[John] Calvin’s Institutes is often called a summary of Christian piety. You can’t say that about many modern works of theology. You can say it of Calvin.
[Calvinistic tradition] has fashioned and shaped my thinking since I was a teenager.
It is often reported that the Five Points of Calvinism are the conceptual hard-core of Reformed thought. That is very misleading. The Five Points supposedly originate with the Synod of Dort in the early seventeenth century. Yet we find important Reformed leaders who were signatories to that documentation who don’t think that limited atonement is the right way to think about the scope of Christ’s saving work. How can this be? The answer that recent historical theology has thrown up is that the canons of the Synod don’t require adherence to the doctrine of limited atonement.
The book [Saving Calvinism] argues in each case that the Reformed tradition is broader and deeper than we might think at first glance – not that there are people on the margins of the tradition saying crazy things we should pay attention to, but rather that there are resources within the “mainstream” so to speak, which give us reason to think that the tradition is nowhere near as doctrinally narrow as the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” might lead one to believe.
God shows us in Christ what he would have to do if he were to punish us for our sins.
There is no such thing as a stationary tradition. Traditions are always developing, living things.
I think everyone who has an interest in Reformed theology, or just in Christian theology more generally, should read John Calvin Institutes.
There are constraints on what counts as “Reformed.” It’s more than a name or a label. It’s about belonging to a particular theological stream or tradition, which is shaped in important respects by particular thinkers and their work, particular arguments and ideas, a particular community (especially, particular church communities, denominations, and so on), particular liturgies or ways of worshipping and living out the Christian life, and particular confessions that inform the practices of these communities.
[ Jonathan] Edwards is the person who really made theological determinism a serious option for Reformed thinkers, and the influence his views had in nineteenth century Reformed thought, in the USA and the UK in particular, is enormous.
What I am trying to argue here [Save Calvinism] and in other works before this one is that the Reformed tradition as I have characterized it is much broader and richer than many of us today imagine. It is not just about “Five Points,” and it was never just about [John ] Calvin’s thought.
Reformed theology belongs to this confessional tradition, and Reformed theologians and churches continue to write confessions even today.
The confessions don’t speak with one voice. They are more like a cluster of closely-related but distinct voices – a kind of choir, if you like.
The expansion I have in mind isn’t the same as distortion. Of course, there are those who say their views represent Reformed thought, but what they end up with is a caricature of what Reformed thinking is really about. I hope I am not one of those people, but readers [of the Saving Calvinism] will have to make up their own minds on that score!
The atonement chapter [from the book Saving Calvinism] shows how there are real riches in Reformed theology that most Christians today have no idea about.
Christ’s work is a kind of deterrent to us, and a way of upholding the justice of God’s divine government of the world.
For instance, there are many mainstream Reformed theologians that deny the doctrine of “limited” atonement (the “L” in TULIP, the acrostic for the Five Points of Calvinism). These are not thinkers on the margins or troublemakers. They are leaders at the center of Reformed thinking like Bishop John Davenant.
[John] Calvin is revered as a thinker of immense importance in Reformed thought, Jonathan Edwards could say in his preface to his treatise on Freedom of the Will that he had derived none of his views from the work of Calvin, though he was willing to be called a “Calvinist” for the sake of convention.
I recommend Doug Sweeney’s recent book [Jonathan] Edwards the Exegete (Oxford University Press, 2015), which is a terrific treatment of the way in which Edwards was steeped in the Bible, so that it shaped the whole of his thinking.
That is the great contribution of Reformed thinking to the Christian church: theology for a life well-lived.
The best Reformed theology isn’t just about careful arguments for theologically sophisticated conclusions. It is about how to live the Christian life.
[John Calvin’s] treatment of the person and work of Christ, of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, of prayer and liturgy, of the sacraments, and of the way in which we have an in-built sense of the divine that we suppress to our great sorrow – these are all immense contributions to Christian thought. The same could be said of his commentaries, which are still regularly consulted by biblical critics today.
[John] Calvin is often identified with his account of predestination. Yet that appears in the third book of his Institutes, not the first.
One of the things we in the Reformed tradition are very good at is writing doctrinal theology!
[John Calvin’s] Humanist training makes him an excellent writer. What is more, he is as relevant today as he was 500 years ago.
For those interested in Reformed thought more broadly, I’d recommend Peter Leithart’s recent book on Reformed Catholicism entitled, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Brazos Press, 2016), as a thought-provoking and stimulating read that should get us all thinking about the future shape of the Church, wherever we come from.