The Rise of Calvinism


In 1558, the city of Geneva established a high school, the Academy, and at Calvin’s suggestion, Theodore Beza was called to the Greek professorship.  The Academy was intended to be a training ground for Calvin’s orthodoxy. As soon as Beza was admitted to citizenship at Geneva, he became rector of the school and succeeded to the pastorate of one of the city churches. Both the Academy and the church congregation thrived under Beza’s care and Calvin had found an ally that, to him, was simply invaluable. As Calvin’s health began to decline, he relied more and more on him. Their friendship was steadfast, based upon respect and affection for one another. It was understood that after Calvin’s death that Beza would be his successor.  Beza played an extremely key role in bringing about the transition from Calvin’s view of Christian Soteriology to a more scholastic form.

After Calvin’s death, there was a new concern for method gaining momentum. Those students of Calvin’s religious ideas, Reformed theologians, were under pressure to defend their inherited ideas against Lutheran and Catholic opponents.  Beza wanted desperately to ensure the survival, if not the outright victory of Calvin’s idea in the face of this opposition. Reason, even though regarded suspiciously by Calvin himself, was employed to bring a strict form to his ideas. Aristotelian scholasticism was introduced by Beza to bring a more methodological approach, this approach later became known as Calvinism.

The term ‘Calvinist’ was introduced as an attempt by German Lutherans to denounce and discredit Calvin’s ideas as foreign influence in Germany.  Calvin himself was alarmed at the term but by the time the term began being used, he was close to death and his protest against it was ineffective. The term ‘Calvinism’ was introduced to refer to the religious outlook of Calvin’s followers by their opponents and unfortunately its historical association with Reformed theology is now embedded within every historian’s vocabulary, even though it is a glaring misnomer.

Jacob Arminius, for which Arminianism is named, had been a student in the Genevan Academy under Beza. As a result, he was trained in Calvinism and was at first a very strict Calvinist. However, he began to have great difficulty with the doctrine of predestination or the sovereignty of God in election as he defended the doctrines against the writings of Dirik Volckaerts zoon Koornheert.  He taught that although mankind fell in Adam and are born in a state of sin and condemnation, and are of themselves entirely unable to turn from sin to holiness, man is able to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit given to all men, especially to those who hear the Gospel, in sufficient measure to enable them to repent and believe and persevere until the end.   The purpose of election in his view was not to save and give faith and repentance to a defined number of individuals but to save those who repent, believe and persevere in faith until the end. This view made Christ an equal reference to all men, making full the satisfaction to God for the sin for all men on the conditions laid down by the Gospel.

After the death of Arminius, his followers, called Arminians, formularized a systematic creed in Five Articles, drawn up by one of the theological leaders of the Arminian party, Janus Uytenbogaert.  They put the articles before the representatives of Holland and West Friesland in 1610 under the name of Remonstrance, signed by forty-six ministers.  The Calvinists issued the Counter-Remonstrance shortly thereafter. A Conference was held between the two parties at the Collatio Hagiensis in 1611 but it ended without a resolution.

After some time and a great deal of controversy, the National Synod of Dort was convened by the States-General on November 13, 1618 and it lasted until May 9, 1619.  The sessions were public and very crowded. John Bogerman, pastor at Leuwarden was elected President and Festus Hommius, pastor in Leyden was first Secretary. Both of these men were strict Calvinists. Only three delegates from Synod of Uterecht were Remonstrants but these men had to yield their seats due to a circumstantial technicality. It became quite evident as things progressed that the fate of the Arminian view of Christian soteriology was decided prior to the event.  The Five Articles of the Remonstrance were unanimously rejected and the five Calvinistic canons were adopted. Calvinism had triumphed.

These five Calvinistic canons are technically known as “The Five Points of Calvinism” and are the main pillars on which Calvinistic Soteriology stand. They can be more easily remembered by their acrostic, the TULIP: T, Total Inability (or Depravity); U, Unconditional Election; L, Limited Atonement; I, Irresistible Grace; and P, Perseverance of the Saints.  To understand how Calvinists view their version of Christian salvation, one must understand each point of this system and how each point correlates to one another. In the next 5 posts, I will explain each point.


John Calvin vs The World: The Man Part 3


Revolution of 1555

Even though Calvin was being propelled into the forefront of the Protestant movement, he still had to deal with opposition from the council in Geneva. The power of excommunication was still with the council but Calvin insisted that it be returned to the Consistory. During the Servetus trial, Philibert Berthelier requested that the council allow him to take communion, even though he had been excommunicated by the Consistory the year before for insulting a minister. The council wasted no time in overturning the verdict of the Consistory. Calvin was furious at the obvious challenge to his authority and again insisted that it was Consistory alone which had the power to excommunicate notorious and unrepentant sinners. The matter was debated at the Council of Two Hundred on November 7, 1553 and the body ruled that the final decisions in matters of excommunication should rest with the council. Calvin was finally and firmly put back into his place.

Two years later, in 1555, a dramatic shift in power took place. Geneva was now considered a refuge for those seeking safety due to their religious beliefs. Many of the refugees were from France, some of them very, very wealthy and some of the most influential were strong supporters of Calvin. The council, realizing the benefit that could be gained from this new influx of wealth into their city, decided to allow them the opportunity, based on their sufficient wealth and social distinction, to apply for the status of bourgeois. And on April 18, 1555 the council began admitting the rich and prestigious refugees  to a bourgeois status. Along with that status came an entitlement to vote in Genevan elections and these new members of the Genevan society promptly exercised that right.

