In Praise of a 500 Year Old Gift that Keeps on Giving

In Praise of a 500 Year Old Gift that Keeps on Giving – By Brian Borgman

This is the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth (1509). There will be new publications rolling off the press about Calvin. The Reformation 21 Blog will be studying Calvin’s Institutes this year. Such men as Dr. Derek Thomas will be contributing. Take a look.

Why was Calvin so important? Didn’t he hang unwed pregnant women, drown Anabaptists and burn heretics? The answer to each of the above, contrary to Will Durant’s falsehoods, is no. Calvin was at his very core a pastor. He was a preacher of God’s Word and he trained hundreds of others to preach the Word. He was certainly at the eye of many storms of controversy, but anybody who was making a difference in 16th Century Europe was in the midst of controversy. What makes Calvin so important is not that he invented Calvinism. He did not. Paul did. What makes Calvin so important is the profound and yet simple ways he articulated biblical truth. In his Institutes, Calvin systematized the theology of the Reformation. The Institutes are far from dry, dusty scholastic, speculative theology. Calvin brings theology to life in the Institutes. His commentaries, on the majority of the books of the Bible, are way ahead of their time. He surpasses Luther as a Bible expositor. He is in a class by himself. He actually explains the text and applies it, not with the verbosity of the Puritans, but with the brevity and skill of father teaching his children. Their significant contribution is attested by the fact that nearly 500 years after their publication, they are still in print and still referenced by biblical scholars.

This year, pick up the Institutes. The two volume edition by Ford Lewis Battles is the best. But if you only have limited time, there is A New Compend, edited by Hugh Kerr. There should be some good biographies coming out. John Piper has a brief work, John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God, which was just published.

As 21st Century evangelicals, we cannot afford the error of disdaining our history or heritage. Calvin was a gift to the Church, from Christ. Calvin is one of those unique gifts which keep on giving.