Tag Archives: Reformed Theology

Reforming the Law: John Calvin and the Use of the Law in Geneva (Pt. 1)

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A Portrait of John Calvin

Addressing “The Pattern of the Law for Piety,” John Calvin states that the law profits believers in two ways: 1) it instructs us about God’s will and 2) it exhorts Christians to obey it. Given these two functions of the law, which are related to its “third use” (McKee, 266), we may wonder what role the law played in the daily life of Christians in Geneva. We may also wonder how important biblical law was for everyday Christians and how the law was enforced. At one point Calvin says,

Now this scriptural instruction of which we speak has two main aspects. The first is that the love of righteousness, to which we are otherwise not at all inclined by nature, may be instilled and established in our hearts; the second, that a rule be set forth for us that does not let us wander about in our zeal for righteousness. (McKee 271)

Here Calvin seems to indicate that the law has two ways of reforming behavior and inculcating a love for righteousness. First, it seems to establish a natural desire in the believer’s heart to obey the law, which prior to regeneration was not there. Second, the law acts as an external form of enforcement,  as a rule that does not let believers wander. In this brief essay I argue that Calvin’s method of instilling of God’s law into God’s people manifests itself in two ways — one, in the organic and unforced social process; the second, externally imposed by legislation. Calvin seeks to navigate between two ways of imposing the law. On the one hand, to leave law-keeping simply up to organic growth may lead to a lack of true enforcement. On the other hand, legislating conformity may create mere external obedience rather than real heart change. As we shall see, both manners of enforcing the law play an important role in Calvin’s Geneva, but both bring potential dangers. We shall begin the discussion of Calvin’s reformation of the use of the law for Christians by highlighting a few examples of how Calvin sees the law play out in Christians’ lives, then  turn our attention to each manner of enforcing the law.

The Pattern of the Law for Piety

Calvin argues that at the core of God’s law there are simply two principles. The first concerns what we owe God, and the second concerns what we own our neighbors. (McKee, 256) Thus all of the law can be considered to fall within the scope of these two concerns. Accordingly, it is the Christian’s duty to learn the law and internalize it. The Christian ought to be like a servant prepared to “search out and observe his master’s ways more and more in order to conform and accommodate himself to them.” (McKee, 266). This is the duty of all Christians, and it  ought to be pursued on a daily basis.

An important aspect of coming to internalize the law involves learning to recognize that other persons are made in the image of God. Learning to see, respect, and honor the image of God in others is a way of owing God what God is due and owing our neighbors wat they are due as well. The recognition and reverence of the image of God imprinted upon each person will keep Christians from shedding the blood of others, stealing from them, and bearing false witness against the. Recognizing the image of God in others will help Christians see the stranger and give them honor and love. The image of God recognized in others will generate a desire to be generous, giving them what they deserve. (McKee, 276) If honoring God and neighbor through the recognition of a shared image of God is the goal of Christian law keeping, we may wonder, how do Christians grow in their desire to follow the law? As mentioned above there are at least two ways. We will jump into these next time…

John Calvin & the Four Nicene Marks of the Church

One theme that emerges throughout Calvin’s works as well as some Calvin biographies is the importance he places upon ecclesiology. We see this in various ways, for instance in his fight for the unity of the protestant movement, in his emphasis on the proper understanding of the Eucharist, and his constant attempts at establishing church discipline in Geneva, just to name a few examples. In this brief essay I will explain a few themes in Calvin’s ecclesiology by using the four marks of the church as they are put forth in the Nicene Creed. Understanding that this is not necessarily the way Calvin organized his ecclesiology, I believe it is a useful tool for explaining what he thought about the church.[1] Thus in this essay I will address what Calvin might understand what is meant when it is said that the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva - Calvin's
St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva – Calvin’s “Home” Church

ONE

            The Nicene creed begins the section about the church by saying “I believe in one…. church.” The oneness of the church is something that Calvin insists upon throughout his career. This might seem to contradict the very nature of the protestant reformation, however in Calvin’s mind it does not present a contradiction, namely because Calvin saw the oneness of the true church as vitally important. This is a theme that emerges in Gordon’s biography of Calvin. Gordon claims that “Calvin understood his destiny to extend far beyond Geneva’s walls: he was a man of the Church, and its unity was his deepest passion.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 35) One concrete example of how unity was at the forefront of Calvin’s mind can be seen in his attempted ecumenical work on the Eucharist. Calvin saw the dispute between Lutheran and Zwinglian understandings of the Eucharist as the major block towards church unity. Thus Calvin attempted to navigate a way between both positions, a way which could unite the church. He did this by signing the Augsburg Variata and the Consensus Tigurinus, as well as cultivating a relationship with Melanchthon. He even traveled extensively, journeying to Berne, Zurich, Basle, Frankfurt, and Strausbourg in order to cultivate unity. Sadly, the unity he desired was not achieved.