Once they had realized what they had done, the council attempted to block the voting rights of the new bourgeois. That was not very successful. The April and May sessions of the General Council (Geneva’s body of electors) were teeming with Calvin’s supporters. The balance had been tipped in his favor. The process continued with the election of 1536 and by then Calvin’s friends were in charge of the city. He could now focus on what he wanted most, to evangelize his native France. Between 1555 and 1562, more than 100 ministers were sent to France.

Calvin’s Final Years

After the revolution, Calvin’s authority was essentially uncontested during his final years and he enjoyed an international reputation as a reformer distinct from Martin Luther. He was disappointed though due to the fact that there was a lack of unity among the reformers of his day. An good example of this would be the conflict that Luther and Zwingli had over the interpretation of the Eucharist. Based on Calvin’s opinion, Luther placed Calvin in Zwingli’s camp. Calvin however, made attempts to show unification in the movement by signing documents like the Consensus Tigurinus (Consensus of Zurich), which attempted to coalesce the Calvinist and advanced Zwinglian doctrines while still opposing the transubstantiation, the Roman Catholic view, and sacramental union, the Lutheran view.

His ideas on doctrine and polity were also beginning to spread exponentially. He sheltered many Marian exiles (those who fled the brutally bloody reign of the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor in England), who in turn, took his ideas and polity back to England and Scotland under the leadership of reformers John Knox and William Whittingham. He also supported the building of churches by distributing literature and sending ministers, supported by the Genevan church, secretly into France. Secrecy was essential to the operation in France. It became an underground network similar to what was employed by the French Resistance during World War II, allowing men from Geneva to slip across the lines into France. In January of 1561, a message arrived in Geneva from the new King of France, Charles IX, indicating that they had discovered the systematic subversion of authority within France by these preachers sent from Geneva. He demanded that Geneva’s agents be recalled and he wanted assurance that there would be no more incursions. Since the support for the pastors came from the Company of Pastors, an ecclesiastical organization, it allowed the council to deny responsibility, averting a serious rupture between Geneva and France.

In the autumn of 1558, Calvin became ill with a fever and was afraid that he may die before completing his final revision of his master work, the Institutes. He forced himself to work and expounding on his existing material, he increased the number of chapters from 21 to 80. Even though it was based on his existing work, Calvin considered to be “almost a new work,” because it was based on the Apostles’ Creed. First, the knowledge of God is considered as knowledge of the Father, the creator, provider and sustainer. Second, it examines how the Son reveals the Father, since only God is able to reveal God. Third, it describes the work of the Holy Spirit. And finally, the fourth section speaks of the Christian church, and how it is to live out the truths of Scripture, particularly through the sacraments. It also describes the functions and ministries of the church, civil government relation to religious matters and the inadequacies of the papacy. This last edition was published in 1559.

After recovering from the fever, he continued to have health problems. By the early spring of 1564, it was obvious that Calvin was seriously ill. He suffered from symptoms consistent with migraine, gout, pulmonary tuberculosis, intestinal parasites and other internal issues. He preached for the last time from the pulpit of Saint-Pierre on Sunday February 6, 1564. Despite his shortness of breath, he managed to bid farewell to the ministers of Geneva on Friday April 28, 1564. In his document, Discours d’adieu aux ministries, Calvin confessed that he was, and had always been, little more than a poor and timid scholar, pressed into the service of the Christian gospel. He died at 8:00p.m. on May 27, 1564 and at his own request was buried in a common grave with no stone marker.

The Beginnings of a Movement

It was Martin Luther that started the Reformation with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 but with the death of Luther in 1546 and the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League in 1547, Lutheranism was in decline. Calvin’s star however was on the rise. The Institutes were widely read and appreciated, sometimes being cited in works by others of the day. The work rapidly became the one-stop shop for ideas in the second wave of the Reformation. The 1541 edition, published in French, is known to have played a major role in winning converts to his understanding of the Christian faith and the reformation which followed – first in France and subsequently far beyond. Calvin was well aware of the importance of church structures and discipline, devising a model that proved quite adept to international expansion. But expansion is one thing, survivability of a movement is another… Calvinism proved to be capable of surviving under hostile conditions, assuming the status of an underground movement.

Calvin vs The World: The Rise of Calvinism

In the next series of posts we will look at the rise of Calvinism. Thank you again for taking time to read this series, I hope that it has been helpful.


John Calvin vs The World: The Man Part 2


Symbiosis with Geneva

To speak of John Calvin is to speak of the Switzerland city of Geneva, one of the greatest symbiotic relationships in history. Even though Calvin himself was somewhat irritated and embarrassed by this relationship, he could not deny it. He complained that people were ill-informed when they attributed the actions of the Genevan city council to him personally. However, a certain number of his ideas seemed to have had Geneva in mind while being developed. So it could easily be construed that Geneva had as much of an influence on Calvin as Calvin had on Geneva.

Geneva – The First Period

On July 15, 1536, after settling remaining family affairs in France due to the allowance of the Edict of Coucy, Calvin set off for Strasbourg to leave behind the perils of the country he called home. Unfortunately, the direct road to Strasbourg was threatened by the movement of troops involved in the war between Francis I and the Emperor, forcing Calvin to take an alternative route through Geneva. He had only intended on staying one night but a fellow French reformer, William Farel, insisted that he stay and assist him in the work of reforming the churches there. Calvin was reluctant because he wanted only peace and privacy but Farel’s insistence prevailed. Calvin recalls the encounter:

Then Farel, who was working with incredible zeal to promote the gospel, bent all his efforts to keep me in the city. And when he realized that I was determined to study in privacy in some obscure place, and saw that he gained nothing by entreaty, he descended to cursing, and said that God would surely curse my peace if I held back from giving help at a time of such great need. Terrified by his words, and conscience of my own timidity and cowardice, I gave up my journey and attempted to apply whatever gift I had in defense of my faith.

