Magazine article The Christian Century

Calvin at 500

Magazine article The Christian Century

Calvin at 500

Article excerpt

YOU MAY FIND members of Presbyterian and Reformed churches more theologically engaged than usual these days. This year marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth. I decided to observe the occasion by focusing my reading this summer on Calvin. I skimmed T. H. L. Parker's classic biography, which I had read years before. I read Bruce Gordon's new and exceptional biography, Calvin; William Stacy Johnson's John Calvin: Reformer for the 21st Century; the commemorative issue of Theology Today; and a surprisingly lucid Calvin for Armchair Theologians, by Christopher Elwood.

Calvin was first and foremost a humanist scholar, influenced by the early pre-Enlightenment thinking at the University of Paris. When his father had a falling out with church authorities in Noyon, Calvin transferred to Orleans to study law. His skills as a humanist and legal thinker made him a formidable writer and debater--some would say a kind of prosecuting attorney for the Reformed faith. He argued and fought with everybody, even his closest friends. He corresponded extensively with Philip Melancthon in Wittenberg, with the archbishop of Canterbury and with all the major leaders of the Reformation.

Gordon calls Calvin "the greatest reformer of the 16th century, brilliant, visionary and iconic. The superior force of his mind was evident in all he did. He was also ruthless, and an outstanding hater.... He never felt he had encountered his intellectual equal and he was probably correct. …

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