Friday, October 16, 2009

Can We Maintain John Calvin's True Legacy?

There is a really good article in this month's New Horizons (denominational magazine for the OPC) about John Calvin. John Muether writes on "Calvin, American Calvinism, and the OPC." Muether talks about the recent popularity of Calvinism and the apparent resurgence of Calvinism among the "young, restless, and Reformed" crowd (see this previous post for more background). He asserts that even as B.B. Warfield, John Murray, and Cornelius Van Til taught in times past that Calvin would not have recognized many who have claimed to be his descendents, that once again, this would be the case for this new version of Calvinism as well.
So popular has New Calvinism become, especially among young adults, that its appeal threatens to dwarf the more publicized "emerging church" movement. As preferred as that outcome might be, zeal and enthusiasm do not a full-orbed Calvinist make. . . .'It's a new day in Calvinism . . . when Baptists and charismatics have become chief spokesmen.'
Muether proposes that "it seems that something less than [sic] a genuine rediscovery of the Reformed faith is happening in this quincentenary year." One cannot simply reduce or change a system of theology and maintain the integrity of the theology presumably being confessed. Muether writes:
Modifications of Calvinism are often promoted in the interest of semper reformanda (always reforming). To be sure, Calvin taught that the church must always be reformed according to the Word of God. But semper reformanda is no license for change for its own sake, much less a slogan for incessant innovation. Calvin himself on his deathbed warned his successor, Theodore Beza: "Beware of making changes and innovations, which were always dangerous and sometimes harmful."

We would do especially well to challenge popular claims, made in the supposed interest of semper reformanda, that submission to our primary standard (the Scriptures) must make us suspicious of our secondary standards (the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms). "Reformed" is defined by the historic Reformed confessions and cannot be redefined by every generation. We must respect the historic exegesis of the church, adopting a robust and fruitful "hermeneutics of submission," not the trendy "hermeneutics of suspicion."
Muether concludes with sage advice, "Calvin bequeathed to the church a gracious legacy that equips us to live faithfully in our own age. Orthodox Presbyterians who love the Reformed faith should accept no substitutes."

I would add that even though the context for Muether's article is the OPC, that the point is quite well made for a larger audience as well. Reformed theology is not a denominationally exclusive interpretation of scripture. Anyone belonging to any of the Reformed denominations in America (NAPARC--North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) or across the world (ICRC--International Conference of Reformed Churches) should not accept any substitutes, no matter how seemingly popular and trendy. Let's not prove Mark Twain right when he sarcastically quipped, "Everybody's private motto: It's better to be popular than right."

Let's get Calvinism right since the ongoing spiritual health of the church is at stake. The historic tendency towards modification as well as the newest alteration calls the heirs of Calvin to be steadfast to "distinguish genuine Calvinism from its counterfeit forms," and to maintain Calvin's true legacy. It's not about trendiness, it's about faithfulness.

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