Wednesday, August 20, 2008

#29 John Calvin

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Talking about John Calvin makes many Christians feel sophisticated and avant-garde. Theology students who begin required reading of Calvin fall in love with him and his four (sometimes five) spiritual laws. They volley big words back and forth and go to Starbucks to discuss things like "limited atonement" and "perseverance of the saints." Ardent debates are spawned over the issue of predestination and absolutely no conclusion is reached. This is a great deal of fun for them, and yet it can all take an ominous turn if someone is not in agreement with you on how the word "total" in "total depravity" should be interpreted.

It is plausible, but not scientifically confirmed, that reformed students spend more time studying Calvin's teachings than they spend studying Scripture. Weirdly enough, this may mean they've crossed from Gospel into Law (uh oh), but we'll never know for sure. Kind of like predestination.

24 comments:

Scott said...

Calvin is the man.
I love his commentaries.

Anonymous said...

Huh? And here I thought Jessus was the man. Silly me.

Chris said...

I'm pretty sure that this is limited to the Reformed branches. The Holiness movements have Wesley (who is treated as the fourth member of the trinity, according to one of my seminary profs).

Anonymous said...

wesley and Arminianism seem much better to my doctrinal taste

OldSchool36 said...

The four "spiritual laws" should not be confused with the "five points of Calvinism" ... which were actually formulated and systematized after Calvin's death, in response to Arminianism.

Jesus is the (God) Man.

Scripture is the source of truth, not our personal tastes or feelings.

stephy said...

I think Amyraldism is sometimes called modified Calvinism or four-point Calvinism. It doesn't claim the doctrine of limited atonement...

Joel said...

C.S. Lewis needs to be added to this. They LOVE C.S. Lewis

Joel said...

other suggestions

-5 string bass guitars
-Lord of the Rings
-short term mission trips
-saying "it's not about religion"
-having one non-christian (or pre-christian as my old youth pastor would say) friend.

The Nerd said...

Calvin is one of the big reasons I left the church. My mom tried to get me to stay by saying "we're not Calvinists, we're Christians". Then I pointed out that there was a Calvinism 101 class offered each Sunday morning.

prettydarnpretty said...

The girls group at my Church was called "Calvinettes" until the year 2000. It never hit me how ridiculous that was until like, six months ago.

libresansdieu said...

I never miss a chance to remind people that Calvin was a hypocrite, a micro-managing freak, a murderer and, basically, a douche. Garanteed to break the ice at christian parties.

libresansdieu said...

Awesome blog btw, can't stop laughing. Here are a few requests for topics:

* Games that involve touching, groping, sitting on top of each other. Games, games, and more games, please do not think for yourself, games, games and games.

* Billy Graham.

* Pretending that people agree with them while talking about religious issues, hoping that we will convert by osmosis or something.

* Preying on people that are sick, lost their job, etc, hoping that they will "open to Jesus" in this "moment of tribulation".

* The local apologetics expert. Every youth group needs one.

* Church security personel. Extra points when they also wake up people who fall asleep at youth meetings.

* Sermon series.

* "And that will be my last point for tonight." (means there is an hour left at least)

* "Feel free to...". Actually means that you ought to do something. Because if you are really free, you are "spirit filled" and will know that you just gotta do it.

Anonymous said...

Jean Calvin is a giant of western literature. His theology is far too absolute for most if not all modern American evangelicals.

No modern evangelical truly believes in predestination even though no one - not John Wesley, not Jacob Arminius, not Martin Luther - has convincingly refuted Calvin's extremely inconvenient theology. His theology is summarily dismissed.


Jeremiah

Robin Marie said...

The most disturbing thing about Calvin is that, it seems to me, his interpretation of the scripture is actually the most consistent with it.

Which suggests to me how absurd the text that Christianity is founded on really is, but hey.

Just to note, I'm not someone who doesn't take an interest in scripture/theology in and of itself; as a graduate student in history, quite the opposite. I just nevertheless come to the conclusion that Christianity, to quote Jefferson, "is the most perverted system that ever shone on man." Or at least one of them. And although this is largely to do with the abuses of human beings, it also has not a little to do with scripture.

