Archive - Calvinism RSS Feed

John Calvin the Pastor

Reason #9: Calvin models for us how to faithfully pastor the sheep of God as under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd.

John Calvin was first and foremost a pastor. He faithfully pastored in Geneva for more than twenty-five years and in Strasbourg for three years. As Jim Garretson writes:

“Calvin’s work as a pastor to his respective flocks has been a matter of growing academic interest in recent years. Biographers and historians alike have come to realize the profound pastoral focus that characterized his labors in Geneva and Strasbourg. The more one reads his letters and listens carefully to his sermons and treatises, the more one recognizes a shepherd who carried the burdens, hopes, and fears of his people upon his heart. His transparency and humility reveal a tender-hearted man who, like his Master, went about doing good while seeking to act in the best spiritual interests of those entrusted to his care.”

Erroll Hulse adds:

“As a pastor, Calvin was exemplary in personal godliness, in family life, and in the ministry of prayer. His pastoral care for people is reflected in his letter writing, there being four thousand letters extant. Calvin stuck to his pastoral calling through trials of every kind and persevered through terribly painful physical afflictions.”

When Sinclair Ferguson was asked at Ligonier Ministries’ pre-conference seminar on Calvin in March 2009, “What have you learned from Calvin’s life or writings?” he answered:

“For me, Calvin has been the model of what a gospel minister in a local congregation should be. He preached every second week, preaching probably eight sermons, and the other week probably five. He counseled, but he understood that the counseling arose either out of emergency crises that he was able to help, or because under the ministry of the Word all the filth and sludge of human hearts came to the surface. I feel the church desperately needs to get back to the centrality of the ministry of the Word that characterized Calvin’s preaching and pastoring. You just need to read his sermons to think, You know, if I could take my lunchtime and listen to him for forty minutes, asthmatic as he was, struggling for breath, this would be mind-changing and life-changing. Here is this totally unspectacular man, who never had a laugh in his church, patiently unfolding the Scriptures. It transformed lives pastorally and it gave multitudes of young men the courage to be martyrs for the gospel.”

We are crying out for ministries like that—just ministers in local congregations feeding the people of God with the Word of God. And at the end of the day, this is all Calvin thought he was doing. He was a local pastor.

(Taken with permission from Joel Beeke’s, Calvin for Today)

The Ever Growing American Calvinism Today

On June 25th, 1944, The Doctor—Martyn Lloyd-Jones—gave a radio address for the BBC in Wales on the man, John Calvin. He began with the statement:

“Nothing is more significant of the great change which has happened in the field of theology during the past twenty years than the place now afforded, and the attention given, to the great man of Geneva who is the subject of this address.”1

The same can be said for America today, as the resurgence of Calvinism—both the New- Calvinist and the Old—is growing faster, larger, and deeper into the roots of Evangelical Theology since the Great Awakening in the 1700s. Lloyd-Jones went on in his address, noting that,

Up to almost twenty years ago there was very little attention paid to John Calvin, and when someone spoke of him it was in order to heap insults on him scornfully.”2

The former part of this statement essentially summarizes the standpoint of America in the past fifty to eighty years. Unfortunately, with the climax of Dispensationalism between the 1950s and 1970s, and with the growth of evangelical phenomena such as Fundamentalism, the Mega-Church movements, and Seeker-Friendly ideals, John Calvin and the Calvinist-Reformed Faith as a whole was laid aside. If it was brought up for discussion, it was laughed at as though it was a cult of some sort. However, as Lloyd-Jones affirmed further in his address:

That is not the situation today. In fact, there is more mention of him than there has been for almost a century, and Calvin and Calvinism are the subjects of many arguments and debates in theological circles… The time is ripe, therefore, for us to cast another glance at this man who has influenced the life of the world to such an extent.“3

May America today continue to seek the biblical truth in which Calvin did for his time, his city, but more for His God. May America continue to seek out their theology, and continue to learn from the writings of John Calvin—not merely to popularize him or idolize him, because Calvin would have never wanted that. But to make known and lift up John Calvin’s God—our God—The Supreme Being, The LORD who sits in authority and reigns over all things in complete sovereignty.

1 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977. (Carisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 32.
2 Ibid., 32.
3 Ibid., 32-3.

