The lapel buttons worn by a church staff displayed “WWCS.” I asked what the letters meant and they said, “What would Calvin say?”
My response: “Who cares?” Ever since I saw those buttons I have wanted to ask those fellows why they put Calvin’s name where the name of Jesus should be.
John Calvin is my friend, of course, as historic believers may be who have influenced us in positive ways. I enjoyed reading portions of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, and he has definitely influenced my thinking about God and salvation.
Calvin did continue to baptize infants (which I do not endorse), and at one time he ran Geneva like the city belonged to him, which seems to me to be a confusion between the city of God and the city of men. Most lamentably, he consented to the execution of Servetus in Geneva as a heretic. Executing anybody for their religious opinions should be off the agenda for followers of the executed heretic, Jesus of Nazareth.
Calvin was not perfect, we all would agree. He created an amazing systematic theology which is not perfect, either. The Bible is the infallible Word of God. The Institutes are not.
The way we interpret the Bible is of utmost importance. Trying to see how these 66 books speak in unity is not always easy. Some people think that having a systematic hermeneutic is the key.
I disagree for one obvious reason. The system—any system—is a fallible human creation. The Bible does not give us a list of TULIP principles or seven dispensations or a glossary for its vocabulary.
Therefore, no system is itself the Word of God. Anyone who sees all of Scripture through a manmade system is making a critical hermeneutical error. He is imposing a flawed system upon that which is God-breathed, and the flawed system will inevitably distort what is in perfect harmony in the heart of God.
No systematic hermeneutic exists that does not result in this distortion. That is why no such hermeneutic is recorded in the Bible. The only hermeneutic worthy of a God-breathed Word is a personal hermeneutic, God himself. Jesus as the climactic revelation of the Father is the prism through which we must read all of Scripture: the written word through the living Word. As God’s supreme revelation, Christ Jesus supersedes all human reason and logic. We blur the Word made flesh by forcing upon Him these systems which are neither of Him nor by Him. We must continually go back to simple Biblicism as our source for truth, not any man-made theological system.
Bring a TULIP system to the Word of God and the simple instruction of Jesus to love our enemies must be diced and blended. In the TULIP system God hates his enemies. Why would he instruct us to love them? Jesus taught that our love of our enemies is evidence that we are children of God because that is how God loves. The love of God for enemies, strangers, outcasts, and orphans is fundamental, yet preachers are actually declaring otherwise because they hold to an uninspired system of interpretation that seeks to give intellectual harmony to God’s inspired Word. All along God intended that we should live with the tensions and mysteries of his unfettered Word, a position that requires and inspires both humility and unity in the Body of Christ.
Every eschatological system has its own supporting proof texts, but struggles to harmonize these with other texts. For example, dispensationalism has strong support from some texts, but in its classical form it relegates the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount to a future millennial kingdom, not contemporary Christian life. Every system requires scissors and paste, new definitions for common words, and contorted interpretations of obvious texts that don’t fit the system.
I have written my own systematic primer, and I know they can be useful. We all must try to put all the biblical texts together and say what they mean. But none of these human systems perfectly expresses divine truth. Hopefully, no one will suggest that mine should become the template for understanding God’s perfect Word!
Forget Calvin. Forget the systems: dispensational, premillennial, Calvinistic, etc. Pick up your Bible. Study, meditate, and memorize. Soak yourself in the Word of God more so than what other broken people say about it. Bible study aids of all kinds can and do help us with our understanding, but they must remain secondary.
Go to the primary documents and read them for themselves. Do not force them into any preconceived structures. Come up with your own thoughts and outlines. Maybe it will blow your mind. Maybe it will liberate you from the intellectual and spiritual shackles that you think are the keys to true understanding. Shed your preconceptions and see what the Book says. Take two or three steps back and regain your child-like perspective on God and His way with us.