Farel drafted a confession of faith while Calvin wrote articles on reorganizing the churches in Geneva. In January of 1537, they presented their work, Articles on the Organization of the Church and its Worship at Geneva, to the city council. The document described the manner and frequency of their celebrations of the Eucharist, the reasons and methods for excommunication, the requirement of an adherence to a confession of faith, use of congregational singing and the revision of marriage laws. The council accepted it that day but eventually soured on the idea due to the fact that only a few citizens had subscribed to their confession of faith. Eventually there would be a dispute over the Easter Eucharist, causing a riot, and both men were asked to leave Geneva. In September of 1538, Calvin accepted a position to lead a church of French refugees in Strasbourg and ministered there until 1541.

Geneva – The Second Period

Church attendance was down and the political climate had changed, causing the council in Geneva to reconsider its expulsion of Calvin. After a letter arrived from Cardinal Jocopo Sadoleto inviting them to rejoin the Catholic faith, the council needed someone to respond with some ecclesiastical authority.  They turned to Calvin. In the summer of 1541, Strasbourg decided to loan Calvin to Geneva for six months. He returned in September with a wagon for his family. He was torn but decided the move back to Geneva was for the best.

Almost immediately following his arrival in Geneva, Calvin saw a need for a disciplined, well-ordered and structured church. He proceeded to create detailed guidelines for governing every aspect of it. Some biographers have compared him to Lenin because of this, both were well aware of the importance of institutions for the propagation of their system and they lost no time organizing what was required. Supporting his reforms, the council passed the Ordonnances ecclésiastiques (Ecclesiastical Ordinances) on November 20, 1541. The ordinances defined four orders of ministerial function: pastors to preach and administer sacraments, teachers to instruct believers in the faith, ancients or lay elders to watch over the conduct of the people and provide discipline, and deacons to care for the poor.

The documents also called for the creation of the Consistoire (Consistory), an ecclesiastical court of lay elders and ministers. It came into being in 1542, with 12 lay elders (selected annually by magistrates), and all of the members of the Venerable Company of Pastors (9 in 1542 and 19 in 1564). The Venerable Company was a purely clerical body, consisting of all the pastors of the city and district of Geneva. It had no political power. The city government would retain the power to summon people before the court but the Consistory was only given the authority to judge in ecclesiastical matters having no civil jurisdiction.

Calvin originally conceived of the Consistory as a primary instrument for policing religious orthodoxy. He recognized it as essential to the survival of Reformed Christendom. Its principle function was to deal with those whose religious views posed a significant threat to the religious order established at Geneva. Others whose behavior was regarded as unacceptable for other reasons, pastoral or moral, were also to be treated in a similar fashion. First, they were to be shown the error of their ways. If this method failed, then secondly, they would be excommunicated. The council, being jealous of the Consistory’s authority, decided in March of 1543 that all sentencing would be carried out by the government, including excommunication.

The Death of Michael Servetus

In Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy), the French novelist and playwright informs us that immediately upon Calvin’s return to Geneva in 1541, ‘executions began, and Calvin organized his religious terror.’ Calvin however was never really in a position to instigate executions and during his second period in Geneva there was only one person executed for a religious offense, his name was Michael Servetus.

Servetus was a Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer and Renaissance humanist. He was well versed in subjects such as: mathematics, astronomy, geography, human anatomy, medicine, law theory, translation, meteorology, poetry and the study of the Bible in its original languages. Servetus, noted particularly for his theological views, also developed a nontrinitarian Christology. He was condemned by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Servetus published several books on his view of the Trinity, De Trinitatis Erroribus (On the Errors of the Trinity) in July 1531, Dialogorum de Trinitate (Dialogues on the Trinity) in 1532 and Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity) in 1553. The Restoration of Christianity staunchly rejected the idea of predestination. This is completely contrary to what Calvin states in the Institutes. Calvin felt that Servetus’ book was an attack on his personally held theories regarding Christianity, his “established Christian doctrine.” Calvin sent Servetus a copy of the Institutes and Servetus promptly returned it, annotated with what he felt was in error. Calvin wrote to Servetus, “I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.” As time progressed, their conversations became increasingly heated. Calvin eventually ended it. But Servetus just kept going, thoroughly offending Calvin. In a letter to his friend William Farel, Calvin vented:

“Servetus has just sent me a long volume of his ravings. If I consent he will come here, but I will not give my word; for if he comes here, if my authority is worth anything, I will never permit him to depart alive…”

In truth, there were many that wanted Servetus dead. In June of 1552 the sentence of death by burning alive was passed on him by the Inquisition but he had previously escaped prison and could not physically be executed. They resorted to burning him in effigy and five bales of his books in his stead. He eventually turned up in Geneva in July and was arrested by the council. The city of Geneva lacked a long-term prison, it had only two major penalties that it could use, banishment and execution. Banishment was not an option due to the fact that Servetus was not a citizen of Geneva. That left only execution.

It has been recorded by some biographers that Calvin just wanted a retraction from Servetus and spent hours trying to get him to do so but he refused. Nevertheless, Calvin was the expert witness against him. In this case the Consistory, over which Calvin had considerable influence, was bypassed by the Geneva council in an effort to marginalize Calvin from the affair and voted to condemn Servetus for heresy, calling for his execution. Other churches in Berne, Zurich and Schaffhausen encouraged this move. Calvin lobbied for a more humane swift execution but was denied. On October 27, 1553, Geneva burned Servetus as the stake for blasphemy and heresy.

