Calvinisms


I am currently reading:

  1. Calvin’s Doctrine of Man by T. F. Torrance
  2. The Theology of John Calvin by Karl Barth
  3. The Cambridge Companion To John Calvin edited by Donald McKim

I am currently involved in quite a bit of research on John Calvin. There is really no end to Calvin research, in that vein, is there anything you all think I must read on Calvin (I’ve already read Steinmetz, Muller, Parker, Dowey, Neisel, Gordon, Partee, Helm, Holmes, Kendall, Canliss, HabetsĀ and some more)? Any theo essays (in journals) you think I need to read?

All of this kind of study is important towards understanding the background to what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism. It is important, of course, because we are claiming Calvin’s name for our theological approach. If Calvin has nothing to do with our categories of thought and framework, then we should just call ourselves Evangelical Reformed. Of course, ‘Reformed’ has become appropriated and thus univocally understood to be another way of saying ‘Calvinist’ (or vice versa). Anyway, the point we are on about in EC is to provide depth and nuance to Calvinism’s development, both historically and constructively . . . thus my reading of Calvin and on Calvin.

P. S. I am also trying to read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics in the midst of all this other reading; keep me in prayer šŸ˜‰ .

Theologian R. B. Kuiper believed that John Calvin would’ve completely supported the 5-points of Calvinism (see Charles Partee, “The Theology of John Calvin,” 128. footnote 13); Kuiper said in light of his view on Calvin:

Calvinism is the most nearly perfect interpretation of Christianity. In the final analysis, Calvinism and Christianity are practically synonymous. It follows that he who departs from Calvinism is taking a step away from Christianity. For in the last instance the fundamentals of Calvinism are also the fundamentals of the Christian religion. (R. B. Kuiper, As To Being Reformed, cited by Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin, 128.fn.13)

Come on, admit it, this describes you; you think Calvinism is the Gospel “TULIP” style. All those outside this pale, just might be outside the orthodox; indeed, may not be a Christian at all, right? šŸ˜‰

Here is J.K.S. Reid in his Introduction to his translation of John Calvin’s Concerning The Eternal Predestination of God. He is concerned with underscoring Calvin’s procedure of thought and method per his “system” of things. Calvin’s appropriation by the post-Reformed (those who followed Calvin, through Beza, Zanchi, Perkins, Ames, and others) is a very “logic” driven system of coherence; i.e. they “finish off” where Calvin supposedly “left off.” Certainly they could’ve, but then again they “could’ve not.” This alerts us to the reality that Calvin, given his procedure, is open to multi-appropriations, which would explain why, in the history, there in fact are multiform articulations on Calvin’s theological trajectories — thus the existence of “Evangelical Calvinism” in Scotland, and what Janice Knight has called The Spiritual Brethren in Old England (where they predominated for a time), and New America (where they were overshadowed by The Intellectual Fathers, or Federal/Classic Calvinists). Here is Reid:

. . . A good deal of nonsense is talked about Calvin, as though his system were logical in the sense of being rounded off and complete; and the statement by frequent repitition has become almost a commonplace. In fact his system has not this character at all. It is certainly logical in the sense that the argument moves carefully step by step from one point to the next. But, to do it justice, it must bejohncalvin7recognized as including elements not easily (or at all) capable of being harmonised — a complexio oppositorum, as H. Bauke says of it (see J. T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism, Oxford University Press, New York, 1954, p. 202). Of special relevance to the purpose here is the following example. Pighius objects to Calvin that the dominical command to preach the Gospel universally conflicts with the doctrine of special eleciton (Ā§VIII. I). Calvin’s brief answer to this conundrum is that Christ was ordained for the salvation of the whole world in such a way that only thoseĀ  who hear are saved. The universality of the grace of Christ is symbolised by a promiscuous preaching of the Gospel; the universality of the Mediator is paralleled by the universality of the call to penitence and faith. But at this point the harmony ends; the offer of salvation is made equally to all, but salvation itself is for those who are elect. It is the bare bones of the argument, then, that are exposed, even if the result manifests a certain awkward untidiness. There is no attempt to compel harmony or to systematise by force. That there is a consequent practical difficulty is obvious; and it is one which, whatever Calvin thought of it, was compelling enough to drive his opponents into another camp. The situation for Calvin is not really significantly relieved by what he adds to the argument. The universal offer of the Gospel does indeed have a meaning for those in whose case it is not effective. Quoting St Paul, Calvin says that for them it can only be a “savour of death unto death.” The logicality of the exposition is so far preserved that the universal offer of salvation has at least some effective consequence in all cases. But the parallelism on analysis is found to be specious; the awkwarx untidiness reappears at a different point. It does not now consist in the fact that the same offer of the Gospel sometimes has and sometimes has an effect commensurable with its nature and with the purpose with which God designed it, and that sometimes, on the other hand, it has a quite opposite effect, incommensurable with its nature and the saving purpose of God — it precipitates death instead of life, destruction in place of salvation. This goes to show that Calvin’s first loyalty is directed, not to formal adherence to abstract logicality, but to the facts of the case and situation as he conceived them, or rather as he conceived the Scriptures to depict them. The logicality of his thought is dedicated not to the formation of a system, but rather to the eliciting of the meaning and the implications of those facts which, as it seemed to him, belong the body of Christian truth. (John Calvin, trans., J.K.S. Reid, “Concerning The Eternal Predestination Of God,” 13-14)

