By Brett Younger
Smilin’ John Calvin was born in France in 1509. Educated as a lawyer, Jean found jurisprudence too free-wheeling so he switched his affection to the church.
During his ministry in Geneva, Calvin preached over 2,000 sermons. His sermons lasted more than an hour and he did not use notes. Those listening did not take notes either, but you were expected to pay attention. In 1547, a man who left during the sermon was imprisoned.
Calvin proposed to one woman on the condition that she learn French, but broke that off and graciously — romantic that he was — wrote that he would never think of marrying her, “unless the Lord had entirely bereft me of my wits.” Later that same year he married Idelette de Bure, a widow whose first husband was — imagine the scandal — an Anabaptist.
Calvin was sick much of his life, suffering from tuberculosis, heart problems, malaria and kidney stones. According to one source, Calvin passed a stone the size of a chestnut. This might explain his crankiness.
Not-so-silent Cal did not, for instance, care for Jewish people: “Their rotten and unbending stiffneckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone.”
Calvin also did not care for Michael Servetus, a Protestant theologian who disagreed with Calvin on the doctrine of the Trinity. When Servetus came to Geneva to talk about their differences he was sentenced to burning at the stake. Calvin, softy that he was, suggested that he only be beheaded, but leniency only goes so far.
How could the New Calvinists not fall in love with the prophet of doom who wrote, “All things being at God’s disposal, and the decision of salvation or death belonging to him, he orders all things by his counsel and decree in such a manner, that some men are born devoted from the womb to certain death, that his name may be glorified in their destruction?”
Southern Baptists are gushing over this poet of predestination. The young, restless and reformed are pushing for a straightforward theology that doesn’t bother with questions.
Frank Page, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee and a self-described “non-Calvinist” is so worried about Calvin’s groupies that he formed “The Advisory Team on Calvinism” (which looks great on a T-shirt) to ease tensions between the chosen and the choosing.
The team’s seven-page report, “Truth, Trust and Testimony in a Time of Tension” laid out the differences. Interestingly, the new Calvinists are not pushing for Calvin’s views on church/state, church governance or infant baptism.
Some Baptist moderates are amused that Southern Baptists are now looking for ways, according to Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (who sounds so 1980), to seek balance, sensitivity and an openness to divergent viewpoints.
The news that a schism would be a problem for a denomination in decline is a little late. The idea of staying together and disagreeing may have made sense 30 years ago, but it is not likely to work this time. Calvinists are not like terrorists; you can reason with terrorists.
The rising popularity of Calvinism has to be attributed to its cool TULIP acronym. The five points of Calvinism are:
T — Total Depravity. All of us are really, really, really bad — Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Britney Spears bad. Mother Teresa is bad like Kim Kardashian.
U — Unconditional Election. Calvinist scoreboards display the final score at the beginning of the game. John Edwards, Paris Hilton and Charlie Sheen never had a chance. A Calvinist in a car accident can only lament, “I’m glad that’s over.”
L — Limited Atonement. Jesus died not for the world (no more John 3:16 bumper stickers), but for the elect. A hyper Calvinist is not a Presbyterian drinking Mountain Dew, but one that recognizes that God orders, decrees and determines, but does not invite.
I — Irresistible Grace. God brings the elect to salvation through an internal call which they are powerless to resist. Real Calvinists are confused by buffets and have trouble with multiple-choice questions.
P — Perseverance of the Saints. Once in, always in. Calvinists don’t sign up for dating services. They just wait for the call.
Most of the Calvinists I know seem like Universalists with anger issues. I would much rather follow Calvin and Hobbes than John Calvin, but maybe God made me that way.