Will the Real John Calvin Please Stand Up?

John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & DoxologyThe 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon said it this way:

“I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism.  It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.  I do not believe that we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.”

2009 being the 500th birthday of theologian John Calvin, it seemed fitting to me to give a portion of my personal study time this year to his theology.  Not to mention, there is an unbelievable amount of misunderstanding in our present day concerning Calvin the man, and his theology.  For many people, their knowledge of Calvinism consists only of that which they have heard about it.  As a result, many people envision a hard, cold, ivory-tower theologian that had little connection with the average lay-person, and because of  his doctrine of election, cared little about missions/evangelism.  Nothing could be further from the truth! J.I. Packer is quoted as saying, “…the amount of misrepresentation to which Calvin’s theology has been subjected has been enough to prove his doctrine of total depravity several times over!”

In order to intentionally look at Calvin a bit closer, I picked up a copy of the recent book, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology.  Edited by Burk Parsons, with contributions by pastors and scholars such as Sinclair Ferguson, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges and Thabiti Anyabwile (to name only a few), this proved to be well worth my time!  I read the book, alongside selections of The Institutes, and it helped acquaint me with Calvin in a way that has caused me only to become more interested in the man and his theology.

Several things I’ve learned…

  • He had an astounding compassion for the sick among his congregation, and a desire for their overall health, both spiritually and physically.  This can be seen in his Ecclesiastical Ordinances of the Church of Geneva.
  • Calvin was a pastor for 27 years, nearly half his life.
  • Calvin would preach 20 times per week, from the NT on Sundays, and the OT on weekdays.  His preaching, not only intellectually challenging, but also passionate, practical and easily comprehended by the common man, resulted in an extraordinary level of biblical literacy throughout Geneva.
  • Through Calvin’s zealous desire for missions/evangelism over 2,150 churches were planted through his ministry by 1562, producing more than 3 million members.
  • Calvin was a phenomenal counselor to the afflicted, as he would comfort those entrusted to his care through the doctrine of God’s providence.  He writes in the preface of his commentary on the Psalms, “we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him.”
  • Calvin had a vibrant doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  He acknowledged continually that effective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers himself in the gospel.
  • Calvin insisted that people are bound to wonder about God’s foreordination and will, so they should be soundly taught from the Scriptures rather than be left open to vain speculation.  He says, “Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know.  Therefore, we must guard against depriving believers of anything disclosed about predestination in Scripture, lest we seem either wickedly to defraud them of the blessing of their God or to accuse and scoff at the Holy Spirit for having published what it is in any way profitable to suppress.”
  • Calvin was fervent and faithful in frequent prayer.  He writes, “until [people] are persuaded that all their troubles come upon them by the appointment of God, it will never come into their minds to supplicate him for deliverance.”

That, is only to name a few.  I can’t, in the course of this short blog, do justice to everything I learned about Calvin and his theology through John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology and The Institutes, or that which is offered to be learned.  But, I would wholeheartedly recommend them for reading!  And, for those who have been skeptical of Calvin/Calvinism in the past, and who have not actually read the man himself, read before you make statements/judgments about Calvin/Calvinism yourself.  You may be surprised at what you find, and I pray that you’ll be led to the conclusion of Burk Parsons who writes:

“Calvin’s Calvinism…is engendered and shaped by Scripture alone–and that makes it a Calvinism that begins with God, teaches us about God, and directs our hearts and minds back to God according to the way He deserves, demands, and delights in our worship of Him and our obedience to Him.  This is the threefold foundation of Calvin’s Calvinism: devotion, doctrine, and doxology–the heart’s devotion to the biblical God, the mind’s pursuit of the biblical doctrine of God, and the entire being’s surrender to doxology.  Calvin writes, “The glory of God so shines in his word, that we ought to be so affected by it, whenever he speaks by his servants, as though he were near to us, face to face.”…A true Calvinist is one who strives to think as Calvin thought and live as Calvin lived–insofar as Calvin thought and lived as our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Word of God.”


John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God, by John Piper

A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, by David W. Hall


9 thoughts on “Will the Real John Calvin Please Stand Up?

  1. You had me from the beginning-

    “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism.”

    I have just recently come to agree with Spurgeon on this; I see how destructive other theologies are to the character and nature of God through communication with others. A. W. Pink says:

    “The “god” of this twentieth century no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun.”

    This is Calvinism – man letting go of His selfish desires and allowing God to be who He proclaims to be.

  2. Well I didn’t know there was a survey… I just took it and chose “A lack in the teaching of sound doctrine.” I chose this because I believe correct thinking produces correct people. If we know God correctly and what He wants for us correctly, then we are better equipped for doing those things, and doing them by nature. But today, there is really no teaching in the church, other than how to manage family and finances, how to be “real” in the world, etc. Any teaching that is given is usually “milk” and somehow distorted to make the world feel comfortable. We compromise the very truths that make up Christianity in order that we might reach more. Francis Schaeffer says this:

    “…there are certain unchangeable facts which are true. These have no relationship to the shifting tides. They make the Christian system what it is, and if they are altered, Christianity becomes something else. This must be emphasized because there are evangelical Christians today who, in all sincerity, are concerned with their lack of communication, but in order to bridge the gap they are tending to change what must remain unchangeable. If we do this we are no longer communicating Christianity, and what we have left is no different from the surrounding consensus.”

    Thus I feel that before Christians can start focusing on doing the things that God wants, they have to know just who God is.

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