POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

A Question about Calvin...

One of the guys on the staff at our church asked me an interesting question today.  John Farkas, who just recently started blogging here, sent me the following request:

Give me your perspective on Calvin's 3 most important contributions.  Try to keep it to about 100 words (150 if you must)

I have to confess that I sinned against keeping it brief, but I did ask for forgiveness.  Here is my response which may get some fun comments from John Calvinists out there.  Here goes.



Sure thing. I am a bit of a fan of the reformed view of God, the gospel and the church so I have many positive things to say about the contributions of Jean Calvin...I'll try to stay at three but will likely sin against the word limit. 

Ad Fontes 

Calvin was trained in France during a transition time in western culture.  The medieval catholic church was in great need for reform and humanistic studies (not secular humanism, but the study of man and culture) were on the rise in Europe.  One of the beacon calls of the era as ad fonts - to the sources.  The call was to return to the classical roots of western culture.  Additionally, church scholars applied this to theology.  That to form Christian doctrine one ought to go to the sources of Christian faith - namely, the inspired writings of the New Testament...the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.  Calvin sought to craft a thoroughly Bible based theology and literally wrote the first Protestant systematic theology when he was only 27 years old: The Institutes of the Christian Religion.  A word about Systematics.  Today there are many who do not like a systematic theology - the cry is for narrative etc.  I get that and affirm narrative theology, biblical theology etc. Yet all systermatic (in the way of Calvin) seeks to do is not reduce the Scriptures teaching about something (say the identity and work of Jesus) to one part of Scripture.  Calvin and those who like systematic just want to say ALL that the Bible says about Jesus, not just part of it.  For instance some might say Jesus is a nice, pacifistic teacher in looking at the sermon on the mount.  Yet to not look at the exalted Christ of Revelation who comes with a sword to strike the nations would give you a one dimensional Jesus whereas the whole of Scripture gives a much more 3D, full view.  Calvin sought to form doctrine by treating all of Scripture.  I think that was a great contribution - he certainly was not infallible and I don't agree with all his conclusions, but this is a lasting contribution of his.  By going "to the sources" Calvin and other Protestants affirm the idea of God's revealing himself to us in Scripture.  Man, left alone with his imaginations, will only create idols as he seeks to create God in his own image.  I also think that applying this view to the arts gives art a "narrative framework" which to live within.  The rich narrative world of Scripture can give birth to art that is truly good and beautiful rather than that which is created by man with an unsanctified imagination.   

Unique Theological Contribution to understanding Jesus and the Church

To my knowledge Calvin was the first to articulate a rich typological view of Jesus as seen in the Old Testament offices of Israel - the Prophet, the Priest and the King.  Calvin taught that all of these foreshadowed the work and ministry of Jesus himself and then that Jesus extends that ministry in and through his church.  In the Old Testament - Prophets, Priests, Kings - Israel's life was structured by these offices, which served as types - these were the three offices which were "anointed ones" - those anointed by God and set apart to serve his purposes[1] The Prophet (1 Kings 19:16 - ) speaks the Word of God and Calls People to repentance, to God and His Mission.  The Priest (Leviticus 21:10 - Chief priest anointed with oil) intercedes between God and people facilitating worship and ministry.  The King (1 Samuel 10 and 16 - Samuel Anoints Saul and David, 1 Kings 1:39 - Zadok anoints Solomon, Jehu in 2 Kings 9 anointed by Elisha) ruled under the authority of God and his Word, guiding and shepherding a people through life.  The King protects, provides, and serves his people. Calvin saw this in Jesus' Ministry as a consummation of all the types. 

John Calvin --- Moreover, it is to be observed, that the name Christ refers to those three offices: for we know that under the law, prophets as well as priests and kings were anointed with holy oil. Whence, also, the celebrated name of Messiah was given to the promised Mediator.[2]

Jesus is our Great Prophet (Hebrews 1:1,2)- He is the fulfillment of the law and prophets - his word is God's word.  Jesus is our great High Priest - Hebrews 8:1,2 - We HAVE such a high priest, he intercedes for us, brings us to the father, covers our sins with his sacrifice of himself - there is one mediator (1 Tim 2:5, 6).  Jesus is our Covenant King (Psalm 2, Psalm 110:1; Matthew 1:1-4; Revelation 17:14) - He is our covenant King, our good shepherd, not one of his sheep are lost, he will guide us home, we will live and not die if we trust him.  

Additionally, his ministry extends in the Church. The prophetic Ministry of Jesus extends when the Word of God, the gospel is preached.  The priestly ministry of Jesus extends in the Sacraments - the new covenant is mediated by Jesus, in his church. Baptism serves as the entry sign into the covenant and the Lord's Supper as the continuing sign of the covenant.  Finally, the kingly ministry of Jesus extends in Church Government and Discipline. God gives elders to the church to guard the doctrine of the church, pastor/shepherd/love the sheep, and discipline us towards godliness and holiness.

All of this flows from Calvin's unique insight into the continuity of the covenants and the Old Testament pointing penultimately and typologically to Jesus, the Christ. 

Bible teaching and Commentary 

Many people fail to realize that Calvin was primarily a Bible teacher.  His sermons and commentaries remain a wonderful gift to the church that are available online for free - http://www.ccel.org/index/author-C.html.

Church sending, Pastoral Training and Cultural Transformation 

Something that is unknown about Calvin to many is that they trained hundreds of ministers and sent them out all over Switzerland and France.  Many of these young men went into France and were slaughtered for their preaching.  It is no historical mystery why the Protestant movement did not flourish as much in France - they were massacred.  Finally, there is good little book that I believe I heard referenced by Tim Keller on the influence of Calvin's theological vision on shaping the City - it is called Light of the City.

OK, I sinned against the number of strengths and word limit - forgive? 

[1]In the Old Testament priests (Exod 29:7, 21), prophets (1 Kgs 19:16), and kings (1 Sam 10:1) were anointed for special tasks  James A. Brooks, vol. 23, Mark, electronic e., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1991), 38.

[2]Jean Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translation of: Institutio Christianae Religionis.; Reprint, With New Introd. Originally Published: Edinburgh : Calvin Translation Society, 1845-1846. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), II, xv, 2.