A Celebration of Calvin (and Hobbes)

2009 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jean Cauvin, indeed, I share a birthday with him. He is of course better known in the English-speaking world as John Calvin.

There are various events planned in both the physical and virtual world to celebrate this momentous event, which has helped to shape the theological landscape of the western world, and to a large extent the political and social landscape too, for good and ill.

Ben Myers suggests "So why don’t you join in the fun, and read Calvin’s Institutes this year!" He is referring to the generous offer by Princeton Theological Seminary of experiencing daily tidbits from his Institutes of Religion throughout the incoming year, but having studied this document in a Northern Irish Presbyterian theological college, this particular Methodist is probably not going to join in the fun...

My studies did suggest to me, however, that the Calvin of conservative Northern Irish Calvinism, is a gross misrepresentation. His emphasis on the sovereign grace of God does not come across as the act of a capricious deity appointing an elect who are thereafter elevated over other damned and damnable sinners, but the truly amazing and undeserved act of a loving God.

I still have problems with his limited view of the atonement and the fact that his writings about a gracious God, still allowed him to act in a less than gracious way to heretics such as Michael Servetus (ie burning them! Although to be fair to Calvin, first Servetus wasn't too gracious to him in the first place, and second Calvin petitioned for Servetus to be decapitated rather than burned at the stake).

I am also, it should be said, not a huge fan of systematic theology at all. I have always felt that systematic theology is to faith and theology in general, what butterfly collecting and classification is to natural history. The reduction of something beautiful and living to something ordered yet dead. The word Theology literally means "God Words" and systematic theologians try to capture God in words on a printed page (or now, online). They are wonderful exercises in consistent logic. However, when God wanted to tell us what he was like, the words he used were not in a book of closely reasoned logic, but of stories, and ultimately in the Word made flesh. My fear is that ultimately systematic theologians turn the Word made flesh, back into words again. Bind them up closely in a book, because that is more controllable. As such I sometimes feel that systematic theology, of whatever hue or bias often has more to do with human logic than the eternal Logos. Instead of one living word, they offer thousands of multi-syllabic written ones

My suspicions about systematic theologians is probably best summed up by that other Calvin... as drawn by Bill Watterstone... in his attitude to writing in general, as portrayed in the cartoon above (See also here).

Actually, I was surfing the net for info on the Anniversary of John Calvin when I was delighted to encounter this "Theology of Calvin and Hobbes." (See also) To a large extent it falls into exactly the same excessively wordy problems of all systematic theologies, but there are a few more laughs to be had in this than in most of the other "theologies" I have studied.

So I think I might dip in there from time to time over the coming year, rather than the "Institutes" as there is probably more fun to be had careering down a snowy slope on a taboggan with Calvin and Hobbes than there is following the Princeton series... ,
And whether Jean Cauvin would approve I neither know nor care.


whynotsmile said…
How curious. You, a Methodist, share a birthday with John Calvin. I, a Presbyterian (well, originally), share a birthday with John Wesley.

Anyway, I am following the readings from Princetown (well, for now - already 2 days behind), but I think I will also follow the Calvin and Hobbes blog.

I used to have most of their books, but then gave them to a charity shop and slightly wish I hadn't.
I am glad you enjoyed you Calving readings. Actually do you know that here in France, Calvinist do not know "Tulip" Actually first time I heard of it was a year ago when a reformed brother from the US asked me in order to make sure he was in tha right church . Do you know the Five points of Calvin? I answered: Five? he had 5 points?
Perhaps because we read Calvin in French we do not reduce him to five points. And something else we do not call it "limited atonemnt" but "redemption particulier" besides he never used this term in itself. His theology was a theology of "the Grace" and indeed he believed in predestination. How else you understand Rom 8:28-39. Yet he never preached predestination and he only dedicated one chapter to this (A main one, true). It is unfair to remember Calvin as the Theologian of predestination. He is rather the theologian of the Irresistible Grace.
If you take your time to read the English versions of the different reformed churchs in France, you will find we do not really bother with Calvin predestination as our English brothers.
C’est la vie mon ami
The Artisan said…
hmm. calvin and hobbes is so cool agreed? well, if not, my friend MK has a baseball bat waitng for you!

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