Tale of Two Calvins

This is my obligatory Calvin 500th birthday post

The occasion of Calvin’s 500th Birthday has led to competing “celebrations” of Calvin’s life and work in Geneva over the last week. One led by WARC, WCC, and other “mainline” organizations that featured such speakers as  Clifton Kirkpatrick, former Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) (read some his thoughts on Calvin here ) and Setri Nyomi, Pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana (He is quoted as saying Calvin would have been for furthering Marxist ideals in society). The other is being backed by NAPARC and other more “conservative” Reformed and Presbyterian Groups (see their website here). So much so that they were required to “share” venues in Calvin’s adopted town. One celebrates the Calvin read through the eyes of Modern Liberalism and Neo-Orthodoxy (read here: Liberation Theology and Karl Barth) and the other allows the John Calvin of 16th-Century Geneva speak for himself (no bias here).  It makes one wonder if both sides are celebrating the same man or each have developed, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer’s quip about the 19th-Century “Quest for the Historical Jesus”, a Calvin that looks, breathes, and thinks like a reincarnated version of themselves.


As an example here is a Calvin article on a doctrine John Calvin vigorously defended that the Neo-Orthodox and Liberationists would have to and do deal gymnastically with:

On Limited Atonement:

Dr. Roger Nicole Deftly and Carefully Turns Away the Thoughts of R.T. Kendall on Calvin’s Thoughts on the Extent of the Atonement.

For those unaware R.T. Kendall wrote one of the oft quoted books concerning the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” discussion. In other words it is Kendall’s these that specifically the Westminster Divines (and their Confession of Faith) “bastardized” John Calvin and made him out to believe things he never believed. Dr. Nicole here takes apart Kendell’s thesis. (Also be sure to check out Paul Helm’s two books (Find them here and here) and Richard Muller’s book on the same subject here) that also show Kendall to be quite incorrect in his thoughts concerning Calvin and Westminster)

Calvin vs. Barth

One of the things I have found in my short time reading John Calvin and others writing on Calvin is the Neo-Calvinism of the 21st-Century that seeks to read Calvin through the eyes and thoughts of Barth and his cohorts. Studying at a PC(USA) seminary the Calvin you get is the Calvin seen through the writings of Barth (and his student Tom Torrance) that looks nothing like the Calvin of the 16th Century. One of the critiques of the “Federal Calvinists” as Barthians like to call those of us that do not hold to their dichotomy of Calvin vs. the Calvinists, first really codified by R.T. Kendall, is they try to say there is no relation between the Puritans and the Calvin that they read. The book below, along with a couple others puts this fallacy to bed with great precision and along with current striking developments in Calvinistic theology and research that shows that the Barthian Calvin really is a construction of the Modern mind and the accommodation of Barthian thought to John Calvin.

I cannot recommend this book by Richard Muller entitled The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition highly enough. Along with others linked below.

After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition by Richard Muller

Calvin and the Calvinists by Paul Helm