And so we see a rising tide of Calvinism in America today. By the end of this year alone there will have been more books published, and more conferences and addresses given— that is, more than ever—on the man who, in my opinion, is the greatest theologian of all time: John Calvin. And like The Doctor, I say, “The time is ripe.” We have gathered here in Geneva for the 500th birthday of John Calvin—not merely to popularize him or idolize him, because Calvin would have never wanted that. We are here, rather, to make known and lift up John Calvin’s God—our God—The Supreme Being, The LORD who sits in authority and reigns over all things in complete sovereignty. I would like to consider an important, yet often neglected aspect of John Calvin’s theology as it finds expression in his vast corpus of writings – the doctrine of adoption.

The Need for Scripture

The need for Scripture is confirmed By ONE the depravity of our nature making it necessary in every one who would know God to have recourse to the word and by TWO From those passages of the Psalms in which God is introduced as reigning. Calvin writes in 1.6.3 of his Institutes,

For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men. It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth. If, as I lately said, we turn aside from it, how great soever the speed with which we move, we shall never reach the goal, because we are off the course. We should consider that the brightness of the Divine countenance, which even an apostle declares to be inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:16), is a kind of labyrinth,—a labyrinth to us inextricable, if the Word do not serve us as a thread to guide our path; and that it is better to limp in the way, than run with the greatest swiftness out of it. Hence the Psalmist, after repeatedly declaring (Psalm 93, 96, 97, 99, &c). that superstition should be banished from the world in order that pure religion may flourish, introduces God as reigning; meaning by the term, not the power which he possesses and which he exerts in the government of universal nature, but the doctrine by which he maintains his due supremacy: because error never can be eradicated from the heart of man until the true knowledge of God has been implanted in it.

A Twofold Knowledge of God—Before the Fall and After it

The necessary rules to be observed in considering the state of man before the fall being laid down, the point first considered is the creation of the body, and the lesson taught by its being formed out of the earth, and made alive. Institutes 1.15.1. states,

We have now to speak of the creation of man, not only because of all the works of God it is the noblest, and most admirable specimen of his justice, wisdom, and goodness, but, as we observed at the outset, we cannot clearly and properly know God unless the knowledge of ourselves be added. This knowledge is twofold,—relating, first, to the condition in which we were at first created; and, secondly to our condition such as it began to be immediately after Continue Reading…

How Bad Do You Need the Scripture?

The Scriptures act as a guide for the people of God, better yet they are the teacher bringing those that our the Lord’s elect to Him. How much greater is it for the believer of the gospel to know that they have been given the Scriptures, so that they might know Him and live in obedience for him. Calvin writes on this issue in his institutes 1.6.1. saying,

Therefore, though the effulgence which is presented to every eye, both in the heavens and on the earth, leaves the ingratitude of man without excuse, since God, in order to bring the whole human race under the same condemnation, holds forth to all, without exception, a mirror of his Deity in his works, another and better help must be given to guide us properly to God as a Creator. Not in vain, therefore, has he added the light of his Word in order that he might make himself known unto salvation, and Continue Reading…

John Calvin the Evangelist

One more reason why John Calvin is Important for today…

Reason #10: Calvin models for us how to teach and practice evangelism and missions.

One of the most fallacious charges against Calvin is that he did not fuel a passion for evangelism and missions. Others assert that Calvin was responsible for relighting the torch of biblical evangelism during the reformation and thus should be credited with being a theological father of the reformed missionary movement. Views of Calvin’s attitude toward evangelism and missions have ranged on the positive side from hearty to moderate support, and on the negative side from silent indifference to active opposition. Calvin’s teaching and his practice both confirm that he was a model evangelist. Calvin taught evangelism in a general way by earnestly proclaiming the gospel and by reforming the church according to biblical requirements. More specifically, Calvin taught evangelism by focusing on the universality of Christ’s kingdom and the responsibility of Christians to help extend that realm.

Calvin asserted that both God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are involved in evangelism. The work of evangelism is ultimately Continue Reading…

The Life of a Christian Man

For the Christian Man today life can at times seem hard to draw the connection between living yet in a sinful body but being regenerated already. Yet John Calvin does an amazing job explaining this relationship – the Necessity of the doctrine concerning the Male Christian Life. The brevity of this treatise. The method of it. Plainness and unadorned simplicity of the Scripture system of morals for the man to live out today. He says,

