500 Years of Influence
Jul 10, 2009 David Lang

500 Years of Influence

As I mentioned yesterday, today is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. Love him or hate him, Calvin's influence is undeniable, even half a millennium later.

My closest brush with Calvin came about ten years ago when I entered the home of Dr. Charles Ryrie to help him with his Accordance installation. Beside the door in a glass case was a first edition of Calvin's Institutes in English. As I and the friend who had asked me to help Dr. Ryrie were preparing to leave, I started talking with Dr. Ryrie about this copy of the Institutes. "Would you like to hold it?" He asked. My first thought was, "No, I don't want to hold it! What if I mess it up?" But I did end up holding it for a few moments, and as I did, Dr. Ryrie made a comment along the lines of, "Imagine writing a book that had the kind of impact this book did."

I thought this was high praise coming from Dr. Ryrie, whose study Bible has been immensely popular and whose writings have been widely influential. Dr. Ryrie's praise was amplified by the fact that he belongs to a theological camp which is not strictly "Calvinist."

As an aside, my brush with early Protestantism did not end with Calvin's Institutes, which was thankfully returned to its case unharmed. After it became clear to Dr. Ryrie that I knew a little about church history, he got excited and retrieved a couple other old books to show me. "Now these I'm not going to let you hold," he told me. Then he showed me a small pocket-sized edition of the Greek New Testament printed in the early sixteenth century, followed by his prized possession: a copy of Luther's German hymnal with a handwritten sermon on the opening leaves. He explained that the sermon was on "the two shall become one" in Genesis 2, and that this hymnal had therefore probably been given as a wedding gift. As he turned to the final leaf of the sermon, he prepared to show me the signature. That this sermon would have been written by Luther himself seemed too good to be true, so I guessed before he turned the page that it was written by Philip Melanchthon. Sure enough, Melanchthon's signature was there at the bottom of the page! It was all very cool, and I deeply appreciated Dr. Ryrie sharing his collection and his enthusiasm with me.

Anyway, back to Calvin. If you want to find out more about Calvin's life and influence, here are a few Accordance resources you may find helpful. Schaff's History of the Christian Church includes an extended discussion of Calvin's life, his influence, his relationship to other reformers, and more. If that's more than you want to chew on, Zondervan's New International Dictionary of the Christian Church includes an excellent article on Calvin with links to other related figures (Cop, Farel, Sadoleto, Servetus, etc.). IVP's New Dictionary of Theology also offers excellent articles on Calvin and Calvinism. Lorraine Boettner's Reformed Doctrine of Predestination includes an extended section on Calvinism in History which traces the spread of Calvin's ideas across Europe and America. If you're really ambitious, doing a Search All for Calvin will turn up all kinds of additional information about Calvin's life and work in journals, dictionaries and encyclopedias, commentaries, etc. Finally, you can go straight to the source by exploring Calvin's Institutes and his Commentaries.

From what I know of Calvin, he would be uncomfortable with all the attention surrounding his 500th birthday. At his request, he was buried in an unmarked grave precisely because he wanted to avoid any undue adulation. Nevertheless, Calvin's influence has been profound, and we would do well to familiarize ourselves with his life and work. With Accordance, that's easy to do.

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Archived Comments

Patty Morman

July 12, 2009 10:30 AM

Nice brush there with Calvin and Ryrie!  His was one of our first Study Bibles way  back in college, in the 70\\\'s -- before we had been exposed much to Calvin.

Our brush with Calvin was visiting St Peter\\\'s  in Geneva,  where he pastored.  We also enjoyed   the building next door where he wrote his Institutes, which is also a working church today.

Since John Knox pastored next door while hiding out from a hostie Queen back home, I think for 8 years, no wonder that next door building today is a Church of Scotland, complete with Scottish pastor with his Scottish voice, accent, etc!

 




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