This “New” Calvinist Wants to Know: Calvin, The Theologian Formerly Known as John Calvin, or CLVN?

I don’t know what John Calvin would think of the lay of the land and the battles between Old Calvinists (OC here on out) and New Calvinists (NC here on out), TR (truly reformed) and YRR (young, restless, reformed), and of the Baptists who embrace most of his theology as distilled in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (98% in my case).

From my perspective, the newly Reformed haven’t picked this fight, and if the OC continue to point out that the newly Reformed aren’t truly Reformed, then I doubt Calvin would approve of this adversarial posturing from those who claim to defend his name — or perhaps he would approve. I think Calvin would hate to be called as a witness to adjudicate matters; he’d probably have something to say to all parties that they wouldn’t like to hear. However, the trial is raging in the blogosphere. I’ll spare all the links here — just do a search and you can read it all to your hearts delight. It if pleases the court, I’m the first to concede that Presbyterians and the Continental Reformed best represent the totality of Calvin’s teaching. So, I’m a somewhat aware New Calvinist who knows enough history to grant that all things Reformed have been alive and well, well before Time magazine, PBS, and other media outlets have featured the resurgence of Calvinism among the NC. If it’s a matter of setting the historical record straight, I’m with the OC, for even I point out this history to the NC as a guardrail against ignorance. Reducing Calvinism to TULIP or soteriology, though significant and perhaps even permissible as a primer, falls way short of what I call comprehensive Calvinism. This would consist of adherence to the Institutes in total, as well as an awareness of Calvin’s thinking as seen in his vast record of letters and commentaries. We’re talking ecclesiology, sacramental theology, liturgy, politics, and more. But even here, there are intramural scuffles concerning what exactly Calvin thought about some matters. Sometimes, this radical devotion to Calvin takes on the function of straining at gnats. Some of the debates today concern the validity of Kuyperian applications of Calvinism, the nature of the law and gospel, two kingdom theology, and more. Yes, I know that the warring parties would be the first to ally themselves against us credo-baptists. But even that is changing as some of us credo-baptists appropriate Calvinism in a way that allies ourselves with certain factions in the debates mentioned above.

Anyhow, if I don’t qualify for adoption into the esteemed Calvinist family line of the Reformation, then so be it — my appreciation for Calvin remains all the same. I know that Calvin was much more mission-minded than folks give him credit for. I know that he loved preaching through the Holy Word lectio continua . I know that he loved the sacraments, and, while disagreeing with him on baptism, I happen to share his view of the Lord’s Supper. So, I’ll try my best to emulate those things and also commit to the global spread of the holy, Christian faith. I’m not a comprehensive Calvinist, but a Calvinist nonetheless. I can’t find any other theologian I resonate with more than him.

If I need to preface every reference to Calvin with a disclaimer that I’m not truly Calvinist nor an OC, then here it is for once and for all: I’m not an Old Calvinist (35 is middle-aged) and I’m not a TR. Does that make you feel better? Can we get along? No? Okay, you do your thing, and I’ll do mine. I actually wish you well. You’re right, it’s probably better this way. But just tone down the adversarial tone. No one is picking a fight with you. John Piper is not your enemy. He’s an exegete who was turned on by Edwards as the gateway drug into all things Reformed. Oh, sorry, I forgot you don’t like Edwards either.

By the way, there are other Calvinists whom I love and get along with. Notice that I just said Calvinists without any New/Old adjective. Yes, there’s a third group that’s not Old nor True enough for the blogging magisterium of OC, but clearly not of the young and restless variety — and I tend to like these Calvinists the best. They’re confessional, gracious, and have better things to do than inform NC that they should drop the Calvin reference. They’re busy pastoring like Calvin by pointing people to Jesus. They also happen to annoy the OC more than I. They appropriate the Scriptures through a confessional grid that is catholic, gracious, and endearing.

