John Calvin’s Birthday

Posted on July 7, 2009. Filed under: Church History, Theological Issues |

This Wednesday, July 10th, 2009, is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jean Cauvin, the French born Swiss theologian/pastor who changed the world with his theology.The quincentenary celebration began this past Sunday at St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva. About 500 people were in attendance as worship was led by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, a Scot, Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Africa, and Dr. Bryan Chappell of St. Louis, MO. Ministers from three continents affected by Calvin’s theology!

Calvin’s theology brought a more solid structure to the thinking of the Reformers. Though a second generation Reformer, Luther being about 20 years older, his theological writings, Bible commentaries and sermons contributed bone and sinew to the work that the fiery Luther had started. If Luther was the Preacher of the Reformation, Calvin was the Theologian.

Calvin’s theology was imminently practical. One can trace our political and economic liberties to the influence of Calvinism.

While the world celebrates/mourns the death of Michael Jackson, a degenerate pop star who drugged himself to death, the celebration of one of the top 10 theologians of world history will go unnoticed except for the few Reformed folk who remain.

How has Calvinism affected me? As a youngster studying American History in the 8th grade, I learned enough about the Pilgrims and the Puritans to be draw irresistibly to them, even though they were not portrayed in an overwhelmingly positive manner. In high school I learned a bit more about them. But it was in College at the University of Oklahoma that I first studied the Calvinistic Puritans in depth under the tutelage of Dr. David Levy. In Dr. Levy’s Intellectual History of America courses I saw the heavy influence of Puritan thought upon America and loved it. Were there problems with the Puritans? Yes. They were not tolerant of diversity in theology, persecuting My Own Baptist Forefathers. But there was a genius and beauty to Puritan Thought.

At the same time, a youth minister at my home church gave me a copy of AW Pink’s book, “The Sovereignty of God”. Being raised a traditional, fundamentalist, Southern Baptist, with dispensational elements, I recoiled at the Calvinist theology of Pink and did not finish the book. But over the next few years, the doctrines I saw in Pink, leaped off page after page of the Bible at me, despite my initial abhorrence. Finally, without ever picking up the Pink book again, without ever being taught by anyone else, simply from Scripture Alone, by the time I was finished at OU I was a Calvinist.

In my years in the Army I did read more of Pink and by the time I was in Seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth in 1985-89 I was one of the handful of Calvinists on campus. Out of 3000+ students there might have been 10 of us. Today there are scores.

I greatly expanded my theological reading in seminary and afterwards with Millard Erickson, Louis Berkhof, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, James Montgomery Boice, and others. As I began pastoring in 1992 my sermons definitely took on a Puritan style and my Calvinist theology was proclaimed.

The elements of Calvinism that have blessed me the most include the concept that it really is all about Him. This is a theocentric universe not a mancentered universe. This goes directly against our culture in many different ways. Specifically, the salvation that God gives me through Jesus Christ is given not just so I can escape the fires of hell. I was raised in the “fire insurance” theology of Southern Baptists. But salvation is really all about giving God the greatest glory possible. That is the BIG IDEA of the UNIVERSE. When we repent of sin and trust in Jesus we are entering into a covenant with God that existed prior to my own birth, prior to the creation of the world. Our entire purpose for being created is to live in a loving, faith based relationship with our Creator and Redeemer, enjoying and glorifying him forever.

Another aspect to Calvinism I find appealing is that it actually emphasizes that we are all natural born sinners, enemies of God, unable and unwilling to turn away from sin on our own. This explains what we see in the news everyday and what we experience in the darkness of our own hearts when we are brutally honest with ourselves. In other words, the theology of Calvin, of the Bible really, actually explains the real world as no other system does. It genuinely reflects reality.

In conclusion then, happy birthday to Jean Calvin!


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9 Responses to “John Calvin’s Birthday”

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Todays birthday is a good day to thank God for his great gift from him through humble men.

Dude, you give John Calvin waaaaay too much credit.

First off there were two parts of “the Reformation.” The Radical Reformation and the Magisterial Reformation. See

Second thing is John Calvin did not give evidence (other than the fact he used his Roman Catholic baptism) that he was saved. In fact if you read the unscrubbed version of this mans life you wouldn’t be singing Happy Birth day to him. See:

As a Baptist I am of course very well aware of the Radical Reformation from whence the Anabaptists came, and eventually the Baptists in England (who also came out of the Puritan, non-conformist offshoot from the Church of England).

I am also very well aware of some of the problems with Calvin such as the execution of heretics. Calvin, like Christians in any age, was a child of his age and culture.

While you may disagree with his doctrines of the Sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of men you must acknowledge his impact upon history as being generally positive and quite significant.

Thanks for your comments.

Thanks for your kind reply. I don’t want to get into a debate as we both know we won’t change each other’s mind. However, I would like to leave with these two thoughts. First there is nothing Calvin can teach me that I can’t get myself from the scriptures. To use Calvin as a standard for determining or judging doctrine and ignoring his profound misunderstandings of the scriptures and his ruthless tactics in all aspects of life in Geneva is an attempt to whitewash a man who should be studied warts and all.

Second, John Calvin did not just have heretics killed. He had Christians tortured and killed for doctrinal differences, some whose only disagreement with him was that they knew their infant baptism was meaningless and that they must be baptized as believers.

