Was John Calvin a Brutal Persecutor Against Freedom? The Pighius and Servetus Controversies

John Calvin can come across as a severe person because of his austere lifestyle and his zeal in defending doctrine and promoting discipline and godliness in church. Calvin literally worked himself to death. Calvin with his serious demeanor could never match the charms of Luther with his wit and gaiety. However, it is slanderous when his adversaries portrayed him as the cold, calculating and brutal tyrant of Geneva. It is hoped that the following cameos taken from Calvin’s life would dispel the mischievous charges of his adversaries.

1) In reality Calvin was a meek and shy person who only wanted to live as a quiet and obscure scholar. He reluctantly joined the Reformation only after he was ‘blackmailed’ by William Farel who threatened him with a curse. When Farel found out that Calvin was planning to go to Strasbourg to study in privacy in some obscure place, Continue reading “Was John Calvin a Brutal Persecutor Against Freedom? The Pighius and Servetus Controversies”

John Calvin’s Social Theology in Context. Part 1/4

John Calvin Speaking at the Council of Geneva 1549

A Maligned Social Reformer
John Calvin’s theology was forged in the cauldron of social conflict. Although Calvin as an exile in Geneva would have cherished his new found freedom from the tyranny of the king of France and from deadly attacks launched by militant Catholics, no one can downplay the trauma of his social dislocation after fleeing from France. For Calvin, theological reflection in exile became a desperate intellectual mechanism to secure a sense of harmony and well-being for one who was now a stranger in a strange land. Calvin’s plight was exacerbated by the fact that Geneva, his new ‘home,’ was a city of contentious factions competing for power as the city groped for ways to maintain order and security after breaking away from the Duke of Savoy in 1535. One may say that for both Calvin as an alienated exile and for the Genevans, finding the right balance between their precious freedom and preserving their precarious social order assumed an existential intensity.

Calvin had to contend with Genevan citizens who jealously guarded their newfound freedom (the Libertines) and resolutely rejected any semblance of social regulation which they regarded as a regress to the old oppressive order. He forcefully opposed the Anabaptists to prevent irresponsible libertarianism which would result in lawlessness and endless disputes. Finally, Calvin had running battles with the civil authorities of Geneva – the elected Council and its liaison committee working with the pastors (the Consistory) – to limit the jurisdiction of civil authorities in the ordering of church life. Continue reading “John Calvin’s Social Theology in Context. Part 1/4”

Evangelical Essentials: Correcting Ill-Informed Muslim Activists and Fitnah Against Christians

Many social critics have ridiculed Azril Mohd Amin, CEO of CENTHRA for his ignorance when he called for Evangelicalism to be outlawed in Malaysia [Outlaw Evangelicalism in Malaysia, says Islamic Coalition]. Some even questioned whether Azril is intellectually competent to address the issue when he confuses and conflates such elementary terms like “Evangelism” and “Evangelicalism”.

“Evangelism” refers simply to the sharing of good news that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) In contrast, “Evangelicalism” refers to the trans-denominational global movement which emphasizes the divine inspiration of the Bible with its central message of Christ work of atonement on the cross, and the necessity of experience of conversion.

In any case, the ignorance displayed by Azril is easily remedied by giving a concise history of Evangelicalism which includes many distinguished thinkers and social reformers. Continue reading “Evangelical Essentials: Correcting Ill-Informed Muslim Activists and Fitnah Against Christians”

On being a Reformed, Pauline and Narrative Theologian.

Related Post: Short Comment on N.T. Wright’s Narrative Model

Two false dichotomies:
1) “Pauline” versus “Reformed”
It has been convenient for some New Perspective on Paul (NPP) scholars to pose a false dichotomy between being “Pauline” and being “Reformed”. This dichotomy is misleading because it refuses to acknowledge that Reformed theologians, as children of Martin Luther and John Calvin, are imbue with a profound desire is to think Paul’s thoughts after him when they insist that justification by faith alone and union with Christ is the central and teaching of Pauline soteriology (regardless of whether their critics agree with their theological insight). Likewise, the Reformed critique of NPP arises from a deep concern to uphold the integrity and coherence of Pauline soteriology.

