Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nelson Price's Attack on John Calvin - II

So we begin our rebuttal of Dr. Price's poorly-researched, highly inaccurate and very ungracious article on John Calvin. It is heavily reliant on a brief article on Calvin by Richard Hooker, found on the website of Washington State University. Whilst Hooker's article contains a number of factual errors, Price, in editing some of Hooker's remarks, actually adds to them considerably!
We are reminded of a remark by Basil Hall:
"One major difference between the older denigration of Calvin and that of our own time is that once those who sought to attack him first read widely in his writings. Now it would seem that the word 'Calvinism' is a self-justifying pejorative to be used without regard to what, in the context, the word is supposed to mean." (Basil Hall, 'The Calvin Legend', The Churchman, Vol. 73, P. 119)

John Calvin
1509 - 1564
John Calvin was born in Noyon, 1509. He was trained as a lawyer in the humanistic school of Scripture interpretation.

At once we see an error. Today a 'humanist' is a type of atheist, but in the 16th century it referred to one who studied 'the humanities', Greek and Latin and the classical authors who wrote in those tongues. A humanist in Calvin's day referred to a man of learning. Even today some university subjects are referred to as 'the Humanities'.
Fancois Wendel explained what the 'humanistic method' of interpreting a text is:
"[The humanist] appeals to grammar and logic, he points out the figures of rhetoric, and draws upon his knowledge of antiquity to collect parallel quotations." Francois Wendel, Calvin (London, Collins, 1965), P.31

This is the method that Calvin used in his early studies of the classics, and he was to transfer this approach to the study of the Bible. Today we use this method all the time, and good preachers may find it hard to imagine that this method could ever have been seen a revolutionary. Yet in the sixteenth century it was seen as a new way of understanding the Bible. Abandoning the Medieval Scholastic approach with its 'four senses' of Scripture, Calvin and the other Reformers interpreted the Bible using the Grammatical-Historical method, that is, according to what the text actually said, not using a complex allegorical system. We expect that Dr. Price would agree with such an approach to the Bible!
But it was Calvin himself who applied the humanist grammatical-historical method to the Bible. He was not trained to do so, but it was natural for him to approach the Greek New Testament with the same method with which he approached the Greek Classics.

Dr. Price passes over Calvin's conversion. We hope that this is not to imply that Calvin never was converted. Dave Hunt suggests that Calvin's conversion was nothing but an intellectual change. Nothing could be further from the truth, for Calvin speaks not only of his being called from the errors of the Church of Rome, to which he was before deeply attached, "by a sudden conversion", but of a deep conviction of sin that preceded that conversion. We do not know the exact date of Calvin's conversion, for the scrap of autobiography that is found as his preface to his commentary on the Psalms does not give it, but it was between 1530 and 1533. In 1533 he was found preaching the Gospel and acting as an itinerant evangelist in France. In 1534 Calvin resigned the posts he had held in the Roman Church, both of which had been in the nature of scholarships to support his studies. In the normal order of things he would have proceeded to the priesthood. In refusing ordination he broke with the Church of Rome, evidencing that by 1534 he had thrown in his lot with the despised people of Christ.

Next time, God willing, we shall look at Nelson Price's misrepresentation of Calvin's first period in Geneva.

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