HOLY

            The Nicene creed continues by saying “I believe in one, holy… church.” Regarding the holiness of the church Bruce Gordon says “the power of Calvin and his fellow ministers lay not in their talent for excoriation, but in their ability to create a vision of a godly community.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3095) Though he may have done an excellent job of casting vision for what a godly community looked like, one cannot escape his “talent for excoriation.” One can take the incident with the excommunication of Philibert Berthelier as an example. Berthelier had been excommunicated by the Consistory but appealed to the Small Council in order that he may attend the Lord’s Supper. However, Calvin appeared before the council declaring that he would “rather die a hundred deaths than subject Christ to the disgrace of unworthy participation in the Lord’s supper.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc, 3069) However, at the end the city magistrates concluded that church discipline was in their hands and not in the hands of the consistory. This was a defeat for Calvin, who believed that “our Savior set up in his Church the correction and discipline of excommunication.” (Articles Concerning, 50). Nevertheless, Calvin instituted wide spread moral reform. Geneva was transformed from a city filled with immorality, even having a reputation for violence and sodomy, towards a slightly more moral society. Thus in Geneva we see Calvin’s belief that the church ought to be holy and pure.

CATHOLIC

            The third Nicene mark of the church is that it is “catholic.” Interpretations of what is meant by “catholic” are manifold but at the very least we can say that it can refer to that which has universally been believed by the church. A prime example of how Calvin sees protestant churches as being truly catholic (as opposed to the Roman Catholic church) can be seen in how he argues with Sadoleto. In his reply he defends his catholicity by saying “You are mistaken in supposing that we desire to lead away the people from that method of worshiping God which the catholic church always observed.” (Sadoleto, 6) He then claims that the church has always been governed by the Holy Spirit, which God has annexed to the Word, he supports this claim with Scripture and by appealing to Chrysostom. He then argues for the claim that the protestant church represents what has always been believed by appealing to the writings of Basil, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine. Calvin then says “that it [the Church] is the society of all the saints, a society which, spread over the whole world, and existing in all ages, yet bound together by the one doctrine, and the one Spirit of Christ, cultivates and observes unity of faith and brotherly concord.” (Sadoleto, 7) Thus he emphasizes the catholicity of the church, even saying that protestants revere this church, the church which is truly Catholic, as its mother; but he rejects the Roman church as fulfilling this catholic definition of the church.

APOSTOLIC

            The final mark of the church is that it is “apostolic.” Here Calvin rejects apostolic succession in favor of succession of apostolic teaching. One see’s the importance Calvin puts upon apostolic teaching in the way he envisions his own vocation. In one sense we could say that Calvin saw himself as a defender of correct doctrine, this was part of his vocation.  Calvin says regarding this self understanding that “the welfare of this church…lay so near to my heart that for its sake I would not have hesitated to lay down my life.” (McKee, 62) One way he ensured the continuing welfare of the church is through his doctrinal and biblical writings. Much like so many other important figures in the history of the church, Calvin devoted much attention to Romans. There he lays out the Apostolic teaching of the church, especially when it comes to justification. But perhaps even more than in his commentaries or preaching we see Calvin’s understanding of the importance of defending apostolic teaching in the way in which he responds to heretical teaching. Chief among the examples of Calvin’s polemic against those who don’t follow the apostolic teaching is his treatment of Servetus’s work. In Calvin’s mind those who spare heretics and blasphemers are themselves blasphemers (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3157). Though it seems as if Calvin did not want Servetus to die, the Servetus incident shows how seriously Calvin takes the apostolic teaching of the church.