In context, the execution of heretics during the sixteenth century was common place. Did Calvin have a distaste for Servertus? Sure. Did he want him dead? In the context of the whole situation, maybe. To the modern reader though, Calvin could be considered a murderer and has been portrayed as such in more than one biography. It is ill advised though to  throw out the entire context of the situation to try and prove a viewpoint. In McGrath’s book, he points out:

His tacit support for the capital penalty for offences such as heresy which he (and his contemporaries) regarded as serious makes him little more than a child of his age, rather than an outrageous exception to its standards. Post-Enlightenment writers have every right to protest against the cruelty of earlier generations; to single out Calvin for particular criticism, however, suggests a selectivity approaching victimization. To target him in this way when the manner of his involvement was, to say the least, oblique and overlook the much greater claims to infamy of other individuals and institutions raises difficult questions concerning the precommitments of his critics. Servetus was the only individual put to death for his religious opinions in Geneva during Calvin’s lifetime, at a time when executions of this nature were commonplace elsewhere.”

In the aftermath of the death of Michael Servetus, Calvin was propelled further into the forefront of Protestantism. He was already considered by some as a considerable religious writer and thinker but after this incident, he was regarded as the defender of the true faith in Protestant circles. In Geneva, however, his situation was still one of isolation. But with the revolution of 1555 his status in Geneva would significantly change.

Calvin vs The World: The Man Part 3

Again, thanks for making it this far in the post. This is a lot more information than I had originally thought to put into this series but all of it is relevant in understanding this man and the impact he has had. I am going to have to go into a third part of this portion of the series… Part 3 will explore the Revolution of 1555 and his final years. Again, please feel free to comment. I look forward to hearing from you.


John Calvin vs The World: The Man Part 1


John Calvin has always been a very polarizing figure in society. You either love him or you hate him. Some biographers have called him a jealous intolerant sectarian tyrant and a killer in search of absolute power, who ruled Geneva with a rod of iron. Others have called him a brilliant mind, praising his innovative organizational and theological ideas, manifesting a life devoted utterly to displaying the glory and majesty of God. Could these two views be of the same man? In searching for resources for my study of this historic figure, it was very difficult to find an unbiased source that truly gave me a picture of who this man was and how he perceived the world. Discerning what I can from multiple sources, I have tried to cobble together my view of who this man was and how he has impacted our culture.

The Early Years

John Calvin was born Jehan Cauvin in Noyon in the Picardy region of France on July 10, 1509. He was the first of four sons that survived infancy. His father, Gérard Cauvin, was a lawyer who served as cathedral notary and registrar to the local Catholic church. Gérard encouraged John to study in order to become a Catholic priest and by the age of 12, he was employed by the bishop as a clerk. In order to show his dedication to the church he also had his hair cut into the traditional tonsure style, which is shaved bald on top with hair on the sides.

In 1523, at the age of 14, he began studying in Paris at the Collège de la Marche at the University of Paris, where he became very skilled in Latin due to the teaching of Mathurin Cordier. After finishing the course there, he then attended Collège de Montaigu as a philosophy student until 1528. At that point, some sources report that there were some hints of financial irregularities involving his father Gérard at Noyon which would have adversely affected Calvin’s ecclesiastical career. So as a result, Gérard instructed his son to pursue an education in civil law at the University of Orléans. (Note: Civil law was not taught in Paris during this period.) According to contemporary biographers, Beza and Colladon, Calvin’s father thought at this point that there would be more money to be made by becoming a lawyer rather than a priest. A year later in 1529, he entered the University of Bourges where he continued his study of law. During his 18-month tenure at Bourges Calvin had an opportunity to learn Greek, which would help him in his study of the New Testament. After graduating as a Doctor of Law in 1531, he returned to Paris.

In the same year that he received his law degree, his father passed away. In some sense, this must have relieved the pressure that he had been receiving from his father for so many years and allowed him the freedom to begin studying things that would peak his interest. Calvin’s ambition was not to be a professional lawyer but to be a man of letters. In 1532, he self-published a commentary on Roman philosopher Seneca’s Treatise on Clemency. The work exemplified considerable rhetorical skill but unfortunately for Calvin, it went virtually unnoticed.

Calvin’s Conversion

In the Autumn of 1533, Calvin experienced a religious conversion. He wrote about the incident later in two separate accounts, which seem to be quite different. The first account, written in the Preface to his Commentary on the Book of Psalms, portrays his conversion as a sudden change of mind, brought about by God.

“God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, yet I pursued them with less ardour.”

The second account, written in a letter of response to Sadoleto’s letter to the Genevans, speaks of an extended process of internal turmoil, followed by psychological and spiritual anguish.

“Being exceedingly alarmed at the misery into which I had fallen, and much more at that which threatened me in view of eternal death, I, duty bound, made it my first business to betake myself to your way, condemning my past life, not without groans and tears. And now, O Lord, what remains to a wretch like me, but instead of defence, earnestly to supplicate you not to judge that fearful abandonment of your Word according to its deserts, from which in your wondrous goodness you have at last delivered me.”

Scholars have argued over the interpretation of these two differing accounts but can only find common ground on the fact that this conversion coincided with his break from the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in his joining of the Protestant movement.

On the Run

During the time that Calvin returned to Paris, tensions began to rise at the Collège Royal between the humanist/reformers and the conservative senior faculty members. (Note: Humanists in Calvin’s day were generally religious and concerned with renewal rather than the abolition of the Christian faith and church.) Nicolas Cop, a reformer, newly elected rector of the university and close friend of Calvin, devoted his inaugural address to the need for reform and renewal of the Catholic Church. That was a serious error in judgment. The address provoked a strong reaction from the faculty. They found it offensive and intemperate, denouncing it as heretical, forcing Cop to flee to Basel. Calvin was also implicated in the incident and was forced into hiding,  sheltered by friends like Louis du Tillet.

