually very few of them today (as you can imagine, they don’t reproduce very well). In terms of the
    “5 points,” it’s pretty easy to see them all in Calvin’s writing.

  3. After my church history classes, I have to agree, Jake, that Calvin was pretty amazing. I don’t always agree with his conclusions, but his intellect, his theology, and his courage have certainly impacted and shaped Christianity to this point. And whether I totally agree with someone or not, I would have a hard time not exploring their thoughts and writings as it would make me very limited and un-balanced.

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