John Calvin contrasted with modern Evangelicalism

Here is one person’s understanding of John Calvin (a Protestant reformer) and modern Evangelicalism. Written by a former Evangelical who converted to Catholic, in part due to what he discovered about Calvin:

When I finished seminary, I moved on to Ph.D. studies in Reformation history. My focus was on John Calvin (1509-1564), the French Reformer who made Geneva, Switzerland into a model Protestant city…

john calvin public domain
Protestant Reformer John Calvin.

Calvin shocked me by rejecting key elements of my Evangelical tradition. Born-again spirituality, private interpretation of Scripture, a broad-minded approach to denominations – Calvin opposed them all. I discovered that his concerns were vastly different, more institutional, even more Catholic. Although he rejected the authority of Rome, there were things about the Catholic faith he never thought about leaving. He took for granted that the Church should have an interpretive authority, a sacramental liturgy and a single, unified faith…

In 1551, Bolsec, a physician and convert to Protestantism [and a former Catholic monk], entered Geneva and attended a lecture on theology. The topic was Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, the teaching that God predetermines the eternal fate of every soul. Bolsec, who believed firmly in “Scripture alone” and “faith alone,” did not like what he heard. He thought it made God into a tyrant. When he stood up to challenge Calvin’s views, he was arrested and imprisoned.

What makes Bolsec’s case interesting is that it quickly evolved into a referendum on Church authority and the interpretation of Scripture. Bolsec, just like most Evangelicals today, argued that he was a Christian, that he had the Holy Spirit and that, therefore, he had as much right as Calvin to interpret the Bible. He promised to recant if Calvin would only prove his doctrine from the Scriptures. But Calvin would have none of it. He ridiculed Bolsec as a trouble maker (Bolsec generated a fair amount of public sympathy), rejected his appeal to Scripture, and called on the council to be harsh. He wrote privately to a friend that he wished Bolsec were “rotting in a ditch.”

What most Evangelicals today don’t realize is that Calvin never endorsed private or lay interpretation of the Bible. While he rejected Rome’s claim to authority, he made striking claims for his own authority…

Calvin was part of the problem [of fracturing within Protestantism]. He had insisted on the importance of unity and authority, but had rejected any rational or consistent basis for that authority. He knew that Scripture totally alone, Scripture interpreted by each individual conscience, was a recipe for disaster. But his own claim to authority was perfectly arbitrary. Whenever he was challenged, he simply appealed to his own conscience, or to his subjective experience, but he denied that right to Bolsec and others…

The whole thing is worth reading.

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Author: everybodysdaughter

I'm an adult child of divorce, having been raised in multiple divorce/remarriage situations. I originally started writing here to shed light on the problems of divorce from the perspective of the child. I gradually started writing about the Catholic faith, and the blog probably is more of that at this point. However, there is overlap between the two, since the "shape" of the family is a triangle, which is a reflection of the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity.

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