2) “Narrative reading of Scripture” versus “Doctrinal, thematic reading of Scripture.”
N.T. Wright criticizes conservative scholars for formulating doctrines without grounding them on the “biblical story” of God’s advancing kingdom that results in human liberation and final completion of creation because of Christus Victor. Continue reading “On being a Reformed, Pauline and Narrative Theologian.”

Thomas Schreiner’s Critique of N.T. Wright’s View of Justification – Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 7

NPP Reading No. 4
Excerpts taken from: Thomas Schreiner, Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught…and Why it Still Matters (Zondervan, 2015)

Problems with Wright’s View of Justification
[244] I see three false polarities in Wright’s thought. First, he wrongly says that justification is primarily about ecclesiology instead of soteriology. Second, he often introduces a false polarity when referring to the mission of Israel by saying that Israel’s fundamental problem was its failure to bless the world whereas Paul focuses on Israel’s inherent sinfulness. Third, he insists that justification is a declaration of God’s righteousness but does not include the imputation of God’s righteousness.

Ecclesiology or Soteriology?
[244] Let’s begin with the first point of discussion, which fits with the idea that justification is more about the church than the individual. Wright mistakenly claims that justification is fundamentally about ecclesiology instead of soteriology. Let’s hear it in his own words, “Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian.” And, “What Paul means by justification, in this context, should therefore be clear. It is not ‘how you become a Christian,’ as much as ‘how you can tell who is a member of the covenant family.’”

[245] Justification has to do with whether one is right before God, whether one is acquitted or condemned, whether one is pardoned or found guilty, and that is a soteriological matter. Continue reading “Thomas Schreiner’s Critique of N.T. Wright’s View of Justification – Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 7”

NPP – Regensburg (1541) Redux? Reformation Forensic Justification vs Transformative Justification: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 6

In 1541, the Emperor Charles V convened a theological conference at Regensburg (also known as Ratisbon) bringing together the top Catholic theologians Johann Eck and Albertus Pighius to meet with some of the greatest theologians of the Reformation at that time, Philip Melanchthon and Martin Bucer (John Calvin was there merely to keep a watching brief). The Emperor hoped that resolving the doctrinal conflict between the Roman Catholics and the Reformers would bring unity to the empire.

The theologians quickly reached agreement on the issue of original sin and Pelagianism. The Roman Catholics made unexpected large concessions in their debate on the doctrine of justification. The conference eventually issued a statement on the subject of justification by faith which even acknowledged that it is by faith we “are justified (i.e. accepted and reconciled to God) inasmuch as it appropriates the mercy and righteousness which is imputed to us on account of Christ and his merit, not on account of the worthiness or perfection of the righteousness imparted [communicatae] to us in Christ… Although the one who is justified receives righteousness and through Christ also has inherent [righteousness]…nevertheless, the faithful soul depends not on this, but only on the righteousness of Christ given to us as a gift, without which there is and can be no righteousness at all. And so by faith in Christ we are justified or reckoned to be righteous, that is we are accepted through his merits and not on account of our own worthiness or works.” [Anthony Lane, “Appendix I: The Regensburg Agreement (1541), Article 5” in Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment (T&T Clark, 2002), p. 235.]

However, Article 5.4 requires a closer examination: Continue reading “NPP – Regensburg (1541) Redux? Reformation Forensic Justification vs Transformative Justification: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 6”

Justification and Union With Christ – A Via Media Between Abstract Forensic and Transformative Justification. Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 5.

Justification and Union With Christ – A Via Media Between Abstract Forensic and Transformative Justification

It has been suggested that Reformed theologians defending forensic justification and imputation of Christ righteousness have misread, if not misrepresented the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) as a serious threat to the Reformation. This must surely be a wild exaggeration to suggest that Reformed theologians who have been debating the issue with the best of the Roman Catholic theologians for 500 years would feel insecure and threatened by NPP, the new kid on the block? In any event, Reformed scholars have often risen to the defence of “forensic justification and imputation of righteousness” not because it is ‘The Centre’ of Paul’s theology, but simply because this aspect of justification has been directly challenged by various theological movements throughout history which include Roman Catholicism, Socinianism and more recently, NPP.

