Why Calvin matters: 5-21-09
May 21, 2009
The great Protestant reformer John Calvin (depicted here) was born 500 years ago, on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France. So why should we give a hoot today? My partial answer here today is a follow up to yesterday's posting about 500-year cycles of change in Christianity.
Well, in many ways Calvin shaped the religious world in which we live today. He grew up in a devoutly Roman Catholic home but he is credited -- with Martin Luther and others -- of creating the Protestant Reformation that so profoundly changed Christianity, including the Catholic Church. (For a Catholic take on Calvin, click here.)
And some of his ideas -- especially those distorted by zealous followers -- are very much with us today. Many of those ideas remain good and healthy, while others have led to some regrettable results.
One of the regrettable results, at least to me, has been the atomization of Protestantism. And as Joseph D. Small, director of theology, worship and education for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has written, Calvin was actually a champion of church unity: "His strong censure of the Catholic Church was pervasive, but the purpose of his critique was always reform, not separation. . . Calvin understood that the restored unity of the church was a gospel imperative."
Unity, of course, does not mean uniformity. What is regrettable is that the unity among followers of Jesus that Jesus prayed for in John 17 has disintegrated as countless splits have happened. But if Protestantism is divided, so is Catholicism. Indeed, there are many Christianities today.
Did Calvin get everything right? My, no. He's been roundly criticized, for instance, for allowing the execution of MIchael Servetus, convicted of heresy. And his ideas about predestination have caused not just people in the Reformed Tradition of Christianity to scramble around for a thorough explanation but have been rejected by lots of other Christians.
Still, Calvinism, though it has taken different forms over the centuries, has been enormously influential both theologically and culturally. Sometimes Calvinism is thought to be the philosophical parents of the Protestant Work Ethic and its disgruntled cousin, which I think of as the Wealth Shows God Approves of Me idea. But, as I say, some of this is an outgrowth of some of Calvin's more zealous followers and less an outgrowth of what Calvin himself said.
Even today, 500 years later, it's not uncommon to see Calvin appealed to as a seer because of what he understood about human nature and especially human sinfulness. For a good example, click here.
And speaking of human sinfulness, Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook (for which I write a monthly column), wrote this about Calvin several months ago: "Neither business leaders in a laissez-faire economic system nor government officials in a governmentally controlled system are immunized from the corrputing effects of unchecked power. Calvin would tell us to elect leaders who will submit to the checks-and-balances that restrain their worst inclinations. Speaking of economics, Calvin would not allow the general population to scapegoat leaders for the economic woes they also have caused. He would shake his head in disbelief over how we have misappropriated the prosperity with which we have been blessed."
For a list of biographies about Calvin, click here.
And, finally, for several articles from The Presbyterian Outlook about Calvin and his importance, click here.
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ABUSE SCANDAL SPREADS TO IRELAND
A newly released, distressing report shows that for decades some children in Ireland under the care of various Catholic agencies suffered abuse. Worse, the report says church leaders knew abuse was endemic but failed to stop it. For some reaction to the report, click here. And for a summary of other sexual abuse scandals in the church, click here. The church is supposed to be protecting children, not arranging for their denigration. I believe things are better now in churches in the U.S. since the priest abuse scandal broke several years ago, but the Catholic Church (which also means members in the pews who must call leaders to account) is going to have to be sharply vigilant to keep this from happening again. And, yes, I know that abuse has happened in other faith communities.
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P.S.: Earlier this week I wrote here about prayer studies and mentioned a piece from Christianity Today that was not yet online. Well, now that article now is online. If you'd like to read it, click here.
Sorry for the off-topic question (like that never happens here). But I have been thinking a lot recently about the perception of alcohol and the Christian. This wouldn't be a scientific poll in any way (although if anyone knows of one they could point me to, I would appreciate it), but it would be some interesting antedoctal information. When you see someone that you know is a Christian drinking alcohol (not drunk), what do you think? If you are a non-Christian, does it make you think that Christian is hypocritical, not really living out what they believe? If you are a Christian, does it make you question whether that person is a Christian? Or does it have absolutely no effect on how you perceive that person?
Thanks in advance.
Posted by: PreacherDJ | May 21, 2009 at 07:08 AM
This 500 Cycle will Not be a new Religion, but a High Tech Reproduced Equal Human Clone Peace Lifestyle, or the Death of our Planet.