He was then forced to flee France, with the help of du Tillet, during the Affair of the Placards in October of 1534. This event caused an incredibly violent backlash against evangelicals, now considered to be a ‘religion of rebels’. Once out of France, he adopted the pseudonym of Martinus Lucianus and continued in hiding, avoiding persecution unlike his compatriots standing their ground for reform. In January of the following year, Calvin finally joined Cop in Basel, a city under the influence of the reformer Johannes Oecolampadius.

Institutes of the Christian Religion

In Basel, Calvin observed from his exile incidents involving those in the reform movement perishing for their faith: the poisoning of reformer Pierre Viret in Geneva and the burning alive of his friend Etienne de la Forge in France. He would also learn that evangelicals were being labeled as seditious and rebellious Anabaptists, not worthy to be compared with their German Protestant counterparts. Anabaptism was considered a radical social force, an impression that was reinforced by the Anabaptist takeover of Münster under Jan van Leyden.

Calvin became enraged and deeply wounded by the implication that the evangelicals owed their inspiration to political, rather than religious motives. He decided that he must act, so he grabbed his pen and wrote a book, calling it the Institutio Christianae Religionishe or Institutes of the Christian Religion. By the end of August in 1535, the work was complete. It was published in March of 1536. The intended audience for the first edition of the Institutes is thought to have been French evangelicals attempting to consolidate the understanding of their faith. In addition though, the book was also thought to be intended to prove the stupidity of the allegations that the persecution of evangelicals could be justified by comparing them to the Anabaptists.

This book was the first expression of his theology. He would continue to update the work throughout his life, ending with the 1559 edition. Calvin himself explicitly identified the Institutes as the sole authoritative source of his religious thoughts. Alister McGrath in his biography, A Life of John Calvin, had this to say about the structure and thought of Calvin’s Institutes:

The popular conception of Calvin’s religious thought is that of a rigorously logical system, centering upon the doctrine of predestination. Influential though this popular icon may be, it bears little relation to reality… Can one speak of Calvin’s thought as being a system in the first place? The word ‘system’ implies underlying assumptions of unity. It makes claim to coherence. Yet Calvin shared the intense distaste of the humanist republic of letters for the scholastic theologians, whose watchwords might have been ‘systematization’ and ‘coherence’. To speak of Calvin as a theological systematizer is to imply a degree of affinity with medieval scholasticism which contradicts his known attitudes.

A study of the evolution of the Institutes indicates, Calvin originally conceived the work in modest terms, with no claims to methodological comprehensiveness…

It was not until later in the sixteenth century that Calvin’s successors found that in order to maintain an intellectual respectability and credibility, Calvinism had to be recast into a systematic form. This has more than likely led to the conclusion that Calvin’s original thoughts were systematically and logically constructed in accordance to later Reformed Orthodoxy.

Calvin vs The World: The Man Part 2

Thanks for making it this far in the post. This is a lot of information to digest. In an attempt to not make this too boring, I decided to break this portion of the series up into three parts. Part 2 will explore Calvin’s time in Geneva, Michael Servetus and Calvin’s ever-growing influence. Again, please feel free to comment. I look forward to hearing from you.


John Calvin vs The World: Introduction


For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 KJV

John 3:16 is one of the most, if not the most well-known verse in all of Scripture. It has been called the “Gospel in a nutshell,” because many consider it a summary of the central doctrines of Christianity. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was thrust into modern culture by Rollen Frederick Stewart aka Rainbow Man, a fixture in American sports culture. He would wear a rainbow-colored afro-style wig, a white T-shirt and carry signs referencing John 3:16 at numerous sporting events around the United States and overseas. Since that time, John 3:16 has become a mainstay at sporting events, recently garnering attention from the media through the efforts of former Florida Gators quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. In other venues, it has been referenced on the bottom of paper cups at In-N-Out burger and clothing stores such as Forever 21 and Heritage on the bottom of their shopping bags.


The world knows this verse but what does it really say? It has traditionally been viewed as the simplest form of the Gospel: God loved the world so much that He gave His One and only Son, Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes in Him and what He came to do would not perish but spend an everlasting life with Him in heaven… It seems to indicate that anyone (whosoever or whoever) is able to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved however in some circles this verse has been interpreted in quite a different manner…

Reformed Pastor John Samson, author of “Twelve What Abouts – Answering Common Objections Concerning God’s Sovereignty in Election,” views the verse in this way:

Literally, the text reads “in order that every the one believing in Him, not to perish, but have everlasting life.” It says “every” or “all the one believing…” That’s hard to express in English, but in essence, it is saying “all the believing ones.” That’s what is being communicated. It is saying that there is no such thing as a believing one who does not receive eternal life, but who perishes. Though our English translation says “whoever believes” the literal rendering is accurately translated as “every believing one” and the emphasis is NOT AT ALL on the “whosoever” but on the belief. The ones BELIEVING will not have one consequence but will have another. They will not perish but will have everlasting life.

Why? Because of the main verb – because God GAVE His Son. God gave His Son for the purpose (Greek: hina) that every believing one should not perish, but that every believing one should have everlasting life.

The text (John 3:16) actually speaks of a limitation of a particular rather than a universal redemption, for clearly, not everyone will be saved, but only those who believe in Christ. The Father gave His Son for the purpose of those who believe. The Son is given so that the believing ones will not perish, but opposite to that, have eternal life. That is the purpose of the giving.

So, what John 3:16 teaches is:

ALL who do A (believe in Him)
will not B (perish)
but will have C (everlasting life)

What does this text tell us about who WILL believe or who CAN believe?

