Reformed Protestants Who Pick Nits

John Piper posted for the recent anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday about the origin of Calvinism. He went right to John Calvin and his conversion:

He was born in July 1509, in Noyon, France, and was educated at the best universities in law, theology, and classics. At the age of twenty-one, he was dramatically converted from tradition-centered medieval Catholicism to radical, biblical, evangelical faith in Christ and His Word.

Radical? At least it wasn’t earnest.

This is the sort of understanding of Reformed Protestantism that drives folks in Zurich nuts. At least a decade before John Calvin arrived in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli was already reforming the churches of Zurich. Calvin was only twelve when Zwingli started on his way to Protestantism.

Nor should Martin Bucer be forgotten. He initiated reforms in the city of Strasbourg a year or so after Zwingli’s activities. Bucer also put his stamp indelibly on Calvin when in 1538 Geneva’s city authorities told Calvin to leave. Calvin ministered in Strasbourg for two years to a French speaking congregation and taught at Strasbourg’s academy, an institution that was a model for the Geneva Academy.

The point is that Reformed Protestants acknowledge the importance of Calvin but don’t put all their hero-worship eggs in one basket.

Piper to his credit quotes Benjamin Warfield who wrote:

The Calvinist is the [person] who sees God behind all phenomena, and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God…

Is it too much to ask the New Calvinists to see the hand of God in the old Calvinism that emerged in places like Zurich and Strasbourg well before John Calvin was even a Protestant?

11 thoughts on “Reformed Protestants Who Pick Nits

  1. It’s the tidy, Evangelical view of church history that jumps from Paul to Luther to Calvin to Bunyan to Edwards to Spurgeon to CS Lewis to Billy Graham.


  2. Bruce Gordon’s Calvin biography helpfully frames Calvin’s move to the evangelical faith. There is no good evidence that he had a Whitefield moment.


  3. Thanks David, I was not aware of specific conversion details written out by Calvin.

    He sure wrote expansively on most every other topic.


  4. New Calvinists simply just don’t want to. You can fellowship about 10-30 seconds of a nod for the Old, but after that, well, ……………


  5. Perhaps the above article is being a bit nit-picky. After all, the exclusive mention of Calvin is because Piper is singing Happy Birthday to him. After all, we usually don’t also sing Happy Unbirthday at every birthday party we attend. Well, at least I don’t but then again I have not been invited to a birthday party in a long time. Perhaps things have changed.


  6. Would this be the kind of “old Calvinist” who cuts the throats of Muslims in the name of Christendom? or is the new kind of old Calvinist who kills Muslims in his other job as a citizen of creation, in a kingdom where there is no redemption and no killing in the name of Jesus? I mean, if we wait for conversion and repentance and a profession of faith, there will be no Christianity left to reform! if we fence the table against those without a conversion narrative, by what means could Christians receive grace?

    George Eliot describing a preacher resigned to the status quo. To me she sounds more than a little like Mencken—Let him be ardent and imaginative on the coming advent of Christ, but cold and cautious toward every other infringement of the status quo. Let him be hard and literal in his interpretation only when he wants to hurl texts at the heads of adversaries, but when the letter of the Scriptures presses too closely on genteel Christianity, let him use his spiritualizing alembic and disperse it into impalpable ether.

    Theodore D. Bozeman, “Inductive and Deductive Polities”, Journal of American History, December 1977, p 722–Materially comfortable, Old School contributions to social analysis may be viewed as a sustained attempt to defend the inherited social structure…The General Assembly found it necessary to lament the practice of those who ‘question and unsettle practice which have received the enlightened sanction of centuries’… Social naturalists assumed that the providential facts on the ground demanded obedience The desire was to draw the ought out of the providential is…to make providential facts serve a normative purpose


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