It should be noted that Gordon’s biography sheds light on each of these four marks, but Gordon’s strength in the area of ecclesiology is his contribution to our understanding of the apostolic nature of the church and the unity of the church. In particular, his chapter on Servetus sheds light on Calvin’s motivations to maintain the apostolic teaching of the church, especially within the context of contemporary political and theological thought, in how he treats heretics. Gordon does much to dispel the myth of a bloodthirsty Calvin out to get Servetus. Secondly, his chapter, “European Reformer,” shows how much Calvin did (at times unintentionally) to bring unity to the Reformed churches ranging from churches in Britain to Poland to the Low Countries and even to the Palatinate. Reformed churches throughout these lands were heavily influenced by Calvin and his reforms in Geneva. Many leaders in these countries wrote to Calvin for advice and some, including John Knox, even came to Geneva to learn from Calvin. Thus even though he never achieved the unity in the church he desired, his contributions went a long way towards establishing some sort of unity based upon his Reformed understandings of the faith and church polity.

CONCLUSION

            There are many ways to approach Calvin’s ecclesiology. We could define it in terms of the two marks he mentions (right distribution of the sacraments and the word properly preached), he views on the current state of the church vs. God’s intention for the church, or even his perceived role in building up the church, however we have chosen to examine his ecclesiology in terms of these loci classicus. Hopefully this heuristic has helped to shed light upon Calvin’s understanding of the church within a historical context.


[1] At least given our readings, and my prior knowledge of Calvin’s work I am not familiar with him organizing his ecclesiology in light of these four marks.

Book Giveaway – What is Reformed Theology?

Its that time again, time to win a free book! This time around I am giving away a free copy of R.C. Sproul’s, What is Reformed Theology? You can read my review of the book here.

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To win a copy of the book all you need to do is one of the following:

  • Tweet out the link to this blog post or the review and mention @Cwoznicki
  • Retweet my tweet about the giveaway
  • Like this post on WordPress
  • Like this post on Facebook
  • Comment below on how this book would benefit you

You will get one entry for each of these things that you do.

I will be selecting one winner soon. Good luck!

Note: You need to live within the continental US to be eligible to win a copy of this book.

What is Reformed Theology?

 In some circles being “reformed” is a badge of honor, elsewhere bearing that name is enough to get you blacklisted.

So what does it mean to be “Reformed?” R.C. Sproul unpacks this in this 2016 edition of a theological best seller. In this book he contrasts “God-Centered Theology” and “Man-Centered” theology, claiming essential that Reformed theology is the most “God-Centered” theology there is, it is a theology driven by a particular understanding of the character of God.

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What is this sort of theology committed to? First, it is committed to being centered on God. Second, it is based on God’s Word alone (in a non-reductionistic sense). Third, it is committed to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (though faith does not stand alone). Fourth, it is Christocentric. Finally it is structured by three covenants: 1)Works, 2)Grace, 3)Redemption. He does a fairly decent job of not just explaining Reformed doctrine but moreso giving a feel of the reformed mindset, which in my humble opinion is the best way into getting into what “Reformed” actually means. After he covers these 5 Reformed distinctive he moves on to TULIP. You know… THE DEFINITION of REFORMED THEOLOGY:

T: Total Depravity

U: Unconditional Election

L: Limited Atonement

I: Irresistible Grace

P: Perseverance of the Saints

What bothers me the most about this, isn’t that he believes in TULIP, it’s the fact that he makes TULIP the standard of Reformed theology. Not everyone who signs on to Reformed theology follows the cannons of Dort. At the very least there is certainly dispute over the L of limited atonement. Second, I believe that by defining Reformed Theology in light of TULIP,  Sproul rather reinforces certain stereotypes and a certain reductionist form of Reformed theology which boils it down to one doctrine, namely predestination. Reformed theology is certainly much more than this! I believe that if Sproul had ended the book after the first 5 chapters we would have gotten a pretty good understanding of what the Reformed Tradition as a whole is, but given that he chooses to use the stereotypical definition to define this tradition he ends up, at least in my opinion, reducing “Reformed” Theology to one particular brand of it.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Reformed Views on Predetermined Human Action

I recently came across a quote by Richard Muller (“Grace, Election and Contingent Choice” in The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will) in which he disagrees with a commonly held misconception about Reformed views on Freedom. There he says:

It was never the Reformed view that the moral acts of human beings are predetermined, any more than it was ever the Reformed view that the fall of Adam was willed by God to the exclusion of Adam’s free choice of sin. The divine ordination of all things is not only consistent with human freedom; it makes human freedom possible. (270)

I’m looking forward to reading more on this in his upcoming book on the Divine Will and Human Choice, which should be out early in 2017.