This fits well with Charles Partee’s point on Calvin as a “confessor,” more than a dogmatician; Calvin certainly had a logic and method to his theologising, but it was driven by his ineluctable commitment to say what scripture says — even if coherence remains tenuous.Ā Richard Muller and his followers, and thoseĀ he follows in the history of post-Reformed orthodoxy, have sought to provide, by and large, the “rounded-offness,” or logical coherence to Calvin’s enthymemic (unstated premises) articulation. It is this crux upon which this school claims to be orthodox, its orthodoxy is proximate to its genealogical lineage to Calvin himself; or so goes the thinking. Of course this claim remains questionable at best, since enthymeme is by definition “unstated;” the danger with discerning the unstated is that we might “state” where or what Calvin, in this instance, never intended.

Since, if as Reid has stated, the “lack of logicality” is real in Calvin; the door is open for, as stated before, multiform appropriation of Calvin. My contention is notĀ that the “orthodox” don’t have a credible claim on Calvin, instead that their’s is notĀ to be understood as exclusive. The history of “Calvinism” bears witness to this, amen, amen!Ā 

P.S. The theology that Reid brings up in the quote will have to be addressed at a later date, it is substantial.

Here is a video I did back in June of this year, just prior to me having my epiphany (thanks Myk), that I was an “Evangelical Calvinist.” You’ll notice in the video that I am highlighting, well Janice Knight is, a distinction between Calvinism[s] in England (vs. Scotland). The interesting thing to me, is that the division that is underscored in this post, has its counterpart and parallel in Scotland (which is what most of the stuff on this blog has been on about — “Evangelical Calvinism” in Scotland would = The Spiritual Brethren mentioned in the vid.). What this should illustrate, at least, is that Calvinism is not a monolith (even though it is presented as such today). Please don’t let my good looks distract you as you watch the video šŸ™‚ , instead try to concentrate on the material content therein.

Maybe you share this sentiment of Calvinism:

Calvinism has established a foothold on theology, and therefore in actuality become the plague and scourge of the Church. . . . The salient determinant [for Vance’s writing] is the tremendous damgaing nature of the Calvinistic system. Nothing will deaden a church or put a young man out of the ministry any more than an adherence to Calvinism. Nothing will foster pride and indifference as will affection for Calvinism. Nothing will destroy holiness and spirituality as an attachment to Calvinism. There is no greater violation of every hermeneutical, contextual, analytical, and exegetical interpretation of Scripture than Calvinism.

— Lawrence M. Vance, “The Other Side of Calvinism,”Ā vii-viiiĀ cited by Charles Partee, “The Theology of John Calvin,” 7

I once read a book by Stephen Strehle entitled: The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter Between the Middle Ages and the Reformation; I think there should be a book written and entitled: The Calvinist Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter Between the Reformation and the Modern. The point is, is that Vance’s vitriol is simply typical of a naive notion that there is not categorical conceptual continuity between ‘yesterday’ and ‘today’. I am willing to bet that Vance’s ideas on salvation, Christ, God, etc. are very much so informed by a complex of ideas that find at least some of their shape from the ‘Calvinist’ perspective — for good or ill — this is to say nothing of Calvin, himself, per se.

Beyond this, maybe the sentiment by Vance characterizes your own perceptionsĀ about ‘Calvinism.’ As this blog intends to show, though, Calvinism should actually be understood to be CalvinismS; Calvinism is not a monolith, historically, that is. Anyway, I just thought this quote was curious, and indeed captures much of the sentiment upon Calvinism, even today — most popular captured by Dave Hunt’s “What Love is This?”, which Partee moves onto to deconstruct in the next couple of paragraphs in his book.