Anonymous said...

Robin Marie - As a graduate student in history you should know that Christianity wasn't founded on ANY text.

Pick a side. You can't claim to be uninterested then turn around and call the object of your insouciance "the most perverted system. . ." etc.


Jeremiah

Robin Marie said...

Jeremiah -- you knew exactly what I meant. Of course the existence of Christianity does not simply flow from the Scriptures -- it grew up in a context of politics, culture (of many sorts, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Roman) and power struggles.

By founded I simply meant that the Bible is the place where the vast majority of Christians go to understand God's way and purpose. Certainly you wouldn't deny that. And that theologians like Calvin and Luther argued that their view of God and Christ was correct because they had interpreted that Scripture correctly, whereas the Catholic Church had corrupted its message. Certainly you wouldn't deny that either.

Finally, I hardly see why interest in something requires me to be impressed by it. Really, that makes no sense at all to me; intellectual curiosity would be pretty shallow if it only applied to that which you are a fan of. I think Calvin is extremely interesting, and I also think he is enraging, as his theology is one of the most wretched, hopeless and thankless theologies I've ever heard of. And the fact that this was nonetheless attractive to people in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe, and that it continued to be so to most of the Puritans who settled in North America, is pretty damn interesting, isn't it? It suggests we should try to understand something about that culture and that time, and why pious Christians who had rejected the Catholic Church would actually find this to be a much more attractive alternative.

So now, none of this prevents me from looking at what Calvin is arguing, especially his arguments against using one's reason to try to understand the way of God, and not whole heatedly reject. Just because a 21st century graduate student thinks Calvinism is a load of crap, doesn't mean I can't appreciate its historical and intellectual significance, to my own life as well, considering how much it has impacted American culture.

Anonymous said...

My bad. You lost me with your "not-un" construction in your previous post. I thought you were saying you were UNinterested in the Bible while at the same time blaming it for a list of serious ills.

There are many explanations for the founding and expansion of Christianity but one of them is NOT the Bible. Not even a little.


Jeremiah

Tia Lynn said...

I'm a christian, but think John Calvin was a horrid human being and himself a heretic for believing it was ok to torture and murder "heretics." It's a little scary to me how willing christians are to embrace his words, when his actions were monstrous.

Chrissy said...

When I questioned my college and career pastor about our church's dispensationalist interpretation of scripture compared to what I read in the Bible, he told me I am a Calvinist. That was NOT popular in my "non-denominational" church. I was insulted briefly, until I realized I definitely did not agree with him about pretty much anything. So I declared myself a 5 point Calvinist, confessing that I had never read a word of Calvin, but apparently fit the qualifications according to my pastor's belittling accusation. Result: The thinking guys wanted to bang me (AKA: marry me). I quit that church. I'm still a 5 point Calvinist. I have yet to study Calvin.

Scott S. said...

One more reason I'm glad I have been moved into Orthodoxy. We don't care about Mr. Calvin.

Russell said...

Many evangelicals are completely ignorant of church history and likely don't know anything about John Calvin.

johnno54 said...

It is plausible, but not scientifically confirmed, that reformed students spend more time studying Calvin's teachings than they spend studying Scripture.

As a Reformed Christian I would disagee with your statement here. Reformed Christians view great christian minds of the past as saints that have gone before us and have dealt with many theological questions. We learn from these saints and as time goes by the church should be reforming it's self over and over, doing away with man made inventions and practices, returning to biblical ways to worship Christ. John Calvin is only one of these saints which we can learn from. If you take the time to read Calvin you would see that he had a pastoral heart and was always pointing others to Christ. American Christianity has taken on this idea of it's just me and my bible. This is like saying, lets reinvent the wheel.

stephy said...

The plausible thing was a kind of a joke. But the more I read of Calvin, the less I like him.

Anonymous said...

This portrait of Calvin makes him look, almost, like an uncircumcised dickhead--too phallic for my tastes. Just the right kind of image to belong on some hipster t-shirt for sale at a christian bookstore.