We have said that the object of regeneration is to bring the life of believers into concord and harmony with the righteousness of God, and so confirm the adoption by which they have been received as sons. But although the law comprehends within it that new life by which the image of God is restored in us, yet, as our sluggishness stands greatly in need both of helps and incentives it will be useful to collect out of Scripture a true account of this reformations lest any who have a heartfelt desire of repentance should in their zeal go astray. Moreover, I am not unaware that, in undertaking to describe the life of the Christian, I am entering on a large and extensive subject, one which, when fully considered in all its parts, is sufficient to fill a large volume. We see the length to which the Fathers in treating of individual virtues extend their exhortations. This they do, not from mere loquaciousness; for whatever be the virtue which you undertake to recommend, your pen is spontaneously led by the copiousness of the matter so to amplify, that you seem Continue Reading…

John Calvin The SoCio-Theologian

One more reason why John Calvin is Important for today…

Reason #11: Calvin models for us the wide-ranging impact of his theology on Western European and North American civilization, whether it be the rise of the Western democracies; the development of economic life and international commerce, scholarship, and scientific discovery; or the promotion of the values of human dignity, personal freedom, social justice, and the rule of law.

Andre Bieler writes:

“The sum of medieval knowledge was theology – the study of God. The sum of the knowledge of the renaissance was humanism—the study and knowledge of humanness. Now, the science of Calvin is a theological and social humanism which includes a study of man and society through a twofold knowledge of man by man, on the one hand, and knowledge of man through God, on the other.” In other words, Calvin’s writings display a rare combination of the legitimate fruits of human inquiry, science, and scholarship completed by—and interpreted in the light of—the unchanging truths of the Word of God.

Calvin discussed many aspects of man’s life in society and in the world as a necessary corollary to his exposition of man’s relationship to God and Continue Reading…

Why Is John Calvin Important Today?

So why is Calvin important today? Why do we celebrate his legacy? What did he teach and do that merits perpetual remembrance in the church of Jesus Christ?

  • Calvin the historian, who unfolded redemptive history for us
  • Calvin the polemicist, who combated error and heresy on every hand
  • Calvin the pilgrim, who longed for home with eschatological hope
  • Calvin the traditionalist, who respected tradition so long as it was biblical
  • Calvin the catechist, who stressed the need to catechize children
  • Calvin the deacon, who showed sympathy to the poor
  • Calvin the vocationalist, who developed a sense of the sacredness of work
  • Calvin the law-promoter, who taught the law as a rule of life for believers
  • Calvin the author, who promoted God’s kingdom through scores of writings on an astonishing number of subjects

Be sure to check back for 12 more reasons why Calvin is important today.

(Taken with permission from Joel Beeke’s, Calvin for Today)

Calvinism and Missions

One of the main objections to the Calvinist or Augustinian doctrine of election is that it is inconsistent with a robust doctrine of missions. Why evangelize if God is sovereign, has already chosen from eternity who will be saved and who will not, and will most certainly accomplish what He has ordained? These are important questions and more than just straw-man arguments, for some who bear the name Calvinist have followed these questions to their seemingly logical conclusion and rejected the Scriptural injections to proclaim the gospel to all without distinction.

If we allow Scripture to be our guide, we’ll find that election—rather than being the enemy of missions—is actually the very source of evangelistic zeal. Paul, the great missionary, labored “for the faith of those chosen of God” (Tit 1:1) and endured “all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10). It was confidence in the electing and saving God that motivating Paul to evangelize—even if it meant risking his own physical safety. The Lord Himself encouraged Paul not to be afraid, but to continue to proclaim the gospel, “For,” He said, “I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). These words echo what Jesus said in John’s Gospel: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). Notice the juxtaposition of missions (i.e., “I must bring them also”) and the certainty of the salvation of the elect (i.e., “they will hear My voice”). The fact that God had given many to the Son, meant that those many would certainly come, but this does not eliminate the need to bring them in; rather, it creates it. The simple resolution to the apparent tension is that God ordains both the end (i.e., election to salvation) and the means to the end (i.e., evangelism). So according to the Bible, election does not undercut missions. Instead, it provides the very basis for confident evangelism.

One of the best little books on this subject is J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 1961). Also worth consulting is John Murray’s The Free Offer of the Gospel (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2001).

There’s also a great article on Calvinism and missions in the latest issue of Themelios: Kenneth J. Stewart, “Calvinism and Missions: The Contested Relationship Revisited,” Themelios 34:1 (2009): 63–78. It’s worth a read.

Update: Here are a couple of other resources on the subject that look helpful:

Page 3 of 4«1234»

Don’t miss out

Get the latest Logos Bible Software news, content, and more—sign up today!