This week was the 500th birthday of John Calvin. Now when I said those words, you had an instant reaction. You reacted with either admiration for the man and his work as a theologian/pastor, or you reacted with utter disdain over his work as a theologian/pastor.
We live in a day in the SBC where the idea of Calvinism has become a polarizing doctrine, in many cases splitting churches and driving pastors and churchmen away from the fold of God. This was evident at the 2009 Convention when the rising surge of Calvinism (Young, Restless and Reformed) was used to counter the Great Commission Resurgence. I was saddened to see many of my friends and spiritual heroes pigeonholed, with their beliefs misrepresented. I do not consider myself a full-out Calvinist, but my Reformed tendencies and leanings are no surprise and I am not shy about voicing them. I feel Scripture promotes a mystery in the Gospel that election and freedom are not mutually exclusive. Placing one over the other (on both sides) does a disservice to the other.
So what to make of the man who was the reformer of Geneva? Should we take all his life’s accomplishments and efforts and label them with a flower (TULIP) or should we look at his life and work as a whole and be thankful that he lived and worked for the Gospel. I think when we look at this we have to remember we will not always agree with everything someone says or believes. Differences and disagreements do not automatically disqualify someone from being respected and be a teaching authority. People who dismiss those they disagree with are arrogant, foolish, and should not be in ministry.
Calvin labored in the local church, and perhaps his greatest work is probably his most misunderstood. His Institutes provided a systematic approach to theology, grounded in a deep knowledge of Scripture. If we do not have this, we do not have Grudem, Erickson, Frame, Stott, Henry, or any other work of systematic theology. We have in Calvin a true theologian, who came after the work of Luther and Hus, and was able to devote his time and energy to the pursuit of the knowledge of God. His preaching schedule was intense, and he battled illness during most of his life while keeping his marriage and ministry intact.
This is not intended to be a defense of the man, it does not need to be. His life, his work, and his legacy speak for themselves. I for one am grateful for the man, and it pains me to hear his name and legacy slandered in pulpits, blogs, and convention halls. I wish he wasn’t a paedobapist, but that doesn’t disqualify his entire life and work. His emphasis on election and divine sovereignty is only a part of his theology.
I like that there is a younger generation of pastors and students who appreciate those that came before them, and that can look back on the giants of the past who were imperfect and made mistakes and had flaws in their theology. I do not agree with Luther on everything but his work on imputed righteousness and faith-based salvation is noteworthy. I do not agree with Calvin on everything, but his legacy as a theologian is still shaping minds and hearts. We are indebted to his work, and we must celebrate the legacy and not allow ourselves to be narrow-minded when it comes to looking at a doctrine.
Thank God for men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, CH Spurgeon, RC Sproul, and others who have seen that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I am grateful to Reformed thinkers because of their emphasis on making God great and praising Him for the sovereign Lord He truly is.