The Unconverted Calvin, Part One

From the NTJ, October 2000

Ask any living Calvinist if he believed in conversion and ninety-nine percent of the responses would be unabashedly affirmative. And yet, if you followed up with a question about where the Reformed creeds and catechisms teach about conversion, the answer would probably not be so swift or positive. One reason for the latter reaction might be that the Reformed confessions have very little to say about conversion per se. And when they do, they mean something very different from contemporary evangelical usage which regards conversion as synonymous with an instantaneous new birth or “born again” experience. For instance, the Canons of Dort, best known for outlining the mnemonic TULIP, describe true conversion as consisting of the external preaching of the gospel combined with the work of the Holy Spirit, who “powerfully illuminates” the mind, “pervades the inmost recesses of man; . . . opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised,” and transforms the will from being “evil, disobedient, and refactory” to being “good, obedient, and pliable.” That way of looking at conversion might satisfy the most zealous of low-church evangelists, until learning that Dort is not referring to a moment of crisis or decision but is actually describing the whole of the Christian life. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “genuine repentance or conversion” consists of two things: “the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new” (Q&A 88). It is not clear whether the Westminster Standards mention conversion.

Ironically, despite the Reformed tradition’s teaching about conversion (or lack thereof), many conservative Presbyterians continue to speak of it as an experience of the born-again variety and ask prospective church members for a narrative of conversion. This is the consequence of almost 250 years of Presbyterian congeniality toward revivalism. This is the Jonathan Edwards School of Presbyterianism that looks upon his conversion as a model for genuine faith. While a student at Yale, Edwards recalled that he felt:

a calm, sweet Abstraction of Soul from all the Concerns of this World; and a kind of Vision, or fix’d Ideas and Imaginations, of being alone in the Mountains, or some solitary Wilderness, far from all Mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in GOD. The Sense I had of divine Things, would often of a sudden as it were, kindle up a sweet burning in my Heart; and ardor of my Soul, that I know not how to express.

For Edwards, as for most other believers who have come to faith through revivalism’s direct appeals, conversion equals ecstasy.

But Edwards’ mountain-top experience of God is a long way from the older Reformed notions of regeneration, repentance, and sanctification to which the term conversion typically applies. For that reason, Edwards’ conversion may not be the best model. Here is where many experimental Calvinists, uneasy already about elevating an ordinary human being’s experience too high, would likely appeal to the apostle Paul, whose conversion on the way to Damascus makes Edwards’ look like chopped liver. At the same time, however, appealing to Paul has the disadvantage of establishing a norm for conversion that is so exceptional that Reformed believers, who are supposed to believe in the closing of the canon and the cessation of miraculous signs, could never hope to experience Christ in any way.

For this reason, a better source for thoughts about conversion than Edwards’ or Paul’s experience is the man from whom Calvinists derive their name. Ironically, John Calvin does not serve the interests of revival-friendly Presbyterians well because the record does not show convincingly that the French Reformer had any experience that would qualify as a conversion or that might even be regarded as remarkable. According to William J. Bouwsma, whose biography of Calvin admittedly has not received unanimous endorsement from orthodox Reformed and Presbyterians, “religious conversion is a more problematic conception than is ordinarily recognized.” As a “cultural artifact” or an “individual experience,” it is an event that marks a “sharp break with the past.” Accordingly, “life before conversion . . . is irrelevant except as preparation for this break or as a stimulus to repentance; life afterward is made new.” Bouwsma argues, however, that evidence for a conversion of this type in Calvin’s life is “negligible.” Most biographers have cited a single passage from Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms, written in 1557. It reads:

God drew me from obscure and lowly beginnings and conferred on me that most honorable office of herald and minister of the Gospel. . . . What happened first was that by an unexpected conversion he tamed to teachableness a mind too stubborn for its years — for I was so strongly devoted to the superstitions of the papacy that nothing less could draw me from such depths of mire. And so this mere taste of true godliness that I received set me on fire with such a desire to progress that I pursued the rest of my studies more coolly, although I did not give them up altogether. Before a year had slipped by anybody who longed for a purer doctrine kept on coming to learn from me, still a beginner, a raw recruit.

