The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition

By Richard A. Muller | Go to book overview

ONE
An Approach to Calvin
On Overcoming Modern Accommodations

Theological Approaches to Calvin: The Problem

The life and thought of John Calvin (1509–1564), the great Reformer of Geneva and one of the principal founders of the Reformed tradition, have been presented on so many pages in such a wide variety of books that, at first glance, one might well wonder whether anything new can be said. Reams of pages have been written on Calvin's Institutes alone. Nonetheless, even cursory examination of works written in the second half of the twentieth century reveals less than a consensus. One can read, for instance, that Calvin's Institutes is not a theological system but a theology of piety or a theology of rhetoric or a rhetoric of piety or a pastoral theology—or that it is indeed a theological system. Or that Calvin was a humanist rhetor who opposed scholastic theology in all its forms—or that Calvin stands in continuity with several of the scholastic theological currents of the later Middle Ages. Or that Calvin was a rigid logician; on the contrary, Calvin was a theologian or, better, not a theologian, but a rhetor of piety. Calvin's theology rested on the divine decrees as a central principle; Calvin's theology rested on the principle of the sovereignty of God; Calvin's theology centered on the doctrine of the Trinity; Calvin's thought was christocentric. Calvin's thought was a gathering and juxtaposition of opposites or perspectives, having no central principle. So, too, we can read that Calvin was not a “covenant theologian” and that he taught only a unilateral concept of covenant in contrast to Bullinger's bilateral concept—or that Calvin held the doctrine of covenant in high esteem and did teach a bilateral view of covenant.

The list of contemporary interpretive antitheses could be continued indefinitely. There is no use in reciting further examples—and there is even less in attempting to

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