Calvin, the Nuanced Scholar and Ecumenical Genius

There is high nuance in Calvin’s language. It is true that he can be quite direct at times. For instance, his sermons on Deuteronomy are highly theocratic. His commentaries–depending on what lenses you use–may bring a different picture. I have been fond of saying that Calvin would not have been accepted in many presbyteries in this country. This is most likely true. Calvin qualified ideas. He elaborated on concepts and avoided narrowing biblical definitions.

As Rich Lusk observes:

Calvin was a highly nuanced theologian. Sometimes, though, these nuances have been lost on his theological descendants. For example, Calvin’s discussion of predestination includes numerous careful qualifications that are intended to short cut philosophical speculation and prevent the doctrine from appearing arbitrary or tyrannical. But many modern followers of Calvin, especially his numerous popularizers, often truncate, and therefore distort, his pastoral, Christ-centered view of election, turning Calvinism into a caricature of its real self. Nowhere is the loss of nuance more evident than in contemporary views of Calvin’s teaching on the sacraments.

Modern Calvinists prefer to stay away from the original sources. I am glad Nevin was courageous enough to engage ad fontes. While Charles Hodge quickly dismissed Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper as mystical, Nevin found great comfort and pastoral usefulness in Calvin. He believed in its centrality in the ministry of the Church and its ultimate importance as an ecumenical means of grace. I agree with Lusk that much of Calvin’s sacramental thoughts occurred at different times, rather than all at once. Every time Calvin was confronted with a new circumstance, he re-visited those topics. This led to incomparable insights into the nature of revelation. Calvin, as Lusk says:

At different points in his career… emphasized different aspects of the sacraments’ usefulness.

Calvin did not believe certain biblical categories could be exhausted upon first glance, but rather that they can be developed and broadened depending on the general circumstance. Calvin believed that no strand of interpretation maximized the Eucharistic theology of the Church. He listened, learned, and modified appropriately.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in John Calvin, Word/Sacrament. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Calvin, the Nuanced Scholar and Ecumenical Genius

  1. john anselmo says:

    should we not keep reforming? traditions are hard to break from uri .calvin, augustine,luther ,we thank God for.but as a reformed baptist i see in scripture the baptising of believers and the Lords table also for repentent believers.

  2. Uri Brito says:

    my point is that calvin kept reforming and so should we…I also see in scripture the baptizing of believers…so we are in agreement.

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