Following Frank Viola’s ‘Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin’

This is a more or less affirmative response to Frank Viola’s Patheos post, “Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin.”

William F. Buckley once asked, “What scruples about human beings did Stalin have that Hitler didn’t? Anything?” Now I’m wondering, “What scruples about human beings did John Calvin have that the popes didn’t? Anything?”

With Calvin and other religious leaders, followers believe something like this:

The man was a product of his time and culture, so we must see him in context, yet he was chosen by God to communicate counter-cultural wisdom and godly insight. The unfavorable elements of the man are assigned to culture and the favorable elements are assigned to God. (Why isn’t the “godly insight” more readily assigned to culture?)

This is not a new observation or argument. I just don’t understand why so many are at peace with a guy who allegedly was chosen by God to communicate an allegedly godly intellectual system while God didn’t care also to offer counter-cultural, godly insights into the problems of an ISIS-style regime. Morality doesn’t change, unless we’re being moral relativists, right?

To be sure, Frank Viola includes important context from a seminary prof, Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College.

Strachan notes in part:

“Geneva was a place ruled by law, even theological law, but so were most every other European cities. This was not a nice era. It was rough. Life, as Hobbes said, was nasty, brutish, and short. Calvin’s Geneva provided all kinds of pastoral help to the city, and the city thrived under Calvin. It was also a place of refuge for Protestants from all over Europe. Geneva was not the exception in having tough communal strictures. It was the rule.”

But if John Calvin is so important to the cause of Christianity today, why did not God enlighten him with counter-cultural leadership rather than just counter-cultural ideas?

Like one nasty Internet meme essentially says, “God could have outlawed shellfish or slavery. He chose shellfish.”

It’s easy to see why someone would conclude we’re alone.


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