Humans have returned to 'Supernatural' High Tech Science, recorded in Religion and Myth. Many Supernatural Mysteries of the Gods, Goddesses, Angels, and Demons are Fact today.
Spaceships, airplanes, helicopters, are again on Earth, since the Planetary Noah/Atlantis Flood.
Their Misuse of High Tech Science, caused a Planetary Noah Flood recorded in Genesis as a Yearlong Flood, and the Earth 'was' under water for 5 months.
After the water drained, another 5 months, Humans repopulated our Earth Home. Our Earth Top Strata shows a Planetary Flood pattern, with High Tech Megalithic Remains and bones on all Continents.
Humans today, do reproduce a Human Fetus and Clone Animals in the Lab, supernaturally. We need a High Tech Womb to make Perfect Genetic and Physical Humans like the Lord God, made Humans in their image, in Genesis 1,2.
Earth was Colonized by Human High Tech Purebred Males, and Female Clone Copies made from the Male Rib, who began Heterosexual Body Birth Reproduction. Why?
Will all this High Tech Science Knowledge in Religious Writings, Save Planet Earth from our Nuclear Holocaust, and the Pollution Humans have Polluted Earth today?
The High Tech Noah/Atlantis Society, set up their Planetary Flood. A Planet any Flood can not happen again, but the Planetary Judgment Day Fire is set up on land and sea.
Will Earth be Saved, or will Earth look like the Planet of the Apes Movie? Only With No Life Saved.
With No Environment when our Ozone Canopy is destroyed, and Earth's Planetary Fire destroys our Pollution and Nuclear Bombs, Earth will look like Mars.
Posted by: Dolores Lear | May 21, 2009 at 08:04 AM
Absolutely no effect. I was raised Roman Catholic. When we had the priest over to our house, my parents always offered him wine or a drink, and most often, the priests accepted the offer.
Posted by: Joe Barone | May 21, 2009 at 08:41 AM
What 'are' the Moral Teachings of Jesus? What are the Moral Teachings of the Christian Religion or any Religion?
Before Jesus became a God of a Religion in 300, from the Books of the New Testament, Jesus was Celibate and a Requirement of his Movement was Male Celibacy.
The other information about Jesus' Movement was like the Essenes. No One Owned Property and Shared Equally in Commune Living.
All the rest of Religious Moral Teachings, are developed by God Religions. What is a One True Religion?
What are the Morals of Humans today, with High Tech Science Space Travel, and Reproducing a Human Fetus, and Cloning Animals, in the High Tech Lab?
Humans that do Mouth Worship in Temples made by Human Hands, and then Live the Lifestyle we call Normal today, does include Liquor, Smoking, Fornication, Marriage, Divorce, Cussing, Spouse and Child Abuse, and any thing else that the minds of the Species Human can Imagine, like Toxic Pollution and Nuclear Bombs.
So does the teachings of Dying and Going to Heaven, make Humans do all these things on Earth, because they can escape in Death to a Peace Heaven?
Matthew 22:29-32. KJV. "Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
There is A Human Species with High Tech Clone Reproduction, No Children, and Eternal Physical Life After Birth on Planets and in Spaceships.
As it was 'in the beginning' with our Human High Tech Male and Female Clone Ancestors.
Human High Tech Life 'is' for the Living, not the Dead.
Posted by: Dolores Lear | May 21, 2009 at 09:13 AM
A theist, all prophets are false. People cannot ‘magically’ predict the future.
Lets do our own prayer study. Anyone game?
I know a Baptist preacher who lives in a dry county (no alcohol sold) and owns a liquor store in a wet county. He drinks like a fish. So what, it’s his life.
If you truly want a prayer study, then only pray. We know the terrible outcome of that. Red gave some examples yesterday.
This is 2009 and time to move on in the natural world. Your fickle god doesn’t care. Why? Because he is not there.
Lets teach the history of all major religions every year of school. Lets see what that study will show.
