Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Calvin Was a Biblicist

I've admitted before that I'm a church history dunderhead. Taking a class in historical theology this semester is helping, but I've got a long way to go. I've read maybe half of Calvin's Institutes in my life (along with some other smatterings of his writings), about half of which was one book of the Institutes assigned for class this week. I was left with the distince impression that Calvin wasn't writing to advance some system of theology. He was writing to explain the theology of Scripture, of which God's providence and sovereignty are key themes.

I'm not going to belabor what is little more than my opinion and impression, based on an admittedly narrow reading of Calvin. Just for fun sometime though, read him and see for yourself if you think he's defending a system or expositing Scripture. It seems plain to me that he's driven by the text. If anything, he's a bit frustrating at times because he refuses to go beyond the text of Scripture into logic and systematization, as he is so often caricatured as doing. Don't take my word for it (not that anyone would).

13 comments:

Bob Bixby said...

I think I said this before on here, but I'll say it again: when I want my heart warmed, I read Calvin's Institutes.

I wish more people would read him.

Ben said...

Feel free to keep saying it, Bob. Out of curiosity, is there anything you like more about Calvin than guys like, say, Anselm or à Kempis?

Anonymous said...

Ben, thanks for your thoughts. Calvin really believed he had a division of labour, wherein he exegeted the text in his commentaries but systematized his exegetical endevours in the institutes, which were intended for pastors. Its difficult for us today because the tendency is to bifurcate exegesis and theology- this was foreign to Calvin (see the preface to his 1559 ed.)although like I said before his strategy was twofold. We need more theological exegesis and more exegetical theology- may we return to Calvin's example

Blessings
Mark McDowell

Ben said...

I think that's a great point, Mark. Clearly, the Institutes are a systematic work, but they are not the philosophical/logical systematization that some folks misrepresent them to be.

Anonymous said...

Ben, just out of curiousity, where have you heard Calvin's Institutes (or his theology) portrayed as overly philosophical?

Mark McDowell

Keith said...

Hey Bob,

I'm surprised to learn how much you love Calvin. You know, Calvin would have warmed his heart by drinking a little Le Diable (I'd put a smiley face here, but I think I read once that this is a smiley free zone -- I hope it's not a joke free zone).

Keith

Anonymous said...

Keith- doesnt that go hand in hand with his being a biblicist?

JPN

Ben said...

Mark,

I can't point to a specific time or place. I'm referring to the folks I've bumped into over the years who don't have a clue about the historical origins of the five points, don't understand how many leaders in the history of missions were Calvinists, got their concept of Spurgeon from redacted sermons, and, of course, have never read Calvin.

Of course, that cuts both ways, since I'll willingly admit I haven't read as much of him as I ought to have. I don't have any personal appreciation for those on the Calvinist side who sometimes seem to think their soteriology is the primary mark of their godliness.

Keith,

I guess I'm just full of surprises. Was that brand actually around back in days of yore? Have you read Drinking with Calvin and Luther? Seems like it would be entertaining, but I'll probably invest more time for the present reading about what they thought than what they drank.

And jokes are always welcome. Mine are usually pretty lame. We need some good ones.

Bob Bixby said...

Ben,

I hate to sound unintellectual, but the reason I prefer Calvin over Anselm and à Kempis is readability. For whatever reason, Calvin is more lucid. (For me anyway).

Keith,

There you go again.... digging up dirt on a great man of God! ;-) For the record, he also baptized babies and I have a little bit of a problem with that as well.

Keith said...

I'm glad you aknowledge that what he did to babies was really baptize them.

I just can't figure out why anyone would oppose a clearly New Testament practice like baptism (and too often substitute a dry dedication for it).

It's also quite puzzling how some think all these great men of God, like Calvin, could be so wrong whenever they dealt with liquids. Are they just too solid?

Keith

Ben said...

Have to admit he gotcha there, Bob.

Keith,

I think it had something to do with the fluidity of the situation they were dealing with.

All of a sudden I feel like we're channeling Together for the Gospel banter. Keith can be Duncan. Bob and I can divvy up Mohler and Dever. Any nominations for Mahaney? Joel Tetreau maybe?

Bob said...

Admitted.

Keith said...

I get to be Duncan -- cool.