Admittedly, it is possible for the heirs of the Reformation to over-react to these challenges. Thus some of the more extreme scholars of Lutheran scholasticism not only ascribe justification as the absolute central tenet of faith, but uphold justification to be above Christology. One wonders whether in the process, justification has become an abstract event detached from Christ. Continue reading “Justification and Union With Christ – A Via Media Between Abstract Forensic and Transformative Justification. Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 5.”

Calvin-Reformed Tradition Is Inappropriate Today; It Also Lacks Humility & Grace?

In response to some concerns expressed by a reader:
Calvin’s system is inappropriate as a model for engagement with contemporary postmodernism.
– The “liberty” and grace you mention sometimes to me is not apparent when speaking to those of the Reformed persuasion.


First, the 22 volumes (22,224 pages) of Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible and Calvin’s multi-volumes sermons show that that Calvin is more a bible scholar and preacher than a builder of a rigid theological system. Not surprisingly, Calvin’s Institutes is replete with scriptural references. Calvin was a man of his times. It would be ridiculous to uphold him as someone who has ready answers for Christians who are grappling with different questions in different social contexts.

Calvin’s insights may be appropriated for our times only insofar as they are in congruence with the teachings of the Bible. For example, even though the arguments given by Calvinists to support paedobaptism may be admirable, I remained unconvinced on grounds that its exegetical support is insufficient.  In any case, Calvin would approve of Christians who insist that his teaching should be judged by its fidelity to Scripture.

Second, Calvin was not the rationalist that he is made out to be, by both his over-zealous followers and critics. Continue reading “Calvin-Reformed Tradition Is Inappropriate Today; It Also Lacks Humility & Grace?”

Calvinism Beyond 5-Points – Its Surpassing Vision of God’s Glory

By God’s grace and for his glory –  let every Calvinist be a God-intoxicated Christian!

A good friend posed this question to my earlier post, “SUPER” & “TULIP”CALVINISM: A Joyful Vision of God’s Supremacy and Sovereignty: “But have you succeeded in providing an “accurate and fair summary of Calvinism”? Have you not merely produced an adaptation of the 17th Century reply to the Remonstrants, however crucial that may be?”

Pardon me if I get a bit carried away and wax poetic in my response: How not to, when one meditates on the glory of God with the heart and mind of Calvin and his distinguished followers like Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield?

Anyone one who has the slightest acquaintance with Calvin’s thought and its theological elaboration in the writings of Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield would know that Calvinism offers a most comprehensive and intoxicating vision of God’s  glory and love in the world. This is what the last paragraph of my earlier post, “SUPER” & “TULIP”CALVINISM: A Joyful Vision of God’s Supremacy and Sovereignty points to. Was it not Abraham Kuyper who declares that for the Calvinist? – “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of my personal devotions and churchgoing over which Christ does not cry: mine!”

It would be an impoverishment of Christian faith if Calvinism is reduced to only 5-points. Calvinism is a whole way of life set before the glorious presence and lordship of God. Continue reading “Calvinism Beyond 5-Points – Its Surpassing Vision of God’s Glory”

Calvin: From Academic to Integrated Theologian

Wrenched from the Academic Path
John Calvin as an academic animal would rather spend his time quietly in a library. Naturally, he declined an offer to teach and minister at Geneva in 1536. It was clear to him that hard days lie ahead for anyone seeking to teach and reform a city that was recalcitrant in its moral waywardness and rebellious towards teaching authority.

One night in that unruly city of Geneva was enough. Time for Calvin to pack and proceed to Strasbourg to pursue his academic dreams and ambitions. Alas, his departure was blocked by William Farel who thundered at the young scholar:

Farel waxed eloquent as he described the miraculous work of God in the city of Geneva stressed that the City needed a man of Calvin’s stature and skill. Calvin protested, expressing his desire to spend his time writing in the safety of some remote city.

“Leisure, learning – when it is a matter of acting!” shouted Farel in indignation. “Do you want to desert the Reformation of this city? I am at the point of breaking down under the load and you will deny me your assistance!” Continue reading “Calvin: From Academic to Integrated Theologian”