Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Happy Birthday John Calvin

Friday, July 10, is John Calvin’s 500th birthday. Mentioning Calvin’s names draws mixed responses. People seem to either love him or hate him. Yet, any student of history and/or theology would agree that Calvin has had a profound impact on western civilization and the development of the church.

While it seems that most people have a strong opinion about Calvin, few know much about him. Some of this is due to the fact that he is not as dramatic a character as some of the other Reformers. Some good movies have been made about Martin Luther, particularly the relatively recent Luther, staring Joseph Fiennes and Peter Ustinov. John Knox’s life would make a good movie as well. However, a movie about Calvin would have little success selling tickets at the box office (or even a church). He was a pastor and a scholar, which is not the stuff of which movies are made.

Still, since Calvin played such an important role in the church and culture, learning about his life and influence would be worthwhile for most Christians. Recently, I read Robert Godfrey’s John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor. I found it very helpful and enjoyable. Also, it is relatively brief.
If you prefer listening to reading, Dr. Frank James has a good 4-part lecture called “The Calvin I Never Knew.” It is available from Reformed Theological Seminary on I-Tunes and is free.

While Calvin is probably most famous for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is a treasure trove of theology, what I have appreciated about Calvin over the years are his commentaries. His commentaries are still helpful and very relevant today. That is because he interacts seriously with the text in a pastoral way. While I love Luther’s commentary on Galatians, exegetically, Luther’s commentaries can’t touch Calvin’s. If a person is wrestling with the meaning of a biblical passage, Calvin is always a good source of help and clarity.

While I am sure Calvin would prefer that we not honor him (just as I am sure he would not like the term “Calvinist”), it is good for us to honor those who have gone before us, who have enriched our lives with their teaching and their sacrifice. John Calvin certainly has enriched mine.


Mark Bates said...

Someone forwarded me the following article from the Washington Post on Calvin. Interesting:

PaulF said...

And if you want to read Calvin's commentaries online, you can go here