Reflections on Calvin, part 1

For my Calvin seminar, we have to submit weekly reading summaries, so I thought I would just post them up here as well. The will be short and mostly concerning our reading of the Institutes, but the first one is on reading the first five chapters of Bruce Gordon’s book, Calvin.

I must first commend Bruce Gordon for writing what has been so far an engaging biography. His detailed descriptions of the political and theological environments and thinkers that influenced Calvin provide a rich background with which to understand this monumental figure while avoiding the idolatry or animosity that so often accompanies his name. One of the major themes to which Gordon tries to drawn the readers attention is Calvin’s self-understanding as a figure who has been chosen and equipped by God to perform an awesome and prodigious task. In other words, Calvin saw himself called as a prophet to the people of God.

While on the basis of Gordon’s description I do not judge Calvin as having imposed this office upon himself (it is clear that the events of his life constrained him to this conclusion), I still must wonder what effect such a self-understanding has upon an individual. On the one hand, I do not think it is possible to accomplish what Calvin did without some sense of a divine plan surrounding his every move. The courage to stand up to Pope and King comes only from a certainty in the truth of one’s movement that has the support of the almighty creator of the universe. His name is YHWH and he approves of this message.

On the other hand, I must wonder whether such confidence does not produce within the individual an arrogance that is whole-heartedly opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I say this not from any evidence in Gordon’s book specifically, but from my own experiences and failures. I am not speaking of some type of vague uninformed pluralism in which one never makes assertions, but of humility that is patient, kind, and loving. I cannot yet say whether or not Calvin fell into this vice. I hope to keep this question in my mind throughout the course if for no other reason than to learn how I can speak the truth in love. For I think it no profit to proclaim the great gospel of God’s grace if I myself am unwilling to give any grace.

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