13 March 2009

The enduring legacy of John Calvin, Steven Lawson (PCRT 2009 Sacramento)

by Dan Phillips

Following a lunch break, we reconvene at 1:30pm to consider Calvin's legacy. If he will not have already done so, I'm going in wondering whether Lawson will address the calumnies thrown at Calvin by the haters — including the genuine sticking-points in Calvin's career. Let's see.

Lawson began by reading - with great relish and emphasis - the recent Time magazine singling out "New Calvinism" as one of the ten big ideas changing the world right now. Now Lawson turns to lay out the abiding legacy of Calvin under three heads.

First: a theological standard. We see that in Calvin's God-centered Institutes, in his Commentaries, and particularly in the careful handling of the Word of God in both. Also his legacy endures in tracts, and in the Geneva Bible - which provoked the production of the the King James Version. The Geneva Bible was the first study Bible, and King James' advisors didn't like the God-centered notes. The Pilgrims brought over the Geneva Bible. No individual has surpassed Calvin's theological legacy and standard.

The Synod of Dordt and the Westminster Assembly were both dominated by the God-centered, Biblical doctrine of Calvin.

Second: a Christian worldview. Believers were moved to live out their God-centered convictions in every area of life - not just Sunday morning, but every day of the week, and in every arena. The overriding principle was soli Deo gloria, for the glory of God alone. All must be done with the highest view of the pursuit of the glory of God. Romans 11:36 leaves nothing out: all things originate from God and center on God and refer ultimately to God.

Warfield said no man ever had a profounder view of God than did John Calvin. Everything is subservient to God's glory, and finds its place around that center, that fixed point. Calvin said a man can no more obscure the glory of God than a madman can extinguish the Sun by writing "DARKNESS" on the walls of his rubber room.

When Calvin was gone, Rome set its eye on Geneva. Sadoleto wrote to them, urging them to come back to Rome. The city elders asked Calvin to reply, and he did. Calvin said that the entire issue is over the glory of God. Rome attacks the glory of God, and tries to put man in God's place, by its system of works. Only justification by faith alone brings glory to God, because it alone makes salvation from, through and to God. That was the touchstone, and that was what damned Rome's doctrine.

Calvin wrote (fast as I could type): "It is not very sound theology to confine a man's thoughts to himself and not to let him [have] as the prime motive of his existence zeal for the glory of God. For we are born first of all for God and not for ourselves. For all things flow from him, and subsist in him, as Paul says in Romans 11:36. They ought to be related to Him." More briefly, "We are God's," Calvin wrote.

From this comes a Christian, Calvinistic work ethic, urging us to do all to the glory of God and elevating one's work as a means by which we can bring glory to God. From this also comes education spreading beyond monasteries and nobility. With the founding of the Geneva Academy in 1559, Calvin enfleshed his desire that all Christians be educated with a God-centered worldview. Also law and order in society grew from Calvin's theology, seeing the standard of morality binding on all people.

Also, a free-market capitalism flowed from Geneva. At its heart were the values of hard work, the right of personal property, the right of ownership, investment of capital, necessity of Gods blessing on one's labor, high sense of vocational calling, honesty and integrity, risk-taking and trusting God, nobility of profit-making so that one can give to those who are in lack. Wherever the Reformation went, those became the most prosperous nations.

A reformed church also resulted from Calvin's teaching. This even touched the architecture, shifting from putting the communion table at the center to putting the pulpit at the center, lifting up the Word of God preached. The church was made of the regenerate, and discipline was observed according to Scripture. Calvin proposed the novel idea of a Scriptural worship. Also, politics felt the touch of Calvin's teaching, forming a republican sort of democratic rule, patterned after the elders who ruled within the church.

Third: an international legacy. The first two legacies were to be dispersed among the nations. It spread heavily to France. There were between 1200-2100 Reformed churches with nearly 3 million members, out of 21 million national population, by 1569. Then Scotland also was influenced by Calvin's teaching through John Knox and others. To this day, Knox remains the most influential Scotsman who ever lived. He was educated in Geneva. Also, in England, and Holland, Calvin's influence had an impact. Calvin's friendship with Cranmer, and through Oliver Cromwell, and letters to England's rulers, bore fruit in English society.

In America, the Pilgrims bore a Geneva Bible. Its study notes shaped their thinking. Harvard was established to train Calvinistic ministers for the Gospel. When it fell to Arminianism, Yale was raised up in 1703 as a Calvinistic institution, followed by Brown and Rutgers and Princeton, all founded to train Calvinistic ministers. Greatest spiritual revival in America was the Great Awakening, under those two thundering Calvinists Edwards and Whitfield. The Revolutionary War was known as the "Presbyterian War," because Calvin's principles lay at its base. John Adams freely acknowledged John Calvin's influence of the idea of liberty in the West (see the quotation here).

Also, the American missions movement started with Calvinists, looking for God's elect people in every people and tribe. Then there are seminaries such as Covenant and Westminster, and ministries such as Ligonier and Desiring God, and pastors such as Piper and Mohler, who bear witness to the legacy of John Calvin and his God-centered, Biblical doctrine.

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Shinar Squirrel said...

The Pilgrims brought over the Geneva Bible

Yes, I understand that they didn't trust that modern Aglican translation, the KJV...

I'm vastly enjoying your sumations. Thanks for letting us copy your notes, since we're skipping class.

The Squirrel

candy said...

great notes Dan!

Stefan said...

Another influence of Calvin's on American history and constitutionalism was the inclusion of religious freedom in a Bill of Rights, championed by the (Calvinistic) Baptists in Virginia, who'd undergone persecution by the established Church of England in that colony.

Stefan said...

Oh, and Shinar:

I daren't touch your first line there with a ten-foot pole, except to confess that I let out a chuckle or two.

Stefan said...

"History and constitutionalism" is too much of a mouthful. "Polity" is the word I was trying to think of, but my mind was drawing a blank.

Susan said...

The man's deeds follows him....

Susan said...

(Oops, that's "follow", no "s".)

Susan said...

Thanks for taking notes on the Calvin series, Dan! (I "ordered" this session on the pre-conference "menu" you posted a while back on Pyro, so it's great to not only read about this but also the other sessions relating to Calvin.)

Anonymous said...

Awesome quote from calvin!