Monday, March 19, 2007

Calvin and Scripture

Institutes 3.1-3.3 (John Calvin)

John Calvin saturates his theology in Scripture. With a number of biblical references for each systematic point he makes, averaging generally five per section, Calvin seeks to derive his theology from the Bible. He seems to back up everything he says with a text within its context.

In discussing the cleansing of sin in regard to guilt, Calvin exclaims, “How can we express our view more plainly than Paul does in Rom. 7:6?” (Institutes 3.3.11). His writing drips with allusions to Scripture even when not directly quoting it. “We expect salvation from him, not because he stands aloof from us, but because ingrafting us into his body he not only makes us partakers of all his benefits, but also of himself” (3.2.24).

Calvin has a very high view of the Bible: “So long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather it will have no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word within is sacred, inviolable truth” (3.2.6).

In his systematic delineation of faith, the Word, and repentance, Calvin uses heavy doses of Biblical verse as his authoritative source and corroborates his points with writings of such stature as Bernard of Clairvaux, Ambrose, Augustine, even Plato. However, when it comes to disagreement, Calvin honors the Bible’s authority even over his theological antecedent Augustine (3.3.10-12).

Calvin also submits to Scripture to counter those with whom he disagrees, viz., the Pelagians, the Novatians, the Schoolmen, the Anabaptists, and Staphylus among them. For example Calvin calls the latter “an impure raver and apostate” who charged Calvin with commingling the realities of this life with the one to come, “when after Paul, [Calvin counters,] I make the image of God to consist in righteousness and true holiness” (3.3.9). In regard to the Schoolmen, Calvin loses his patience after some exposition, “It is unnecessary to go farther in refuting their definition, than simply to state the nature of faith as declared in the word of God” (3.2.8).

He can, however, be criticized in a few areas. In 3.2.11, Calvin presses his doctrine of temporary faith of the reprobate and the exclusivity of the foreordained with no Biblical reference save an allusion to Romans 8 in Abba, Father. In his most controversial doctrine involving predestination, Calvin puts forth his theology without Scriptural backing, stating that the “reprobate” may participate and even taste the heavenly gifts, but their foreordination is void, their seeming principle of faith common to the elect believers is actually nothing but hypocrisy.

Calvin, without Biblical support says, “He gives them only a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere to the very end” (3.2.11). This Calvinist view provides no assurance of salvation and bolsters the doctrine of falling from grace, for how can one know if s/he is genuinely elect or reprobate in the end? Could one’s religious affections be in fact only a “present mercy” not extended eternally to her/him because s/he has not been pre-selected for this somehow secret society for the elect? Later, while Calvin assaults the Pelagians and papists, he seems to contradict himself in the area of works righteousness by explaining John 8:31-2 thus, “He is addressing those who had embraced his doctrine, and urging them to progress in the faith, lest by their sluggishness they extinguish the light which they have received.”

Institutes 3.1-3.3 (John Calvin)

Chapter One: The Benefits of Christ through the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit and his work of sanctification (1-2)
The Holy Spirit’s names (3)
The Holy Spirit’s power (4)

Chapter Two: Faith’s definition and character
Faith is defined (1)
Faith is misunderstood by Schoolmen (2)
Faith is knowledge of Christ (3)
Faith is implicit in this life (4-5)
Faith is inseparable from the word (6-7)
Faith is not mindless (8)
Faith is connected with love (9)
Faith is not attributed to the reprobate (10-12)
Faith is sound doctrine (13)
Faith is defined again separately (14-16)
Faith is not trust in self (17)
Faith is found in both delight of glory and bitterness of sin (18-20)
Faith is built on the word of God (21)
Faith is fear and trembling (22-23)
Faith is not “pestilent philosophy” (24)
Faith is fear of the Lord (25-27)
Faith is divine favor (28)
Faith is a free promise in Christ (29-32)
Faith is for the elect (33-34)
Faith is from the Holy Spirit to the heart (35-37)
Faith is not up for debate (38-40)
Faith is built on truth and hope in Christ (41-43)

Chapter 3: Faith and Repentance
Faith brings repentance, not vice-versa (1-2)
Mortification and quickening (3)
Legal and evangelical repentance (4)
Repentance defined from Scripture (5)
Definition of repentance explained (6-9)
Repentance delivers and cleanses us (10-12)
Repentance from church fathers (13)
Repentance misunderstood by the Anabaptists (14)
Causes/effects of repentance (15)
Fruits of repentance (16)
The gift of repentance (17-21)
False repentance of the reprobate (22-25)