Church History – Calvin and Calvinism
Hello everyone! I trust we’re all doing great. As requested, we’ll be talking about Chruch History – Calvin and Calvinism today. So sit tight, grab a bottle of drink and a pack of popcorn, and enjoy! I can almost hear the excitement in the comment section. Lol…
PS: These are majorly not my ideas, I had to pick people’s brains from various resources, especially Ryan’s.
Just thought to mention that. Anyway, let’s get right to it!
Calvin and Calvinism (Reformed Tradition)
This article kicks off by looking at the life of John Calvin. This is because we can’t talk about Calvinism without having to talk about John Calvin himself. Similarly, we have to frame the entire purpose as to why we are looking at the life of this man. Evidently, with respect to Calvin and Calvinism, you have this ongoing problem with interpretation, where some simply are unaware of the categories or of the main players on the stage when discussing the reformed tradition. In fact, it is one of the banes of historians that they have so often a whole welter of popular misconceptions about Calvin and Calvinism, that they usually have to get that out of the way before they can properly do their historical work of who Calvin actually was in his context.
Consequently, if you ask just about anyone in the North American scene what they think about Calvin, you are almost never going to get a bland answer, it’s mostly their love for him, the coherence of his theology, the clarity of the institutes, and all that stuff. Or at times and often more frequently, it’ll be concerned about the myth of fatalism, the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination, or some other features of who the man was that drives people crazy when they attempt to understand him in his context. Now, that’s definitely understandable on a certain human level.
Students are often told that if Martin Luther were to walk into the room, assuming he fits into the 21st-century context in terms of dress, vocabulary, etcetera, Luther, by the end of the hour, would have everyone, sort of, mesmerized. Just like Luther, Calvin had some attractive uniqueness in terms of vocal prowess, erudite language, profound brilliance, and so on. He had his way about him. Luther did, he (Luther) was larger than life, one might say. Point of fact, one of the most enduring legacies of Luther in his immediate context is just how much he was a constant powerful force in a room. From the beginning of the Reformation all the way to the end of his life, there was just something compelling about the man that often drew people to him with this enormous loyalty and respect. Luther will, very much, like the room to, kind of, be waiting on his every word as he reveals his theological wisdom.
On the contrary, in that aspect, Calvin is a different personality, if Calvin were to walk into a room, he will be more of a shy type. he would be the guy that would often shuffle off to the corner. He was more bookish, a little more introverted, you might say today, and not one who really talked much about himself. Matter of fact, historically, one of the things that historians come up against is that Calvin never really said much about himself at all. Now, we do have a couple of biographies of Calvin’s life from two of the men who knew him best which we’ll talk about in another article, but by and large, Calvin was a man to stick to the texts.
So, in terms of personality, there is quite a distinction between the personalities of Luther and Calvin. One of the other stark differences is in their writing. Most people who read a pretty sizable chunk by Luther will often come away with not the best impression of his powers of organization when it comes to his treatises. As a reputable historian said, Luther writes like a rabbit runs; he just kind of goes wherever he wants. At times, he goes on tirades or on side channels, he just, kind of, writes wherever his pen takes him. Calvin, by distinction, wrote in an exceptionally clear manner, and that actually is the impression most people have when they come away from reading Calvin.
Long as they read a sufficiently large amount to understand the kind of tone of voice that he has in his writing style, and in many ways. The legacy of Calvin was at the expense of how people felt about him personally. Calvin had enemies in Geneva, he was practically kicked out, once actually, he never really was loved in the city that he called home for the majority of his life. On the contrary, Luther was beloved, even when he was pummeling people, there was always the sense that people were loyal to the man Luther. However, as the years wore on after their death, it was really Calvin’s clarity that won him more adherence to the understanding of the reformed faith than anything else.
I am simply choosing to say it was the clarity of Calvin and the simplicity of access to his ideas, but for whatever reason, Calvin’s ideas always seem to have more of an impact whenever they were translated into various languages. They more quickly won adherence, due in large part, frankly, to the clarity of what Calvin says. It is actually that clarity in Calvin’s writing that makes it all the more ironic that over the centuries, people have these, sort of, preconceived notions about what the man was all about or about where his context fit. We sure can think about a couple of misconceptions about Calvin and Calvinism. We’ll slightly go into those but stop here, for now, to pick it up where we left off in the next article. Stay tuned!
Credit: Ryan Reeves and Tom Richey.
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