The answer is: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! The text does not address the issue of who WILL believe or who CAN believe.

Samson views this verse as saying essentially nothing about who can come to know Christ, the “whosoever”, it only involves those who already believe. This is quite contrary to the traditional interpretation and it brings up some pretty significant questions about salvation.

  • Did God send His One and only Son to die for the world or just for those who believe?
  • Do we have a choice to believe in Jesus as our Savior?
  • Are we already predetermined by God for Heaven or Hell?
  • If I witness for Christ to those around me will it make a difference? Can they be saved?

Why is Samson’s view contrary to the traditional view? In short, he is what is called a Reformed or some would call a Calvinist pastor. Some of you reading this may know exactly what I am referring to but most do not. Recently, I was actively involved in a church where this type of theology (Reformed/Calvinist theology) became quite an issue. So much so, that it devastated the church congregation, dispersing the members to different churches in the area and unfortunately driving some members to just stay home instead of dealing with this type of upheaval. Most members had never even heard of Calvinism before this occurred.

This is not the first time this type of theology has caused an issue within a church congregation. There have been many church splits due to this problem. In the next few posts, I want to explore who John Calvin is, his theology, his influence and what weight this theology has on the churches we attend today. I also would like to hear your stories as well. What you have experienced with this type of theology?

Theological Disclaimer

Just to be up front, I am not a Calvinist, nor will I ever be a Calvinist. I do believe however in some things that John Calvin believed. I also do not ascribe to an Arminian theology (if you are not sure what that is, I will address it in a later post associated to this one). As Dr. Adrian Rogers once said: “I’m not interested really in a name given to a theology or being called a “Calvinist” or a “Baptist” or whatever – I am committed to what the Bible teaches and you know if we have any “Baptist doctrine” we need to get rid of it. If we have any “Presbyterian doctrine” or “Methodist doctrine” we need to get rid of it. We need to see what the Bible teaches and just zero in on the Word of God.”

My motto is that of Acts 17:11, …receive the word with all readiness of mind, and search the scriptures daily, whether those things are so.

Feel free to comment on these posts – I want to try and get an active discussion going on this topic… This debate has been going on for over 400 years, we are not going to solve it over a few posts but we can discuss it reasonably I would hope.


Et tu, Lego? Minifigures Get Aggressive


Just when you thought it was safe to go into the playroom…Et tu, Lego? The Innocence of children everywhere has been betrayed.  Sure, it may sound a little harsh and overly dramatic but when it comes to violence in children’s play the last thing you would think of are Legos. But according to a recent study led by Christopher Bartneck, a robot expert at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury Human Interface Technology Laboratory, Legos are becoming more conflict-oriented and the minifigures featured in the sets are getting considerably more aggressive. I noticed this myself as I began to browse the toy isle for my four-year-old when trying to introduce him to the toy I knew so well as a kid.

It’s been several years since I had played with a Lego set but I had loved the sets as a kid and wanted to share in the enjoyment of building something with my children. Ideally, I would be able to spend quality time with them while engaging their active imagination in an architecturally creative medium. Unfortunately, when carousing the sets on the shelf, I noticed that these are not quite the Legos I remembered from my childhood. Seeing the seething faces staring back at me from the front of the colorful boxes gave me a sneaking suspicion that something was horribly awry in this brick built utopia.

The study had confirmed my suspicion that there was indeed something amiss in Legoland. Bartneck found that since their creation in 1975, Lego minifigures have been gradually leaning toward the angry, more aggressive end of the emotional spectrum. His research included 3,655 figures produced between 1975 and 2010 and considered the range of facial expressions across various Lego sets, most of which today incorporate themes such as Star Wars, comic book heroes and Harry Potter. Bartneck said in his report that, “It is important to study how to create appropriate expressions and how these expressions are perceived by the users. Children’s toys and how they are perceived can have a significant impact on children. We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts on how children play.” Is this more aggressive turn affecting our children at play time?


Life in Legoland used to be so simple with smiling farmers, helpful doctors, cheerful policeman, pleasant fireman, engaging teachers and the occasional brilliantly enthusiastic mechanic that gladly worked on Lego vehicles that might not have the structural integrity you thought they did when you built them. Now, however, life in the little town is much more complex with brooding villains, undead zombies, saddened clowns, venomous demigods and vengefully confident wizards.


Due to this unfortunate development, I find it necessary to monitor what Legos my children play with now… Of all things, I thought that Legos would remain untainted by a harmful influence. The report went on to say that, “there were risks involved in exposing children to a variety of emotions, with small fans likely to remember the anger and fear in their figurines’ faces, as well as their happier moments.” Are we exposing our children to unnecessary emotional conflict with these figures? Bartneck writes, “The children that grow up with Lego today will remember not only smileys, but also anger and fear in the Minifigures’ faces.”

It may seem as though I am overreacting to something as minute as a child’s toy however, I see this trend as another brick in a wall of corruption attempting to surround and separate us from our most precious gifts from God. As parents, we have to actively guard our children against the sinister forces out to control their childhood development. Engage in what your kids are doing and do not take for granted that some things are natively going to be safe for their environment. As this study shows, you now have to be aware of Legos.

Review the Study


Legacy of a Father: Grounded in Truth


Buy truth, and do not sell it,
Get wisdom and instruction and understanding.
Proverbs 23:23

Gone are the days of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. Now we have an established archetype of fatherhood in Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and a host of other buffoon fathers that lace our TV viewing during the prime time hour. The traditional family has been replaced by the world’s definition of a Modern Family and unfortunately it’s not getting any better. However bad it currently may be, there are a couple of examples like Phil and Willie Robertson that make it through today’s modern TV convulsion. But what makes the Robertson family so different from the other families on TV?

