Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Who Was John Calvin? (Part 3 of 3)

[Note: This is the concluding essay in a three-part short introduction to the life of Calvin. See previous posts: part 1/3 and part 2/3].

Calvin's Lasting Legacy
Calvin left a huge legacy for us to follow as Christians in general and as pastors in particular. I will briefly summarize this legacy with the following points.
1. First of all, his literary legacy is unmatched. From his Everest-like work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, to his nearly unending series of Biblical commentaries, to his heart-felt letters, and his printed sermons, Calvin left enough Biblical teaching for a lifetime of learning. Considering the age in which he lived, the technology through which he wrote (pen and quill!) and the turmoil in which he fought, Calvin’s attention to every detail of every Greek verb is simply amazing. While reading his works are daunting and sometimes technical, one is always amazed at the way in which Calvin so clearly spoke as a tender pastor, relentlessly concerned for his people.

2. As a pastor, Calvin stands as one of the greatest of all times. I will give just a bit of evidence of this. Even though he fought valiantly on the cutting edge of theological controversy of his day, Calvin took the time to visit all of the sick and even wrote letters to the martyrs who were suffering under French rule. More than that, Calvin counseled compassionately those who were hurting and in despair, even visiting daily those who were sick or dying under his care.

3. Thirdly, Calvin’s vision for church planting was way ahead of his time. While most within the Reformation movement were concerned more with theological faithfulness, Calvin was burdened to begin as many churches as possible. Newer research is showing that more than ever before thought, Calvin’s church and academy in Geneva was responsible for literally planting hundreds of churches in France, Europe—and even one attempt as far away as Brazil! The Genevan Academy under Calvin’s tutelage continually reproduced impassioned Christ-loving pastors ready to go forth from Geneva and die for the faith.

4. Fourth, Calvin’s theology sunk into the daily lives of his hearers in an unusual way. Because of his fixation upon the glory of God, Calvin taught his followers that God must be glorified by every act of our daily lives! One example will suffice. Today, if you have a watch from Geneva (still the source of all of the very best watches, clocks, and timepieces) it is no doubt because Calvin taught his Genevan brothers 500 years ago to aspire towards excellence in all things for the glory of God.

5. Fifth, Calvin, by his very precision as a theologian, has inspired generation after generation of believers to forsake the error of “easy-believe-ism” as strive instead toward a full and rich theology of heart and mind. Some of the best scholar-theologians in history were inspired by the French Master himself; from the English Puritans to the Dutch Reformed; from the Westminster Divines to Jonathan Edwards; from John Owen of Britain to Benjamin Warfield of New Jersey; from the French Huguenots to the American Presbyterians; from pastors living today such as John Piper of Minneapolis to Mark Driscoll in Seattle—Calvin towers above them all and summons them upwards.

In the end, Calvin would probably be a little bit disturbed if not angry to hear of his followers being called “Calvinists.” I am guessing that he would have disdained that terminology. He had no desires or aspirations in this life for fame or glory and would be satisfied only that his followers were Bible-preaching, God-exalting Christians. Dying in May of 1564, Calvin’s final wishes were honored: he was buried in an unmarked grave in a simple pine box. His lasting testimony was that John the Baptist’s words be made manifest in his own life: “He must become greater; I must become less! (John 3:30). 

Recommended Reading for Beginning Students of John Calvin
• John Piper, John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God. (Wheaton IL: Crossway Books, 2009). A simple and very short 59-page overview of Calvin’s life and ministry by one of the most popular pastors of today.

• THL Parker, Portrait of Calvin. (Minneapolis MN: Desiring God, 1954). An excellent, short biography of Calvin’s life and times.  

• John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, Edited by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne. (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 2004). This version is a significantly shortened version of the Institutes (thus the slightly altered title). In this condensed presentation, Lane and Osborne present Calvin’s teaching optimistically, that is, they leave out most of his more controversial teaches, especially his attacks on his opponents. For this reason, the book is a good enough sum of what he taught, while leaving out what he taught against.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow me on Twitter @matt_everhard. 

1 comment:

  1. Did not realize that Calvin was involved in planting churches. Thank you for your blog.