Bouwsma interprets this passage as nothing more than “a shift and quickening of his interests,” certainly nothing incompatible with the evangelical humanism that many university students at Paris espoused, simply a willingness to be more teachable. In other words, there was no decisive break in Calvin with his former life until he ran afoul of Roman church authorities. But becoming a Protestant, something that was gradual and progressive, hardly qualifies as “going forward” at the time of an altar call or experiencing a unique and immediate sense of God’s presence somewhere in the woods outside Paris. Protestantism was a reformation, not a revival. Evidence of its transformation came in the form of changes in doctrine, liturgy and church polity, not in hearts strangely or normally warmed.

As Bouwsma also observes, Calvin was not enthusiastic about conversion as a precise event in his discussions of Christian piety. He “always emphasized the gradualness rather than the suddenness of conversion and the difficulty of making progress in the Christian life.” In a statement that many contemporary Presbyterians would deem nonsensical, Calvin wrote that “we are converted little by little to God, and by stages.” In his commentary on Acts, Calvin was even reluctant to attach much significance to Paul’s encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus. “We now have Paul tamed,” he wrote, “but not yet a disciple of Christ.”

Consequently, Bouwsma attributes more to family circumstances and educational influences than to the movement of the Spirit in explaining Calvin’s move into the Protestant fold in 1535. The death of Calvin’s mother and his subsequent exclusion from his father’s household, according to Bouwsma, imparted a sense of homelessness that would later befit a French exile in Geneva. Then at Paris Calvin learned the three languages — Latin, Greek and Hebrew — that were so much a part of the Christian reform movement spearheaded by Erasmus. Bouwsma concludes that whatever conversion Calvin experienced it was not a radical break with his past but rather the fruit of personal, spiritual and intellectual seeds sown earlier in his life.

30 thoughts on “The Unconverted Calvin, Part One

  1. Darryl,
    Thanks for this. Very helpful. I am two thirds of the way through your Nevin bio and thoroughly enjoying it. Helpful in spotting the wonky thinking of revivalist trajectories old and new and equally helpful in showing the later weaknesses/struggles of Nevin himself.

    Cheers,
    David

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  2. Don’t you need to distinguish between conversion itself, and a person’s consciousness of conversion? Being “converted little by little” might correspond to what the Westminster standards refer to as the process of effectual calling, or it might refer to the gradual filtering up to consciousness of what was an instantaneous work of the Holy Spirit (in the context of the Word read and/or preached) (instantaneous, albeit with ongoing effects in the converted person’s life). Surely Edwards himself elsewhere qualifies that while ecstasy might be experienced at various points in a person’s spiritual career, it’s hardly to be equated with conversion, nor expected in everybody’s conversion experience.

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  3. Darrell (and greetings to David S),

    I suppose there are more than one way to interpret such accounts, just as there would seem to be with Calvin’s account in his Commentary on the Psalms (as you mentioned, I think Bouwsma’s interpretation is open to question.) What, for instance, did you think of Ken Minkema’s take on Edwards’ Personal Narrative in the Cambridge Companion?

    “Though Edwards dwelt on his inabilities to fulfill his expanding desire for holiness, he did not identify his inability to locate a single moment of conversion as a defect in his experience. Instead, he portrayed conversion as a gradual process of enlightenment and a realization of grace that, like the document itself, was retrospective. He “never could give an account, how, or by what means,” he was first convinced of divine sovereignty,” nor saw any “extraordinary influence” in it at the time, “nor a long time after.” His “delights” were “of a different kind” from before, his “sense of divine things” heightened, but he never gave them the name of conversion. As he had noted in the “Diary,” his own experience was different from what “divines” posited, and through that he came to realize that religion was varied. For Edwards, what mattered was not a normative process or an identifiable moment of regeneration, but the cumulative combination of affection and behavior, a formula he would elucidate in Religious Affections.” (50-51)

    Edwards couldn’t identify a single moment for his own conversion and his experience could be characterised as a gradual process, an accumulation of recognizably regenerate affections and behaviors. The things that in retrospect he saw to be highlights of his religious history, did not, at the time, seem even to himself to be anything “extraordinary.” Now Edwards was skeptical about establishing set paradigms for conversion, a point made by Minkema in the quote. Even so, it could be that Edwards’ saw the totality of his personal experience as a useful example of what regenerate reality looks like. But if that’s the case, then that means that Edwards thought regenerate experience might consist in a fairly inconspicuous, gradual growth in grace over time, recognized more in retrospect than at the moment.