Peace For the Sake of Goodness Cole
Posted by: memberofKCFreeThinkers.org | May 21, 2009 at 09:44 AM
I never really knew that much about Calvin (still don't) but after reading some essays on him I would like to try and read some of his writings. After telling my non-religious brother-in-law that my family was Presbyterian and Quaker since before the Revolutionary War, he said "Oh, CALVINISTS!" It was meant to be derogatory and I really didn't have any comeback to his comment. I figured I needed to find out what that meant. I've come to the conclusion that he is among the large number of people that feel Calvin was bad, bad, bad. I hope to at least be able to have an intelligent conversation with him next time.
As to the drinking question, I don't feel that anyone is less a Christian because they have a drink. I know that some Christians teach that drinking is a sin. I don't believe that. I do, however, heed the scriptures warnings about drunkenness. I consider them different. I have more of a European sensibility, I think, to drinking. I never drink just to drink. I consider it a food group. My relationship with wine is that it’s something to be enjoyed responsibly and in moderation.
Posted by: j in mission | May 21, 2009 at 09:54 AM
j in mission, I like what you had to say here: "I never drink just to drink. I consider it a food group. My relationship with wine is that it's something to be enjoyed responsibly and in moderation." PreacherDJ -- I don't consider it my "job" to evaluate whether anyone else is a Christian anyway.
From last night -- I mentioned the Wedge Document, which was actually produced by Discovery Institute. They've published a response to the criticism, titled "The 'Wedge Document': 'So What?'" So far I've just started reading it, and will hopefully finish within the next couple of days. They seem to be saying that it should have been no secret that this is what they are about -- but they also say they are NOT in favor of transforming our government into a theocracy.
They seem to be objecting to the ways our society has changed since The Enlightenment, and saying they want to move society in a direction approved by them -- oh, and they are not against science, just scientific materialism.
One thing I respect about Darwin is that he wasn't out to debunk anybody: he was just fascinated by the stuff he discovered on the Galapagos Islands, and spent the rest of his life processing his observations. Whereas it seems like the ID-people are not really about scientific discovery: They seem to only see science as a means to an end -- as a way to persuade people over to their point of view.
Posted by: Susan | May 21, 2009 at 10:23 AM
From the link Bill posted about Calvinism --
"L: This stands for 'Limited atonement' or 'Particular Redemption.' This is the belief that Jesus did not die to save all humans. He only died for the sake of specific sins of those sinners who are saved."
This is where I can see how Calvinism has been used by some to justify discriminatory attitudes towards others. If you honestly believe GOD designed some people for the express purpose of condemning them to hell, and God is the One Who we all want to model ourselves after, then rather than striving to love all people, you might actually see it as more godlike to emotionally distance yourselves from those who don't appear to be among the "chosen."
Of course, the teaching I've heard on this always emphasizes that GOD knows who He's chosen, but we really don't know, so that's why we're supposed to love and reach out to all.
Calvinism still does seem like such an incomplete view of God's love -- but it sounds like it really was revolutionary for the times. When you consider all the heretic-burning that was prevalent back then, it seems like God was viewed as horribly mean and punitive. So maybe Calvin's "Once saved, always saved" offered a security that was previously unknown or unthought of.
Maybe the idea that Jesus' work on the cross was sufficient for ALL people, believing and unbelieving, would have been too much for people back then. And I guess it's too much love for some people even now.
Posted by: Susan | May 21, 2009 at 11:01 AM
Calvinism is a deterministic view of salvation, specifically designed to discount all human effect. Most of it was probably not due to Calvin, but it has certainly evolved, survived and thrived in the Lutheran Church, in some Presbyterian Churches, and in various branches of Christianity.
Some people refer to themselves as 5-point Calvinists, which is easy to look up. Their position is that people are totally depraved and unable to ask for grace from God, because they wouldn't want it. They're held accountable for sin that they've never committed, right out of the chute. Though they believe that salvation is by grace through faith, they do not believe it is possible to have faith, due to total depravity. So, they say, faith must be given to you. In other words, people are incapable of responding to God's message with faith and, therefore, must be given faith. Then God will further respond to that faith with grace of forgiveness. In effect, salvation becomes a gift that is offered only to a chosen few. Why it is offered to some but not others has nothing to do with the person in question. According to Calvinistic thinking, some are simply destined at Creation for Hell.
This is classic determinism that muddles cause and effect. Anything that you do toward faith is not something you actually did, but rather is evidence that God has given you faith. Then God responds to the faith that he has given you with promised grace.
