A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance
In Theology Made Practical, Joel R. Beeke, David W. Hall, and Michael A. G. Haykin declare the significance of John Calvin’s life and ideas—particularly his contributions to systematic theology, pastoral theology, and political theology—as well as the influence he had on others through the centuries. With focused studies related to the Trinity, predestination, the Holy Spirit, justification, preaching, missions, principles of government, welfare, and marriage, this book demonstrates how Calvin’s thought has been, and still is, a dynamic wellspring of fruitfulness for numerous areas of the Christian life. More than 450 years since Calvin experienced the beatific vision, his thinking about God and His Word still possesses what our culture passionately longs for—true relevancy.
Tom Nettles says about this book:
In every generation, including his own, John Calvin had agitatedly committed detractors. They desired to render his influence of no effect and his person deeply suspect. Those persons now are largely footnotes in books about Calvin. Why? This book demonstrates that answer clearly. The authors diversity of chapters illustrates that Calvin remains irreducibly seminal for the development of Western culture from the time of the Reformation and beyond. His experience of God and His grace, his mind and heart captive to divine revelation in Scripture, his commitment to apply clearly and succinctly the sovereignty of God and truth over all patterns of thought these mark him out as a Christian thinker whose influence endures in every generation and who always has much to say about most things important for Christian living. You will see that conviction profoundly and sweetly foundational to the variety of Calviniana in this book.
Writing in either 1777 or 1778 in a yet-unpublished manuscript, the English Baptist author Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) referred to John Calvin (1509–1564) as “that morning star of the Reformation.”1 While not every author who has written on Calvin since Fuller would describe the Reformer in like terms, there is no doubt that anyone who has written about the Reformation since Fuller’s day has recognized the preeminent role Calvin played in sixteenth-century life and thought. Even in Calvin’s own day his preeminence was recognized, as the Lutheran theologian Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) bore witness when he dubbed Calvin “the theologian.”2 The essays in this book, some of them initially written for the quincentennial of the Reformer’s birth in 2009, are being published with this recognition in mind.
By outlining the early life of Calvin prior to his going to Geneva in 1536, the first essay by Michael Haykin sets the stage for the various analyses of Calvin’s thought that follow. Haykin especially highlights the conversion of Calvin, for, contrary to the thinking of some recent Reformed historians and theologians, conversion was a critical concept for the Reformers, Calvin included. Calvin’s first round of ministry in Geneva, beginning in 1536, ended two years later when he and his coworker Guillaume Farel were expelled from the city and Calvin made his way to Strasbourg. There, he married Idelette de Bure and in her found a helper—to use the biblical phrase from Genesis 2—who became vital to his second round of ministry back at Geneva in the 1540s. Idelette would die in 1549 before seeing the triumph of much of Calvin’s visionary agenda for the Reformation in Geneva in the late 1550s and early 1560s. But her married life with Calvin is nonetheless important for any reflection on Calvin’s life and thought. Joel Beeke in the next essay helpfully points out various lessons we can learn from the life and death of Idelette.
In the second section of this book are four essays that deal with Calvin’s theology. First, there is a chapter on Calvin’s Trinitarianism by Michael Haykin. It is often said that Calvin’s theology, as it first appeared in his first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), did not essentially change. Yet this is not exactly true if we look at his thoughts about the Trinity. Calvin was initially loath to use the terminology of classical Trinitarian thought that had been hammered out in the Arian crisis of the fourth century. After confronting errors regarding the persons of the Godhead later in his ministry, Calvin saw the wisdom of using the Trinitarian grammar of the ancient church. The next three essays deal with critical areas of Calvin’s thought: two by Joel Beeke that treat respectively Calvin’s doctrine of election and reprobation and his perspective on the Holy Spirit, and one by David Hall that considers Calvin on justification. In the essay on election and predestination, Beeke shows that Calvin’s “theocentric causality” in saving and condemning sinners does not undermine human responsibility. After considering Beeke’s next essay, it should be clear to the reader that Calvin rightly merits the title “the theologian of the Holy Spirit” bestowed on him by the Presbyterian theologian B. B. Warfield. Here Beeke looks at the extensive writing Calvin did on the Spirit’s work in relationship to the Scriptures, union with Christ, faith, salvation and sanctification, as well as assurance of salvation and the charismata. In his essay on Calvin’s theology, David Hall first summarizes Calvin’s understanding of the nature of justification—it is both being “reckoned righteous in God’s judgment” and “accepted on account of his [that is, Christ’s] righteousness.” For Calvin, justification always led to sanctification, and thus Hall investigates how this theological concept impacted Calvin’s thinking on various theological loci such as Christian liberty, prayer, the church and the state, and the last things.