You said, “Calvin, like Christians in any age, was a child of his age and culture” is just plain wrong. Christians are to be different and not to conform to this world. You seem to excuse Calvin for conforming to the world. Where in the New Testament is the killing of heretics condoned or encouraged? Your letting Calvin off the hook reminds me of the excuses made by Calvinist Dr. Jack L. Arnold:

“We should not be too hard on Calvin in the matter of Servetus, for the spirit of the day among all, except the Anabaptists, whether Catholic or Protestant, was to put heretics to death. The treatment of heretics was an error of the age, and we dare not judge Calvin by our twentieth century standards.”

Sorry, but John Calvin is not being judged by “our twentieth century standards” as Dr. Arnold opines nor should he be judged by “the spirit of the day” as he suggest. Nor should we excuse his errors as Calvin was a “child of his age and culture” as you stated. John Calvin, as we all are, is judged by the words of Christ Jesus. Jesus and his Disciples are clear on how we should
deal not only with our enemies but also how to handle doctrinal issues. Nowhere in the New Testament have I found that the use of torture, disemboweling, drowning or burning at the stake were even remotely hinted at much less permitted by Jesus or the early church that spread like
wildfire without those means.

Dr. Arnold claims “The treatment of heretics was an error of the age.” That might be a fair statement if John Calvin had not read the words of Christ Jesus and claim to not only understand them but expounded on them in his Institutes. No, John Calvin is regarded by those in the Reformed Theology camp as a great exegete and as such neither you or Dr. Arnold can use the
lame excuse he suggests, that “everyone else was doing it.”

As Dr. Arnold points out, John Calvin “to his dying day he neither changed his views nor regretted his conduct.” I have yet to see any evidence that John Calvin ever repented of his acts, but I have read many times where he boasted of them. Again, show me where John Calvin
ever “changed” as a result of being a true follower of Christ. If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…

In the Introduction to Chapter I of The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Boettner wrote that John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Zwingli were, “Among the past and present advocates of this doctrine are to be found some of the world’s greatest and wisest men.” But their actions show clearly they neither understood nor practiced the very basics of Christianity. I have to question Boettner if he thinks these were among the world’s greatest and wisest men!

Why should I or anyone trust men who don’t grasp or implement the clear teaching by Jesus or his Disciples on how we should deal with others? If supposed great exegetes of the Gospel of Christ like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox or even Augustine before them, can’t be trusted to understand and follow the basics of Christianity why should we accept them on basic, but important, doctrine that they have gotten wrong in numerous instances and then used extreme and violent measures to enforce? Great leaders lead by example. In the case of men like John Calvin should we follow their examples and torture, disembowel, drown or burn at the stake those who we disagree with on doctrinal issues, not just heretics? If not, let’s quit ignoring or glossing over their horrible deeds and examples, quit looking to them to tell us what the Bible says.
‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends
rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be
perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-38

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Ephesians 4:17-18.

I have never met a person who accepted Christ because of anything John Calvin wrote did or wrote. They heard the Word and yielded to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. We should quit glorifying John Calvin and throwing birthday parties for him as his legacy is dubious at best and focus on and glorify Christ instead.



Thank you again for an intensely interesting comment. If you read my original posting you know that part of my testimony is that the only exposure I had to Calvinism was from a few chapters of an AW Pink…and I rejected the ideas and never picked the book up again, nor did read any other Calvinist nor listen to any Calvinist. But over the next 2-3 years of simply studying the Scriptures I came to the conclusion that I was saved by God’s grace Alone, that God was totally sovereign in my salvation, and my journey into Reformed doctrine began. In other words Calvin came much later, after the Holy Spirit had already convinced me thru Scripture alone of these truths.

Nowhere have I ever approved or made light of Calvins sins. In saying he was a child of the times in which he lived I am stating a fact that is true. Yes we are all called to live in the world without being of the world, and Christians are called to live biblically.

We all fail and future generations will look at ours and say something to the effect of, “What were those 20th-21st century Baptists thinking with their large buildings, huge salaries for preachers and denominational workers, and the rampant materialism of the average church member. They must not have even been saved!”

Hence, I am thrust back to the doctrines of Grace. We are all fallen sinners, not one of us deserving salvation or able to even choose Christ apart from being born again by the power of the Spirit.

You seem so cavalier in casting aside Augustine, Luther, Calvin and no doubt Zwingli, Knox, and the Puritan divines, Jonathon Edwards and Charles Spurgeon as well. I acknowledge that no one theologian or even school of thought has a corner on all the Scriptures say, and I agree that should all go “ad fontes” to the sources of the Scriptures.

I deeply respect the Church Fathers, even though many of them could be labeled Catholic perhaps. Many of the Catholic medieval scholastics I also expect to see in heaven along with the Reformers. As a Baptist I know the value of the Arminian side of the house of faith as well and believe that Billy Graham has been used mightily of God even tho I disagree with his theology.

Thank you for your contributions to the mark12ministries site!

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

BTW I graduated from OU in ’84

Hi Bryan,

I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the influence of John Calvin. My journey to the Doctrines of Faith took quite a bit longer than yours, for I have been convinced of them only for about 10 years or so. But they have helped me see that this life is not about me, but it’s all about God. I can see much more clearly how all of history, yea, even all of creation, gets its meaning from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am just beginning an in-depth study of Revelation (horrors!) at our church, and Calvinism and Amillennialism have helped me see the immense practicality of that mysterious book. If Scripture does not point to the glory of God in all things, I am at a loss to understand why God gave it to us.

Happy Birthday, John Calvin


Hardy, Great to hear from you again! Yeah, when I was at OU I didn’t know any other Calvinists at all. Probably a good thing…would have scared me away!

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