For the OC and TR, I’ll pay homage by mixing in from time to time a reference to Calvin with a citation, “The theologian formerly known as Calvin once said…” Or is that even too much? Must we New Calvinists omit all the vowels — CLVN? That’s impossible to pronounce of course — just the way you like it. However, I don’t think Calvin would mind. The Reformer was an Augustinian Protestant. I’m a Calvinistic credo-baptist. In spite of some disagreements, I think he’d get it. And if he called me a despised Ana-Baptist, and I objected, I think he’d pour me a glass of his wine and be willing to discuss matters. He’d also find this new, Calvinistic, Baptist concoction rather fascinating. I’ve come to describe myself more as a Reformed/Presbyterian who happens to be a credo-baptist than a Baptist who happens to like a lot of Calvin. The difference might be subtle, I know, but it does help explain my framework a bit more. I’ve actually ministered in a Presbyterian and a Reformed church, but never in a Baptist church, strictly speaking. He’d scratch his head, try his best to convince me that paedo-baptism is a necessary piece of the puzzle within the whole picture, and I’d respectfully disagree. Would Calvin say that his Institutes are an all-or-nothing proposition on the matter of baptism? Maybe — maybe not. I do think he’d shake my hand and maintain friendly correspondence through letter-writing (man, did he write letters). If I’m totally wrong, he can correct me in heaven, but I don’t think that’ll be allowed. Hopefully the OC and TR won’t mind — for that, too, probably won’t be allowed. So, yes, these new young bucs have much to learn about Calvin, especially if they’re identifying themselves with his name. I totally get it. The old bucs have much to teach the young bucs. But the old bucs also have a few things to learn as well — not to be so insecure and condescending. Straining at gnats is so unattractive. If your goal is to maintain a small clique, with near impossible initiation rites, public hazing, and more, then pat yourselves on the back. But I doubt that Calvin would be proud. Honoring Christ’s legacy must trump defending Calvin’s legacy. I commend the confessions to our church body. In fact, I just checked the bookstore the other day and noticed that we’ve sold more Three Forms of Unity than 1689 Baptist Confessions. We also sell material on Calvin and I encourage folks to make the investment of reading his Institutes. I’m not insecure about the areas where we disagree theologically. My understanding of God’s sovereignty and the catholicity of the church allows for an appropriation of Calvin that might depart on several points. But if that unsettles a small segment of Calvin apologists, then you have your disclosure, otherwise I’ll continue to say John Calvin. I’ll continue to claim the Calvinist/Confessional stream of the Reformation and admit that I’m an odd duck because of my views on baptism. There, you have another concession, I’m an odd duck. But I think odd duck Calvinists are allowed, even if relegated to the back of the flock. I’m okay with that — if you’re okay. I promise to know my role and keep my place. Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda.

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© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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3 comments on “This “New” Calvinist Wants to Know: Calvin, The Theologian Formerly Known as John Calvin, or CLVN?
  1. Love it. So true. I don’t know who has suffered worse, Calvin or Luther at the hands of their respective theological Pretorians. I’m thinking the Lutherans might win here.
    I have spent more time with high Lutherans than old calvinists, and while DG Hart may be insufferably cranky, I think many “High” Lutherans wouldn’t even bother to argue new/old as they consider anyone outside themselves to be simply “outside.”
    I went to a Lutheran Seminary of a more generous nature. Though I am a Credobaptist-Presbyterian, and explained to them that “I rode home from Marburg with Zwingli, settled in Geneva, and got wet in display of what Christ has done in me” they still took me.
    So, I think I’d like a seat at that table with you and Jean and that bottle of wine. I’m sure Luther would be more than happy to join us with his stein. And though Hart would probably keep to himself grumbling in the corner, I’m sure Carl Trueman would be happy to contribute his snark English humor to our happy band and keep us all sharp and laughing.

    • Trueman and Hart are both invited. I actually met Hart back in 2001 or so when I was in the process of enrolling at Westminster Escondido. He was on staff there at the time. I visited campus with a Baptist pastor who’s a friend with him and we were able to have a pleasant conversation for a good half hour or so. He was a gentleman. He knew I was a wide-eyed, young buc and didn’t point it out.

      As for Lutherans, yes, you’re right. Need I say more than Wisconsin Synod? 😉

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