    To the larger issue, Edwards pointed to the experiences of Sarah and others he published not to be paradigms for establishing the legitimacy of personal regeneration (do you really think that Edwards didn’t think of his own wife as regenerate before that famous experience in 1742?), but as data pertinent to establishing the legitimacy of the very extraordinary Awakenings. If you know of a place where Edwards himself required ecstatic, dramatic, or any extraordinary experience in order to accept people as genuine Christians anywhere in his corpus, please let me know. Otherwise, perhaps it might be better to join with Nevin in pinning the revivalist tail squarely on the donkey of Finney rather than on Edwards.

    With you in this work of discernment,
    Bill

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  4. Bill, good to hear from you.

    I have been wrestling with the anti-Edwards stance of much Old Side (both the contemporary and historic versions) for some time now, and was reflecting on the communion/half-way covenant controversy Edwards engaged in.

    As memory serves, Edwards was in conflict with the older position that had come to dominate New England Puritanism. My question is- and this may reflect an overly simplistic understanding of the era so please correct me- but my question is, if the older piety that emphasized covenant nurture over conversionistic norms is a more compatible form for Presbyterian and Reformed confessionalism today why is Edwards the adovcate of what is considered the norm in contemporary Old School- and I would guess, even Old Side Old School- congregations?

    Edwards position was that only those bearing a credible profession of faith may be admitted to the Lord’s Table. Stoddard’s position was that baptized people whose lives did not contradict the profession made in baptism ought to be admitted, seeing the Supper as a ‘coverting ordinance’. I can see how Edwards’ view is compatible with his conversionistic piety. What I wonder about is how rooted in Old Side trajectories the Half Way covenant idea was?

    Something very similar took place in Scotland around the same time in the area of Baptism and the parties there certainly did represent older and newer traditions on covenant nurture. The older tradition in Scotland, represented by Rutherford for example, insisted that an uncontradicted profession (made in baptism as an infant) was sufficient on its own, without any additional mature statement of personal faith in order for covenant memebers to obtain baptism for their children. The newer tradition, articulated by revival friendly Thomas Boston however, advocated a credible profession of personal faith in Christ as savior on the part of parents in order for baptism to be given.

    Any input on the origins of the half-way covenant? How rooted was this idea in older forms of piety? Was it a New England aberration, foreign to the main stream of Reformed piety? How Edwardsian is current Presbyterian practise re: qualifications for membership and communion? How Stoddardesque ought we to be?

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  5. Bill, since I regularly go by D. G., misspelling is par for the course.

    You make several good points about Edwards, and the biggie is whether or not he required a conversion experience for true profession. My problem, though, is not so much with the requirement — though his New Side Presbyterian allies did require conversion for ministers — but the kind of piety Edwards describes as holy. It is very introspective, affectionate, and seems to me markedly different from Luther or Calvin who are less interior and more looking outward to the promises, the cross, and our savior. (Not to mention that Edwards did not devote much energy (as near as the Yale Works indicate) to sacramental theology.

    Now I know Carl Trueman thinks it nonsense to distinguish between Puritan and Reformed identities (though is Puritan an actual identity anymore?), and I know that New England Puritans represented arguably one strain of English Puritanism. But it is plausible to see a significant shift toward the subjective in the accounts of conversion or ordo salutis from Heidelberg to Westminster Standards to the 1758 Plan of Union among Presbyterians (which baptized the Great Awakening and so much of the odd piety of the Tennent family).