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Kyle Strobel on Jonathan Edwards’ Doctrine of Theosis

A few weeks ago Kyle Strobel (Talbot Seminary) came in to Oliver Crisp’s Jonathan Edwards Seminar to present a paper on Jonathan Edwards’ doctrine of theosis. For those of you who are interested in this topic – here are my rough notes:

Kyle Strobel – assistant professor of spiritual theology and formation at Talbot School of Theology

Is there such a thing as a Reformed Doctrine of theosis?
• Isn’t necessarily an “eastern doctrine.”

Theosis – several options
• Either communication of attributes
• Or participation in divine nature
• Edwards – does both

Theosis, Deification, Divinization are synonymous terms.
Though there is accepted terminology there is no accepted definition across the traditions.

Assumed: The Divine essence is incommunicable. But the divine nature is communicable.
For a doctrine of theosis to be the doctrine of theosis it must order the rest of soteriology.

The protestant tradition appropriated theosis with Protestant particularities:
• Communication of divine attributes
• Participation in relation to the divine persons (through adoption)

Edwards is able to draw together both traditional expositions of theosis.

What Edwards does is provide a thorough going Reformed doctrine of theosis.

1-Doctrine of Trinity → gives us the mechanics for theosis.

• The doctrine of God simply is affection in pure act.
• The Son and the Spirit both have natures intrinsic to their identity. But they are persons only as they exist in perichoretic relation to one another.
• See the psychological analogy
• Edwards distinction b/w divine essence & divine nature protects from radical divinization
o The nature is communicable but the essence is not
o i.e. Holy Spirit is God’s very holiness – which we can receive
• The natures of the persons are communicable. God gives himself to the believers so they can participate in his own life: his self-knowledge and self-love.
• In Edwards account its impossible to pull apart the persons and natures of God. (The son just is his love and the Spirit just is his love.)
• If God is going to give himself to you he just has to give you his Son & Spirit.

Concluding Thoughts

• Theosis – grounded in Trinitarian participation, modeled in incarnation, effected by Spirit.
• What kind of doctrine of theosis is this? One that covers both options.
• God’s own personal attributes of knowledge and love are now known as through a mirror darkly, but in new creation they will be made clear.
• Glory and happiness are words that describe God’s communicable life. This just is what we participate in.
• He offers a qualification though – never lose their personal identity.

Top Ten Books of 2014

Christmas is the best time of the year to make lists!

  • Santa Claus is checking his list of kids who were naughty and nice, deciding which kids are going to get presents and which kids are going to get coal.
  • The nice kids are making lists of toys they want. (God bless the greedy little children, every one!)
  • Grown ups are creating Amazon wish lists hoping that somebody will get them something. (Mine is up on Amazon, just in case you want to get me something…)
  • Mom is making a grocery list, outlining all the stuff she needs to buy in order to pull off the perfect Christmas dinner. (I’m okay with just Tamales.)

But maybe most importantly, bloggers are making their “Best Of….” Lists for 2014. So I present to you the most important list you will see this holiday Season….

Chris Woznicki’s Best Books of 2014!!!

Best of 2014

Here are my qualifications to make it on to this list:

  1. Published in 2014
  2. I would give that book to somebody else
  3. I would re-read the book
  4. It is not a crappy book

With that I give you my favorite books of the year across 10 different categories: Biblical Studies, Theology, Mission, Ministry, Biography, Reformed, Charismatic, Devotional, Most Important, and of course Book of the Year.

Biblical Studies – Reading Backwards by Richard Hays

Reading Backwards

There were a lot of good biblical studies books that came out this year, including From Jesus to the Church by Craig Evans & How God Became Jesus by Michael Bird. However, the book that takes the top honor is Richard Hays’ Reading Backwards. In this series of printed lectures, Hays makes a most convincing case that the Gospel writers portraits of Jesus depend on a typological reading of the Old Testament. We have been waiting for this book for years!

Theology – Christ Crucified by Donald Macleod

Christ Crucified

Originally the winner was supposed to be Atonement, Law, and Justice by Adonis Vidu – probably the most important book on atonement theory published in the last 5 years. However another book on the doctrine of atonement snuck its way into my list of books to read in 2014. I haven’t finished it yet (I’m halfway through), but the top honor goes to Donald McLeod’s Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement. Rarely does an academic theology book make me cry because of how it glorifies Christ. This book had me in tears (the good kind) because it helps me see the glorious wonder of the cross and of penal substitution.

