A Calvinistic Tightrope

Today is the 500th anniversary of John Calvin‘s birth. In many Christian circles, it’s quite the celebration. Books on Calvin have been multiplying as of late, as many seek to capitalize on this theological bandwagon.

Though some label Calvin’s teachings as heretical (see article, “Election and Free Will”), many today have come to laud him as the great recoverer of the doctrines of God’s sovereignty in salvation. To me, it’s definitely good to see a recovery of Calvin’s view of God’s sovereignty and election, and we can learn much from him. In a description of a new biography on Calvin, John Piper calls him the most influential theologian of the last 500 years. Ligonier even themed their entire recent catalogue around Calvin. While I’m not at all arguing against the influence of Calvin, I’m calling for caution as many discover the truths this hero of faith proclaimed. Calvin’s doctrine was rich, and God-centered. But Calvin was merely a man, a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ, and his life was lived to point us to him. Many fellow reformed believers would heartily agree, but when we walk around proudly sporting our John Calvin threads, shoulders back, haughtily ripping those who don’t share our views, how are we a picture of Christ? Paul warned us of division resulting from labeling ourselves by our favorite teachers in I Corinthians 1:10-17. I think if we mainly label ourselves as “Calvinists” it can easily cause a superiority complex, as well as further the danger of letting Calvin’s teaching on election become the sum total of our Christian focus when the Gospel only begins there. We must be careful when glorying in God’s election that we don’t ignore the simple call to man’s responsibility.

While I see the benefits of using a label such as “Calvinist” to explain our theological positions, I think it’s better to say we are disciples of Jesus Christ, and we agree with John Calvin’s theological understandings. In the end, be a kinder Calvinist.


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