In an interview with the Christian Post in April, Phil said, “Fame is rather fleeting, as you know, or should know… Money can come and go, and fame comes and goes. Peace of mind and a relationship with God is far more important, so this is the precedent that we’ve set in our lives. The bottom line is, we all die, so Jesus is the answer.” He credits all of his family’s success to their faith in Jesus Christ and their devotion to living a Christian lifestyle.


Phil then went on to say that, “I told Miss Kay we need to make sure our children don’t turn out like I turned out. So they were raised up around biblical instruction. That mixed with discipline – the discipline code, I call it. They just had a lifestyle of seeing their parents do good things. I think maybe me loving their mother and me loving my neighbors around me had a profound impact on them. And what came out of that was four sons who are all married to their original wives. And they’re acting godly and I think Miss Kay and I had a hand in that.”

Starting a Legacy, grounded in Truth

Phil and I may differ on some aspects of theology and worship style but one thing we can both agree on is where to start a lasting legacy as a father, in the Word of God. First and foremost we need to understand that our kids are not ours – they are on loan to us from God. They are gifts of His grace, undeserved and unmerited.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of themPsalm 127:3-5

The only Person who can love my children more than I can is God. And in order to be a good steward of the rewards he has given me, I need to consult His Word to raise them. You may have heard this verse many times, Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. This is your legacy as a father. It is your responsibility to know and teach them about the Word of God. Put Jesus Christ first and everything else will fall into place.

When my wife and I found out that we were pregnant with our son, I panicked. I had always wanted to be a father but now it was coming to fruition and I felt entirely unprepared. I had been saved many years earlier but had let my faith in Christ linger in a state of negligence. My only recourse was to begin studying the Word and renew my faith in Jesus, learning from God what it meant to be a father.

The Shema (The Greatest Commandment)

The complete Shema, located in Deuteronomy chapter 6, is the central prayer in the Jewish prayerbook, called the Siddur. It is often the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns and is considered to be the first and greatest commandment in the Bible.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  – Deuteronomy 6:4-9

If it sounds familiar, Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy more than any other book in the Old Testament. He mentions the Shema as the greatest commandment in Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:35-40. So there must be something to this…

Verses 4-6 as it applies to a father: There needs to be an understanding that there is only one God whom we are to serve. He is a Being that is infinitely and eternally perfect, self-existent and self-sufficient. “The Lord our God is one LORD” the compound unity. The Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one Lord, one God, yet the compound unity, the three persons of the one God. And verse 5 is just as important as verse 4. First and foremost as a father, you are to submit yourself to Him with all that you are. You have to be grounded in the Truth of His Word, writing it on your heart (verse 6), before you can teach your children.

Does that sound like a daunting task? It’s not. That is the beauty of the Gospel… you do not have to know everything about the Bible, that will come in time. But you do have to have a saving faith in Jesus Christ and understand who He is and what He has done for you and your family by sacrificing Himself as a propitiation for your sin.

Verses 7-9 as it applies to a father: Once you have decided to get closer to God by studying His Word, teach it to your children and apply it to every part of your family’s life.

When you wake up in the morning, talk to them about what the Lord has in store for them that day. If at all possible, pray with them before their day begins.

When you are walking beside them throughout the day, talk about God and encourage them to ask questions. They may ask you something you don’t know… that’s OK don’t panic… that would be an excellent opportunity to search the Scriptures together in order to find the answer. Don’t forget to ask their opinion – you might find some insight from what they have to say.

When you sit down at the table for dinner, ask what God has done in their life that day, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s a life lesson. Make a quick mental note – As a father, we have a tendency to try and fix everything. Sometimes listening to what they say is all that is needed. This is probably just as much for me to remember as anyone…

When you go to lie them down at night, talk to them about God, pray with them and read stories from Scripture. Some of the most amazing moments happen right before bed.

Diligence is the greatest tool in your toolbox for these situations. Never allow a day to go by without incorporating God into their lives. Keep up the good work – this is a rewarding responsibility. Surrounding them with Scripture will also help keep everyone focused and that is precisely the point behind verses 8-9.


A recent survey by UK parenting website Netmums found that 93% of parents agree that the portrayal of fathers in the media do not reflect what is contributed to families in real life. Nearly half (46%) said books, advertisements and TV shows like The Simpsons could make children believe that fathers are “useless.” Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, said that, “Good dads have never been more needed by their families. So it seems perverse we are telling men to step up and be involved, while running them down in the media.” She added, “Academic studies show children with involved fathers do far better at school, have a much lower chance of getting involved in crime and have better mental health, so we should be celebrating and encouraging what dads do well.” Some 88% of fathers in the survey insist that they are trying to be a better father than their father was to them.


I won’t lie, this is a large responsibility but it is extremely rewarding and absolutely necessary in today’s society. As a father, you are the role model for your children. You are the example of a man for your son. You are the example of a husband for your daughter. You are also going to be the example of a Christian. Will you fail – absolutely! Your children also need to see that you are human. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and they need to see that in you.

Is it too late to begin your legacy? Even if your children are grown, it is never too late. Make the decision to seriously engage in God’s plan for you and your family. Study the Word of God and begin to lead by example. Going back to Phil Robertson, Phil is completely candid about how terrible he was as a father before he became a new man in Jesus Christ. He is now happy, happy, happy and it’s all because of Jesus.

It is never too late to begin building a legacy that will last. Our generation desperately needs fathers who will stand for Christ. Take time this Father’s Day to repent and turn back to God. Your children will thank you, their families will thank you and the legacy will continue for years to come.