    David, is not a big factor here the existence of a state church and implicit membership by virtue of birth within the state? I admit that in such circumstances the desire for a real or genuine affirmation of the faith looks more necessary than in a voluntary context. But the odd thing for American Presbyterians is that they embraced revivals even though no state churches existed where they were most populous — PA, NJ, MD, and DE.

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  6. Darryl,

    I do think it is important for us to acknowledge that Edwards did not require any conversion experience whatsoever for communicant membership. Why was Nevin’s personal example you mentioned at Jon’s RH conference so powerful? Because it spoke of the tragedy of a church that has no place for covenant children brought to faith through catechetical nurture. If that’s what Edwards did or intended, then I would join with you in disavowing him. Yet take a look at one of his sample professions of faith he would accept for communicant membership:

    “And I hope I do truly find a heart to give up myself wholly to God according to the tenor of that covenant of grace which was sealed in my baptism, and to walk in a way of that obedience to all the commandments of God which the covenant of grace requires as long as I live.”

    Wouldn’t exactly warm the heart of the average Finneyite, would it? The fact is, if the pious young Nevin lived in late 1740s Northampton and could say those words, he would not have been told to look upon himself as an outcast from the family of God, but would have been invited to partake in the communion of the saints.

    And as for sacramental theology, I don’t think we ought to discount the communion controversy to the point where we say he wasn’t very concerned with the sacraments. For several years, that was his main output for publication, reflected in the Ecclesiastical Writings volume in the Yale Edition. Stoddardianism was the proximate error that needed to be corrected at the time, so that is what he focused on. But rather than concluding that he didn’t care too much about the sacraments, you could just as well say that the one issue that Edwards was manifestly ready to go to the mat for, no matter what the cost, was precisely sacramental theology.

    Now there is no doubt that Edwards cared about the affections and heart religion. But I think a case could be made that Calvin cared something about the heart as well. And don’t forget that Nevin faulted Anxious Bench services precisely because they were too “shallow” in terms of introspective knowledge; their “utter want of depth…exposes them to complaint. They involve little or nothing of what the old divines call heart work. They bring with them no self-knowledge. They fill the church with lean professors, who show subsequently but little concern to grow in grace…” (AB 112-113)

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  7. David,

    When dealing with Edwards, its useful to switch to Old Light/New Light terminology, because despite the fact that he began and ended his working life at the helm of Presbyterian institutions and was willing to go with the Westminster Confession even in polity, as he was officially a congregationalist. So at least in terms of Old Lights like Edwards chief antagonist Charles Chaucy, the issues included other things. Chaucy, like many of the Old Lights, was a rationalist and had a strong anti-supernaturalist strain, later publicly embracing Arminianism and moving towards Unitarianism. His actual arguments against Edwards were along the lines of all this disorderly enthusiasm could not from God. Edwards’ replies were along the lines of some of this is certainly from God, but some of it is from the devil, just as supernatural events were at the time of Christ.

    So for your question (“if the older piety that emphasized covenant nurture over conversionistic norms is a more compatible form for Presbyterian and Reformed confessionalism today why is Edwards the adovcate of what is considered the norm in contemporary Old School- and I would guess, even Old Side Old School- congregations?”), I think the answer has something to do with

    a) the issue was bound up with larger theological concerns which we would all affirm Edwards was right (who would want to line up with Charles Chaucy?);

    b) Edwards was something of a middle way: although he was clearly pro-New Light, he was also critical of the excesses that would later become the norm during the Second Great Awakening. This is why Nevin could speak favorably of him in the AB.

    c) Edwards was affirming the legitimacy of revivals as a work of God, not creating a system by which everyone had to have a manufactured revivalist conversion like Finney did. Edwards was a keen catechist of the WSC and believed in covenantal nurture. Even for his own admission to the sacrament, he resolved to himself “Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.”
    So, as you say, not exactly incompatible with Reformed confessionalism.

    Thanks for the info on the Scottish side of the issue; that was sadly one class I did not sit at the FC College. As for these larger issues you mention, I can only say that it seems history contains too many false dichotomies, too many instances of not being able to hold two things together that humanly speaking, do not seem to go together. Its knowledge AND love, its objective promise AND subjective belief, its outward forms AND internal experience, its covenant nurture AND individual faith, etc. This is not some kind of Barthian nonesense, its thinking like we believe in the Trinity.

