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Calvin’s World View Perspective

Category Articles
Date October 2, 2009

The opening paper at the John Owen Centre Calvin conference (September 14-15, 2009) was given by Joel Beeke and was on ‘Calvin the Revolutionary’. It was very helpful indeed.

Dr Beeke’s first concern was to state that Calvin was a man with a holistic, unified way of thinking. There is no real dualism in him. Nevertheless for the purposes of the paper he looked first at Calvin’s worldview perspective and then at his views on piety and the Christian life.

1. Calvin’s worldview perspective

After sketching something of the history of this idea, labelling it post-enlightenment, he then brought before us four outworkings of what would be claimed as from Calvin’s approach today.

1. Neo-Calvinist perspective

Here he took us back to Kuyper’s Stone lectures and the idea that Christians should transform culture by being fully involved.

2. The two-kingdom perspective

Daryl Hart’s view arises from what Calvin says in the 1559 Institutes 3.19.15 (Battles edition):

Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘temporal’ jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life – not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority.

The focus is on the church and assumes a trickle down effect.

3. The Neo-Puritans

The Neo-Puritans (Piper and Co) speak of a political personal response of love and a rediscovery of transcendence even in the mundane ministries of mercy. They appear to advocate a counter-culture that will eventually transform culture.

4. The old Calvinist approach

These have warned against social involvement as a route to worldliness. Calvin himself speaks of the danger of being alienated from the pursuit of the heavenly life, of being a wanderer if not fixed on Christ. For the old Calvinist if we concentrate on personal godliness other things will look after themselves, rather than trying to argue that one or other of these views is more Calvinistic than another.

Dr Beeke then drew our attention to Calvin on piety.

2. Calvin on piety and the Christian life

Here we were pointed to true knowledge, heartfelt love, the fear of God, prayerful submission, reverential love, etc. He stressed that this piety is not a private thing. We are interconnected in the church and in society. He drew attention to what Calvin has to say about piety in Book 3 of The Institutes. There he stresses prayer (the chief exercise of faith); repentance; self-denial (inward); cross bearing (outward) which rouses to hope, trains in patience, instructs in obedience, chastens in pride; the present and the future life (complexio oppositorum) where the believer walks the middle road between enjoying this life and seeing it a temporary; obedience (the essence of piety).

Cultural engagement must be understood in the context of piety. Calvin always discusses the natural and spiritual together. There is no spiritual/secular divide for him. Among his key points in this are these -Our relationship to God the most important thing; the institutional church plays an essential role in a believer’s growth; life itself as well as social engagement results in cross bearing; this world is fallen but providence prevents utter chaos and so we should strive for betterment in this world; the context of eternity and the anticipation of glory.

3. Conclusion connecting the two

Part of the problem today is a post-Cartesian way of discussing subjects. When it comes to what appear to us to be two diverse things then what binds them together in Calvin?

1. The glory of God

There is bound to be tension for us in this world but in every area we must keep in mind God’s glory

Eschatological hope

This too is important. We need to bear in mind hell too and give due weight to mission and evangelism.

We must beware of non-integrated thinking

Living every minute of every day soli deo gloria was the revolutionary teaching of Calvin and it was taken up by the Puritans to a degree of perfection.

A useful discussion followed on modern views of Calvin, political rebellion, etc.

Gary Brady is Pastor of Childs Hill Baptist Church, London. The above appeared during the Conference on his Heavenly Worldliness blog.

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