Part 3 of this volume looks at five areas of Calvin’s pastoral and political theology. For all the Reformers, the preaching of the Scriptures was a key mark of a true church. Calvin himself stated, “Whenever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”3 The Reformation, coming as it did hard on the heels of the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, turned back to the biblical emphasis on words, both preached and written, as the primary vehicle for cultivating faith and spirituality. Preaching was thus central for Calvin in arousing and perfecting faith, as Joel Beeke shows in the first essay in this section. The centrality of the pulpit for Calvin is well recognized, but not his commitment to the missionary endeavor given by Christ to the church. The essay by Michael Haykin seeks to rectify this lacuna by looking at Calvin’s thought about and actual involvement in missions.
It has been argued that if Calvin had not lived, the political shape of the West would be quite different. David Hall’s essay on Calvin’s political thought endorses this idea, for, as he notes at the beginning of his paper, “seldom have so few words [as those of Calvin on politics in his Institutes] had such political impact.” Hall shows that Calvin did not regard politics as a necessary evil, but as an area in which human beings can nobly serve their Creator. The Reformation critique of the medieval view that alms-giving was a virtue that earned merit in the sight of a holy God meant that the Reformers had to approach the issue of poverty through a different avenue. The Genevan church did so through the Bourse Francaise, a diaconal ministry, which David Hall discusses in his essay “Calvin on Welfare.” The care of the poor was so important to Calvin that he once remarked, “Do we want to show that there is reformation among us? We must begin at this point, that is, there must be pastors who bear purely the doctrine of salvation, and then deacons who have the care of the poor.”4 The final paper in this section, by Michael Haykin, looks at Calvin’s thinking about marriage. Like his political theology, Calvin’s views on marriage helped to lay the groundwork for marriage in Western Protestantism that has persisted as a major cultural determinant down to the 1960s.
The final set of essays in part 4 looks at Calvin’s legacy. Obviously an entire volume could be written on this subject; therefore, these three essays look at representative areas of impact: in the lives of Calvin’s sixteenth century friends (David Hall); in those who have been called Calvinists, most notably the Puritans of the seventeenth century (Joel Beeke); and in the reviving of Calvin’s theological descendants, the Calvinistic Baptists, in the long eighteenth century (Michael Haykin).
- Andrew Fuller, “Thoughts on the Power of Men to Do the Will of God” (unpublished ms., 1777/1778), James P. Boyce Centennial Library archives, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., 3.
- As quoted in I. John Hesselink, “Calvin’s Theology,” in Donald K. McKim, ed., The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 74.
- As quoted in Sam Chan, Preaching as the Word of God: Answering an Old Question with Speech-Act Theory (Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications, 2016), 71.
- As quoted in Elsie A. McKee, John Calvin on the Diaconate and Liturgical Almsgiving (Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1984), 184.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Calvin’s Biography
1. The Young Calvin: Preparation for a Life of Ministry (Michael A. G. Haykin)
2. Practical Lessons from the Life of Idelette Calvin (Joel R. Beeke)
Part 2: Calvin’s Systematic Theology
3. “Uttering the Praises of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit”: John Calvin on the Divine Triunity (Michael A. G. Haykin)
4. Calvin on Similarities and Differences of Election and Reprobation (Joel R. Beeke)
5. Calvin on the Holy Spirit (Joel R. Beeke)
6. Explicit and Implicit Appendixes to Calvin’s View of Justification by Faith (David W. Hall)
Part 3: Calvin’s Pastoral and Political Theology
7. Calvin’s Experiential Preaching (Joel R. Beeke)
8. “A Sacrifice Well Pleasing to God”: John Calvin and the Missionary Endeavor of the Church (Michael A. G. Haykin)
9. Calvin on Principles of Government (David W. Hall)
10. Calvin on Welfare: Diaconal Ministry in Geneva and Beyond (David W. Hall)
11. Christian Marriage in the Twenty-First Century: Listening to Calvin on the Purpose of Marriage (Michael A. G. Haykin)
Part 4: Calvin’s Legacy
12. Calvin’s Circle of Friends: Propelling an Enduring Movement (David W. Hall)
13. Calvin as a Calvinist (Joel R. Beeke)
14. Calvinism and Revival (Michael A. G. Haykin)
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Theology Made Practical: New Studies on John Calvin and His Legacy