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  8. Bill, I’m glad to hear that Edwards talked about baptism in discussing profession of faith. But even the example you cite confirms my point: it’s about the professer’s heart and his or her obedience. It is not about trusting in Christ or looking to the promises of the gospel. So again, I do think there is a marked turn inward in Edwards. I’m not saying he started it. In fact, historians like Philip Benedict point to the practical divinity turn among English Puritans, which pushed some Puritans in a more introspective, heart direction (and which is why Charles Briggs would later call Puritanism “Methodism,” and he meant it in a good way). Plus, your example of the sacramental controversy also shows, at least from my knowledge of it, that Edwards was concerned about the state of the communicants rather than what God does in the sacrament. That’s not to say that he was wrong in his position in the controversy. But where does Edwards talk about the Supper as a means of grace, or as a way of feeding spiritually on the body and blood of Christ?

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  9. Darryl,

    I concur that Edwards was very much concerned with inward reality. My point is simply to say that his brand of religion is not incompatible with the covenantal and confessional faith we both wish to promote and defend. And I am not sure there is not all that much meaningful difference between obeying the covenant of grace from the heart and trusting in Christ or looking to the promises of the gospel (what else is the covenant of grace?).

    Edwards spoke about the Supper as a means of grace in sermons, such as the 1733 sermon on I Cor 11:29: “…what more near concern can be conceived with a slain than eating and drinking of him, and having him turned into nourishment that our natures may partake of him and be nourished strengthened and increased by him? Believers have an exceeding near concern with Christ crucified; he is their spiritual food. They are united to him in the most intimate manner. […] His life and his joy and happiness and all this by his body and blood, and by the slaying of his body and spilling of his blood. [They] receive those benefits as much as ’tis by the food that we eat at the & meat and drink that our bodies receive nourishment, strength and refreshment.” No, he did not publish on the subject that I know of, but as you point out elsewhere, he was often a task theologian, and that was not an issue that was then under debate.

    Would you agree with me that Nevin (“heart work…self-knowledge”) shared Edwards’ concern for inward reality?

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  10. Darryl and Bill,

    This has been a most stimulating discussion. Thanks.

    As a non-academic observer of your debate it seems to me that Edwards’ weakness was also his strength. His emphasis on heart work, which was not novel with him, seems to be more to the fore than his other statements about sacramental efficacy and covenant nurture. Such an emphasis is undoubtedly helpful as Bill points out. We need heart and head, doxology and doctrine, affections and objective certainties to cling to. I know that you both concur on that.

    Nevertheless, that this emphasis received an imbalanced degree of attention seems to be bourn out by the highly subjective recasting of reformational theology that developed in the wake of Edwards’ death. The New Divinity, whatever the true realtionship between it and Edwards, nevertheless claimed Edwards as their father after all.

    As for your point, Darryl, about national churches and the problem of qualifications for the sacraments and the half way covenant complex of ideas, I think you are right to a certain extent. Rutherford argued that Scotland was a covenanted nation as a whole and that therefore the whole populace were in the covenant and ought to be baptized. Similarly, if memory serves, the New England Puritans believed in a kind of national covenant concept that saw themselves as a new Israel, a City Set on a Hill etc. Could it have been something of this order that led to the half way covenant idea among the Stoddardites?

    It does intrigue me still however to note that Edwards and Boston both insisted on higher qualifications for sealing ordinances than the older traditions of which they were a part, and both do so as leading exponents of a transatlantic reformed revival movement. Do you think there was any conncetion between the theological ideas that made them revival friendly and the ideas that made them insist on credible professions of faith for baptism and the supper?

    It does seem to me that Edwards and Boston are both more aligned with the Westminster Standards on these points than he older traditions in which they were reared. At the very least that indicates that it is not as simple as finding an older and a newer stream of piety at work here. More like two often intermingling and not always distinct streams that were present in the Reformed movement from the begining, finally moving apart in the era of Nevin and Finney perhaps?