Calvinistic determinism is fading from parts of the Presbyterian Church, but it was an original, essential part of doctrine of the Church, especially 100 years ago. Many (older) Presbyterians strongly agree with Calvinism. Most Lutherans still agree with Calvinism. Some elements of "deterministic election" appear in the doctrine of almost all Christian sects.
Posted by: Just Thinking | May 21, 2009 at 11:19 AM
No, I don't think any the less of a Christian having a drink. I know some of the protestant religions like the Pentecostals, are dead against it, but I have never found a Roman Catholic who considered drinking a sin.
Mind you, the Irish Catholics have the reputation for being heavy drinkers, which reputation is well deserved, and demonstrated publicly on every St. Patrick's day !
Didn't St. Paul say, we should take a LITTLE wine for our stomachs sake ?
Posted by: Red Biddy | May 21, 2009 at 11:38 AM
Susan: From yesterday.
The recent lemur-like fossil, which has caused such a stir, was actually found in the Messel Pit in Germany in 1983 by an amateur paleontologist, who "sat" on it for 20 years and then sold it to a German collector for 1 million dollars !
The Messel Pit is an enormous volcanic crater and very, very old and has been a rich source of fossils. I believe the fossil record demonstrating the whole evolution of the horse from a small dog like creature, to the size they are now, was found there. Fascinating.
Posted by: Red Biddy | May 21, 2009 at 12:05 PM
Thanks for putting out the link on the Wedge issue. You are absolutely right that the Intelligent Design people are trying to undermine education in this country. They are trying a new approach now, that of introducing into school curriculum, classes critiquing Evolution and science. They'll keep going - they are very determined.
As for John Calvin, one biography I read, said that he didn't think much of philosophers ! The article didn't say which philosophers he didn't like but I thought that was interesting. I'm glad Bill mentioned the execution of Michael Servetus, which Calvin allowed, as it demonstrates the authoritarian attitude of Calvin and his inability to even consider other people's views. Guess that's why he didn't like philosophers !
Sir Thomas More, SAINT Thomas More, was another case in point. He lost his head for defying Henry VIII over the matter of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, but he had a number of people tortured and burned at the stake for heresy, prior to his own execution !
Posted by: Red Biddy | May 21, 2009 at 12:47 PM
Red Biddy, thanks for giving more details about the lemur-like fossil -- googling "german lemur like fossil" took me to an actual article about it, whereas yesterday when I looked for "lemur-like fossil" I wasn't finding it at all.
I've read parts of the article to my girls, and we've also just watched the short video that the article links to. Pretty cool stuff. Red Biddy, as I recall the other day, you seemed to think this wouldn't prove to be "the missing link" -- but some scientists seem to think it may very well be. What makes you think it probably isn't?
Oh, and here's the link to the article --
Posted by: Susan | May 21, 2009 at 01:01 PM
It is easy to jump to conclusions of "deterministic election" when you see a word such as "(pre)destined". But "predestined" simply means "destined ahead of time." One must always ask:
1. What destiny?
2. Ahead of what time?
Pre-destined sometimes means that "your destiny is sealed before Judgment day," which is what happens when you receive salvation from God. On Judgment Day, everyone's final destiny is irrevocably determined when they appear before God. But those who become known to God through Christ before that are "predestined" for Heaven. For that use of the word, the answers are:
1. What destiny? ANS: Heaven
2. Ahead of what time? ANS: Judgment Day
You are saved when you are IN CHRIST. Those IN CHRIST have a GUARANTTED destiny determined ahead of time. A sure way to enter IN CHRIST is this:
And you also were included IN CHRIST when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit GUARANTEEING our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
IN CHRIST, God comes to know and accept you beforehand, before Judgment Day, and an irrevocable destiny begins to unfold in a process that leads to glory.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
God changes those who become known to Him through Christ. The process leading to eternal life is the promised response of God to one who repents and accepts the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Posted by: Just Thinking | May 21, 2009 at 02:15 PM
Interesting post. Could you please explain what it has to do with anything?
Posted by: a.theist | May 21, 2009 at 07:45 PM
The view that is it somehow unchristian to drink is another example of non Christians defining what it menas to be Christian. Like Iggy with his list of what a believer can and cannot do.
Posted by: a.theist | May 21, 2009 at 08:01 PM