Mission – Primal Fire by Neil Cole

Primal Fire

Primal Fire is one of the clearest, most encouraging, and most biblically-theologically based APEST book out there right now. Not to mention, it will also ignite a fire up under you to discover how you can best serve the church to reach the maturity that God has intended for it. You can find my review here. (Honorable mention goes to Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keese – this book will get you pumped on what God is doing in unreached areas.)

Ministry – Slow Church by Christopher Smith & John Pattison

Slow Church

I loved this book! Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus explores what it would look like for the church to embrace the “slow” way of life. Humans can’t thrive and flourish on a fast food diet – neither can the church thrive and flourish with a “fast church” mentality. Change is needed – the church needs to slough off its industrialized and Macdonald-ized approach to church. It needs to embrace a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of life grounded in a grand gospel. Slow Church helps us imagine what it would look like if the church were to do that. You can read my review here. (Also, my review of this book will be published in the next issue of Themlios.)

Biography – Strange Glory by Charles Marsh

Strange Glory

This is an excellent and highly entertaining biography. It is very well written; at times it felt as though I were reading a novel, not a historical biography. But more importantly than that it is comprehensive, it goes beyond merely reporting the standard story, but instead strives to get into Bonhoeffer’s mind.  Marsh understands Bonhoeffer’s theology, and he seems to understand some of the things that really acted as driving forces in Bonhoeffer’s life. I recommended that you read this biography alongside of Eric Metaxas’ biography so that you will be able to form your own picture of who Bonhoeffer really was. You can read a full review here. (Honorable mention goes to Wesley on the Christian Life by Fred Sanders. Sanders’ book helped me to appreciate Wesley as a theologian of love.)

Reformed – Deviant Calvinism by Oliver Crisp

Deviant Calvinism - Crisp

I could not put this book down. I was so enthralled by it and the possibility moving past funadamentlistic neo-Puritianism (i.e. Johnny Mac and his cronies) that I read through it in a day and a half. Not only was it interesting though, it was very well argued. As is well known, Oliver Crisp is at the forefront of Analytic Theology – the theological method which applies the rigor and clarity of analytic philosophy to systematic theology. You can read the full review here.

Charismatic – Jesus Continued by J.D. Greear

Jesus Continued

Should I have categorized this book as being Charismatic? Probably not – but it is about the Holy Spirit! I loved this book so much. In fact I loved it so much that I have given away 15 copies of this book. I gave it to my Life Group leaders and to a few students who really needed it. Honestly this book could not have come at a better time for me. The Lord used it to speak so much truth into my life, truths that I have neglected or forgotten. It also stirred my heart for the possibility of revival. You can read the full review here.

Devotional – Prayer by Tim Keller

Prayer Tim Keller

Anything written by Keller is pure gold. Do you struggle with praying as consistently as you would like to? Would you like to experience God more personally in your quiet time? Do you want to have your heart awakened to the gospel? Are you tired of searching for the latest greatest spiritual discipline? If you answered yes to any of these questions – this book is for you. It grounds the discipline of prayer in the gospel and gives us practical ways to infuse our prayer habits with new life.

Most Important – Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1 by Geerhardus Vos

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Technically this isn’t a new book. It was published nearly 100 years ago. However this is the first time its been translated into English. Vos is an important figure in Neo-Calvinist theology, right behind Kuyper and Bavinck. I’m so grateful to have his Dogmatic Theology. Also, volume two has come out this year and the rest of the set will come out in the next year or so.

Book of the Year – Visions of Vocation by Steve Garber

Visions of Vocation

What the heck am I supposed to be doing with my life? Weaving together personal stories, literature, film, music, and scripture Garber helps us answer this question. He shows us what vocations are all about. He has written a book that will certainly inspire you to see your place in the world a bit differently. He not only aims at our heads, he aims at our hearts, drawing us into the story of what God is doing in this world. He invites us into the critical task of coming alongside of God as God himself give grace to a world that is broken and falling apart. Answering that invitation is what vocations are all about.

Earlier this year, when I wrote a review (here) I said:

I know its early in the year, but this book is so well written, so theologically powerful, and packs such a powerful devotional punch that it is definitely a frontrunner for my book of the year award.

It turns out that I stuck to my guns. This year was my favorite book of the year. If you buy only one book to read in 2015, buy this book!