    I am no Edwards expert. I’d love your thoughts gents.

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  11. Bill, I don’t mean to be perverse but I’m not sure that Nevin would have sought for “heart” religion the way Edwards did. I wonder if you think Calvin was after such “heart” religion. I think it is possible to hold heart religion together with the practice of covenantal nurture, but it is also an unstable compound and seems to do little for the covenant child who grows up always believing and trusting in ordinary and routine ways. In fact, it is the search for extraordinary or earnest displays of affection that I find the most objectionable. It suggests that those days when I’m not “feeling” it — whatever it is — then I’m far from God. Really, I don’t want to go there. I will if I must, but must I?

    Here’s another point for Bill and David to consider. Philip Benedict’s remarkable book on the social history of Calvinism (Yale, 2002) points to the rise of Puritan practical divinity about the time (late 16th and early 17th centuries) when hopes for a reformed church looked least achievable through the methods of presbyterial and synodical oversight. This tradition was particularly concerned with making one’s election sure and called for marks of salvation such as assurance, sincerity, sound regeneration and sanctification, inward peace, perseverence. It could go in anti-nomian and neo-nomian directions.

    But the interesting point that Benedict makes is that the great historian of Puritanism, Patrick Collinson argued that “the theological achievement of the Puritans, from William Perkins onwards, can be roughly interpreted as the adaptatoin and domestication of Calvinism to fit the condition of voluntary Christians, whose independence of the ordered, disciplined life of the Church Calvin would have found strange and disturbing.” (Benedict, p. 318)

    So maybe the question to ask is why isn’t the dependence on ordered, disciplined life of the church possible for Christians in a voluntary situation? After all, being free from the state’s meddling has meant that Presbyterians have had a greater chance of reforming their churches and discipling their members.

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  12. I’d probably better let this one go after this reply. Overall, what I am concerned with is that you pit Edwards against Reformed confessionalism (represented by Calvin, and then Nevin) as if these were radically different and mutually incompatible visions. I do not see how this is the case. Of course there are some noticeable differences in emphasis, but not the kind of radical, substantive departure that might justify the ominous conclusions (“…actually betray[s] Reformed teaching on conversion, and so undermine[s] a churchly form of Reformed Christianity” (“Appeal and Disappointment” RHC ’05)) you want us in the ordinary means camp to draw about Edwards.

    One of Nevin’s main points in the AB was precisely that the Bench was mechanical and shallow and had virtually no connection with the inward reality that he saw as important. And yes, I do think that Calvin did care about heart religion. He could have chosen anything for his motto, but he happened to choose cor deum tibi offero domine prompte et sincere. But more importantly, I think that the Institutes reveals that he wanted there to be a concurrence between correct forms and inner reality, which was so completely lacking in the Roman church. This concurrence was, I think, what Edwards and Nevin were also after, although they were fighting against very different currents (Edwards against rationalism, Nevin against revivalism) which obviously yielded very different emphases.

    I need not say that Nevin was an able and acute critic of revivalism; you have told us all we know. Why, then, did he choose not to critique Edwards in the AB? He certainly was not afraid of a little controversy. Why do you identify Edwards as essentially the major villain in the story when Nevin himself was either so cowed or so blind so as not to have noticed what you see so clearly? Or why do you not critique Nevin for saying nice things about Edwards, when that (by your lights) would seem to be about the most obvious and significant flaw of the book?

    I am honored that you engaged with me on this, and hope to meet you in person at some point. Thanks indeed for all your work on behalf of the kingdom, of which I have benefited.

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  13. Bill, I’m really not sure I’ve made Edwards the villain. Could it be that others have made him a sacred cow? In which case, any criticism looks like villainy?

    The main reason for pitting Nevin against Edwards is that Edwards is the go to guy for experimental Calvinism among folks who take the five points seriously. I could discuss Gilbert Tennent, but do experimental Calvinists really care about him? Plus, Edwards illustrates a shift among Calvinists about conversion. If you look in the Standards or the Three Forms of Unity you will not see much treatment of conversion. And where you do you see conversion described as mortification and vivification (Heidelberg 88-90??), in which case conversion is not a crisis point in a believer’s life but an life-long process of being sanctified.

    I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty big change in Reformed thinking. I think we can both give Edwards credit for it. The question is whether its worthy of praise or blame.

    BTW, if you’re still reading, what is “Appeal and Dissappointment,” RHC?

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  14. Darryl,

    Perhaps “villain” was too strong a word, but when you say someone ”…actually betrayed Reformed teaching on conversion, and so undermined a churchly form of Reformed Christianity”, that’s the sort of imagery that comes to my mind. If you’re right about what you say, then ministers like myself would be irresponsible to appropriate or recommend Edwards without very careful safeguards. That is why I’m taking you so seriously. Criticism is fine and helpful. Yet it remains interesting that Nevin himself did not choose to make that particular criticism of Edwards.

    “Appeal and Disappointment” is short for “The Appeal & Disappointment of Evangelicalism: Is Reformed Christianity Evangelical?”, a talk you gave at the 2005 Reformation Heritage Conference in Douglasville, GA based on your 2003 essay in the book you edited.

    On your side,
    Bill

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  15. Bill Schweitzer, D. G. Hart, like his friend and ideological comrade-in-arms R. Scott Clark, is a practical deist. I’m not the first to identify them as such. Just keep this in mind as you try to understand where he, as they say, is coming from…

    And D. G Hart: you don’t seem to grasp what is being said when the phrase ‘self-knowledge’ is put in front of you. Self-awareness would be another. ‘Lean professors’, by the way, is not a positive characterization.

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  16. For the record I was with you 100% on the Warfield centrality of justification thing. You actually surprised me there. You actually sounded…I don’t know…Calvinist.

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  17. Christian,

    You’re almost as fun as watching Constantinians fight (the Palin-Maher bout was hard to beat). Yours is more like Whack-A-Mole: banned on one blog after another, where’s he gonna show up next? Clark’s slap for your Christ-like vulgarities on the HB must’ve smarted since it has taken a couple of weeks to pop up here.

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  18. David,

    Sorry for not replying to you thus far.

    You said “Nevertheless, that this emphasis received an imbalanced degree of attention seems to be borne out by the highly subjective recasting of reformational theology that developed in the wake of Edwards’ death. The New Divinity, whatever the true relationship between it and Edwards, nevertheless claimed Edwards as their father after all.”

    I would just want to say that although they did claim Edwards as their father, I don’t think we should invest too much into that one way or another. Lots of people have claimed Edwards as their father, just as liberal critics and Barthians call Calvin their father. Come to think of it, heretics of every stripe want to call Jesus their father. The way we prove them wrong is by pointing out that the one they call father never said the things they hold, and/or that he said other things which they choose to ignore. I know someone who went to WTS and took a class by Carl Trueman, and later became a Roman Catholic. Should we then say that, because Carl often critiques the a-historical and overly subjective evangelicalism of our time, cares about the sacraments as a means of grace, and recently wrote a book that has the word “Catholic” in the title, that he led this man to swim the Tiber? Same, same, with those who with selective hearing learned some things from Edwards but not others.

    You said “It does seem to me that Edwards and Boston are both more aligned with the Westminster Standards on these points than he older traditions in which they were reared.”

    I would have to concur. And more broadly, I also think it would be useful for us to remember that Westminster is a Puritan document written by English speaking Puritans to complete the reformation of the British church(es), and so may sound (again, emphasis is not the same as substance; I am not saying they departed from the Calvinist inheritance in any way) a little more subjective in tone than the Heidelberg Catechism, written specifically to bring together Lutherans and Reformed in Germany. Darryl prefers the wording of Heidelberg 88-90 on conversion, while pointing out that Westminster does not use the word conversion. True, but other aspects of the WSC, such as question 87 (What is repentance unto life? Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience) could *sound* more subjective than Heidelberg. If you want to undo the greater balance in tone I think the Westminster Puritans achieved between external/objective and internal/subjective, you can’t stop at the late 17th Century, but have to go back before the Puritans. Which would be OK I suppose if you are a German Reformed confessional (Sebastian Heck and…), but less good if you are ordained in a church officially holding to a Puritan confession.

    Bill

    As for your point, Darryl, about national churches and the problem of qualifications for the sacraments and the half way covenant complex of ideas, I think you are right to a certain extent. Rutherford argued that Scotland was a covenanted nation as a whole and that therefore the whole populace were in the covenant and ought to be baptized. Similarly, if memory serves, the New England Puritans believed in a kind of national covenant concept that saw themselves as a new Israel, a City Set on a Hill etc. Could it have been something of this order that led to the half way covenant idea among the Stoddardites?

    It does intrigue me still however to note that Edwards and Boston both insisted on higher qualifications for sealing ordinances than the older traditions of which they were a part, and both do so as leading exponents of a transatlantic reformed revival movement. Do you think there was any conncetion between the theological ideas that made them revival friendly and the ideas that made them insist on credible professions of faith for baptism and the supper?

    It does seem to me that Edwards and Boston are both more aligned with the Westminster Standards on these points than he older traditions in which they were reared. At the very least that indicates that it is not as simple as finding an older and a newer stream of piety at work here. More like two often intermingling and not always distinct streams that were present in the Reformed movement from the begining, finally moving apart in the era of Nevin and Finney perhaps?

    I am no Edwards expert. I’d love your thoughts gents.

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  19. Dear Cath and all,
    In my own and other members of my fellowship, there has been one common event, the day, the moment that we were born again, changed from death unto life.
    I was conscious of it, they were concious of it and other greats have too.
    It was a definite instant change of direction.for Calvin it was to have his understanding opened more perfectly to the truth. Ours was a cut off of an interest, a leaning to all things of the world, for myself (for one thing) a forsaking of horoscopes, which in the eyes of God is the use of familiar spirits,witchcraft, for one of my fellow believers, to leave of clubbing and pubbing, it’s not a wrangling with our conciousnesses to do these things, we did them willingly, freely, needing to consecrate our lives.
    My belief is that God by His Spirit changes your desires from worldly things, to the things of God, some of them quickly, ie the horoscopes, (how could I serve two masters?), and some of them gradually, but this has absolutely nothing to do with a “gradual salvation” or “consciousness” or “awakening”, don’t we believe, that to have such an experience with God the Holy Spirit, would leave a lasting impression of one moment being one kind of person, to the next being someone totally different?
    We then put behind us as it were our born again experience and go on to greater exploits, learning to walk in the Spirit,learning the greater depths of the word, and by learning the depths of the Word, is to know Him better, yes mortifying the flesh, bringing forth good works, not works of the hands which breeds haughtiness,self importance (as the Pharisees), but works which are the fruit of the Spirit. Love,joy peace longsuffering etc.
    Calvin, was restrained in his description of his experience with God, I think possibly because of the Catholic church being so full of signs and wonders, that it sickened him, and rather than be charged with having had some kind of higher spiritual experience or even being an heretic ( which the Catholic church would have done) he played it down, like Mary he held it within his heart or pondered it.
    The work of the Reformers, was limited somewhat to the Doctrine of Predestination because they had their hands full with the Doctrine of the Catholic Church, fighting this off was a full time job.
    The Disciples had their time, to do their ministry, teaching, ordaining,healing, casting out demons, and much more, but then they died, their work had been accomplished, if God had so wanted it, the disciples could have lived forever, but the batton is then handed to others, in the case of the Reformers, their ministry was to fend off the heresy of the Popes.
    There have been many who have been confused by the sheer quantity of people turning up at church week after week, but not having had the “born again” experience, able to tell of the day the time they had their experience of God, of being sealed with the Holy Spirit, the late great Lloyd-Jones was one, Spurgeon another.
    there will be many, the many who have been called but not chosen, who hear the Gospel with joy, but anon it is caught away lest they should believe.
    There will be many who shall stand before the Lord crying that they cast out demons in His name, but He shall turn them away.
    These are the tares, the ones that should be left ’til the end time where they shall be gathered and burned.

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