19 For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice… – Genesis 18:19

Following Your Heart


Sometimes I will take a minute, veg out and listen to a classic rock station on the way to work in the morning. This morning I was taken back to the grand old days of 1989 with a song by the Swedish pop duo Roxette, “Listen to Your Heart.” I listened for a minute, reminiscing about my life in 1989, thinking about how much has changed since then, but then I stopped and thought – this is incredibly bad advice…

How often are we told through songs, books, self-help motivational gurus, talk shows, fluff news pieces, cartoons, lectures and other sources that all we need to do is listen and follow our heart? If it feels right, it must be right – just do it. Steve Jobs famously said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” The great theologian Oprah Winfrey (and of course I say this in jest) also said something similar, “Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself.” Those statements from icons of our modern world encapsulate what secular sources try to tell us about finding the direction in our lives. Your heart and instincts will lead the way.  And there are those out there that will follow this advice, wholly committed to this philosophy…

I wanted to take just a minute and do a search for “following your heart” on the internet  to see what I would find… What I found absolutely amazed me. I actually found a site (WikiHow) that gives step by step instructions on how to follow your heart and in five easy steps no less…

According to WikiHow, here are the steps to following your heart:

Step 1 – Do what you want to do, not what other people think you should do.
Listen to yourself and don’t pay attention to anyone else’s opinion (unless they’re positive)

Step 2 – Listen to your conscience.
Part of following your heart, (assuming that your not an evil person) is doing what is right, and what feels right. Your conscience will most likely tell you this.

Step 3 – Ignore criticism, never respond to it.
Halle Berry quoted her mother when she won a Razzie Award for Catwoman after she won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, “If you can’t take criticism, you will never be worthy of praise.” So don’t pay attention to anything negative anyone else has to say.

Step 4 – Don’t be afraid to stand out.
Most likely, you may not be following the same path that other people will, but that’s okay.

Step 5 – Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.

This information may sound OK, seeming somewhat logical, but it is all focused on ourselves and our emotions. Are our emotions bad? Absolutely not. God Himself is presented in Scripture as a deeply emotional Being with intense feelings. However, emotions cannot be our spiritually driving force. Our feelings are fleeting and are grounded in circumstance. One minute we can be in a good mood, driving down the road praising God while listening to our favorite worship song on the radio. BOOM! The next minute we are a road raging fire-breathing dragon, cursing and lambasting the imbecile that just cut us off in traffic!


We’ve all been there. It isn’t limited to just driving, someone may have said something to you snidely on Facebook, or left you out of a fun event where everyone had a great time, or treated you very rudely while taking your order at Starbucks. We can get riled by anything. Have you ever had moments where you sit and stew on whatever it was that got you perturbed – thinking about it constantly – letting it consume every ounce of your being. It can seriously ruin the rest of your day. Would it be wise though to make potential life altering decisions engulfed in this emotional disarray? The obvious answer is no… Yet we still do it – not thinking twice about it.

What does the Bible say about following your heart?

The Bible has much to say about the heart… In Jeremiah 17:9 it says that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked.” In Numbers 15:39, God specifically instructs His people to “not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined.

Solomon, the wisest man to have ever lived, said in Ecclesiastes 11:9, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.” He is basically saying that you may live it up now, following your own heartfelt desires but God will soon hold you accountable for living this way. This is a very dangerous way to live…

But God gives us the desires of our heart… right?

If God gives us the desires of our heart, then I should be able to follow my heart… right? This idea comes from Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” So theoretically, if He gives me the desires of my heart, then I should be able to follow my heart, cased closed. Unfortunately, the problem with that statement is that it lacks the corresponding logic surrounding the verse in Psalm 37. Here is the complete concept in full context from chapter 37:

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.

First, you have to be trusting in the Lord, feeding on His faithfulness and have joy in Him. Then in verse 5 it says that your way needs to be committed to the Him, trusting Him to bring the desire He gives you to fruition. It is His will and plan for your life that you need to be seeking. Yes, He will give you the desires of your heart but if you are trusting in Him, He will bring things about according to His plan and purpose.

I would like to make my own series of steps that reflect the proper Biblical procedure, if I may…

Step 1 – Have Faith, Trust and Joy in the Lord

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. Psalm 3:5
  • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5
  • My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 2-4

Step 2 – Follow His Lead

  • In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Psalm 3:6
  • Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Step 3 – Do what He calls you to do and watch what He does with your life

  • For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
  • Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ Philippians 1:6
  • For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Step 4 – Thank Him

  • The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. Psalm 28:7
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Philippians 4:6
  • And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Step 5 – Repeat steps 1-4

  • But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.
    2 Thessalonians 3:3-5


In 1872, Henry Varley, a British revivalist, once said at an early morning meeting in Ireland that, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to God’s will.” At the meeting that day was a man that would decide to heed these words and commit himself wholly to God. That man was Dwight Lyman Moody. Moody thought to himself, “He said a man; he did not say a great man, nor a learned man, nor a smart man, but simply a man. I am a man, and it lies with the man himself whether he will or will not make that entire and full consecration. I will try my utmost to be that man.”  The rest is history. In spite of his human frailties and lack of a formal education, God honored him with an amazing ministry that is still relevant today.

If you are truly delighting in Him, trusting in Him, committing your way to Him, and waiting on Him, yes, He will give you the desires of your heart. But surrender your heart to him and He will lead, Scripture tells us that He will be faithful to do so. The key to the Christian life is trusting and obeying. How true the famous hymn writer was when he penned the words “Trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey” (John H. Sammis). Trusting and obeying… now that is some good advice. Have a blessed day!