Tuesday, 14 July 2009

TOAM Training Track 4: Greg Haslem: John Calvin's Legacy

500 years on, what still stands?

Greg leads Westminster Chapel in London.

There was quite a bit of overlap between this and the last session because of elements of Calvin’s life story being retold.

Greg started by suggesting the caricature of Calvin being a joyless, legalistic, penny pinching, aggressive, heretic burner needs to be weighed against the evidence for his life.

Much of the “history” was written by people in direct opposition to Calvin, both in his day and in future years.

Calvin was a theologian, a reformer and a teacher

A classically trained, French, humanist, lawyer – he became an influential preacher and biblical commentator.

His life is marked by opposition, tragedy, controversy and influence in equal measure


  • Centrality of the scriptures in everything
  • The value of the Lord’s supper and water baptism
  • In some ways he looked to reconcile differing views within the reformation
  • He was known to work very, very hard
  • Sent out massive correspondence all over Europe
  • He was involved in a huge amountof preaching, giving lectures and training leaders
  • He had an open home, often with travelling preachers / leaders passing through
  • He had a very poor health history, in all manner of pain
  • His 3 children died in infancy and his wife died after just 9 years of (happy) marriage
  • He trained new leaders in Geneva who took his message far and wide
  • He preached over 200 times a year
  • He printed books and commentaries that went all over Europe and greatly influenced the reformed Church
  • Above all Calvin was a bible teacher
  • Where the text went, so did Calvin, but no further
  • He believed that faith brought repentance
  • He gave unprecedented profile to the work of the Holy Spirit, in revelation, in the word coming alive and in sanctification
  • He was obsessed with the glory of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King
  • He emphasised the sovereignty of God.
Greg suggested Calvin's stance was:
  1. Theism in its fullness
  2. Religion coming from purity, prayer, sanctification and biblical values
  3. Evangelicalism at its best: utter surrender to an over-arching God
Calvin’s contribution is way, way more than the “5 points”

He had much to say about the Trinity, the deity of Christ, being saved by faith, the second coming, faith in the marketplace, sanctification and biblical ecclesiology.

To package “Calvinism” as simply 5 points does his legacy a huge disservice. Those 5 points were a reaction to Arminian teaching, not a shortened version of the teaching of Calvin which was much, much wider in its range and reach.

Greg went on to explain that he dislikes much of what he sees in Calvinism today. A joyless, experience-less, proud, judgemental expression of Christianity that is entirely unattractive to Christians and non Christians alike

Many of the “greats” of the history of the protestant Church have been heavily influenced by Calvin, and even now the self styled “New Calvinist” movement appears to be gathering pace.

Greg believes the following are just some of things we can recover into Church life from looking at Calvin:

  1. Every calling is valid, as everything is done for the glory of God. There is nothing “secular” except sin!
  2. Great worship: for we have something great to worship
  3. Not viewing God “all-matey” but God Almighty
  4. A sense of purpose and value in our lives and in our mission
  5. Freedom from legalism (although oddly, this can be very closely aligned with some expressions of Calvinism)
Overall: very thought provoking stuff. The one thing I will remember is that both speakers so far have had far, far warmer things to say about Arminians than about hyper-Calvinists who they believe give other Calvinists a bad name.

No comments: