Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nelson Price's attack on John Calvin. XIII

We shall conclude this series with history's judgement on Calvin, according to Nelson Price and according to truth.

"History has judged Calvin wrong on many issues. Many of his proponents admit this but believe him to be worthy of adulation because of his overall contributions."

Calvin was wrong on some issues, indeed. He inherited from his age a view of Church-state relations that tended to lead to persecution, and most of his errors stemmed from that. Outside of this one issue, we judge Calvin to have been a singularly clear-sighted and godly man. To say that he was wrong on 'many' issues is far too strong. In fact he was wrong on remarkably few. Where Luther gladly handed over ecclesiastical power to the civil magistrate, Calvin at least tried to resist this tendency.
We would not say that he is worthy of "adulation", the word is too strong. But certainly admiration. And it is not only those who are called Calvinists who have admitted this point. Martin Luther called him a "learned and pious" man, and many have come to the same conclusions whilst dissenting from his theology. We quote a few:
"John Calvin was a pious, wise and sensible man." -John Wesley

"Calvin possessed a divine genius." - Father Simon, a Roman Catholic

"I know of no man since the Apostles' days, whom I value and honour more than Calvin." - Richard Baxter

"A man with whom few of his age will bear any comparison for patient industry, resolution, hatred of the Roman superstition, eloquence, and genius." - Mosheim

"I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin's commentaries... for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in interpretation of the Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the Fathers." - Jacobus Arminius.

"His detractors believe he was obsessed with power, could not abide dissent, and is unworthy of praise often afforded him."

His detractors make, as we have shown, highly unfair statements that often bear little relation to the facts of history. Again we would remind our readers of the words of 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)

Having no Biblical basis for their attack on Calvinism, they resort to vicious ad hominem arguments, attacking Calvin's person. The first man to do this was an apostate, Jerome Bolsec, and rationalists and Romanists have continued this tack for centuries. The better sort of critics, such as Wesley, have dissented from Calvin's theology while admiring him as a man.
"He lived in Geneva until his death on May 27, 1564."

Here at least we are in full agreement with Price!
"Respected historian Will Durant concludes his section on Calvin in his eleven volumes on history by saying: “But we shall always find it hard to love the man who darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honored history of nonsense.”The Story of Civilization, Volume 6, page 490, Will Durant"

Will Durant was no doubt a great man. Yet he was born a Roman Catholic, trained by Jesuits, and in 1905 he became a Socialist. Although he abandoned atheism in later life, we find no evidence that Durant was any sort of orthodox Christian, and he was certainly not an evangelical - much less a Southern Baptist! Yet Dr. Price feels that we ought to accept the judgement of such a man as to Calvin's theology! Whatever happened to the natural man not receiving the things of God? His verdict on secular things may be worthwhile. His efforts to bring history and philosophy to the common man certainly put much of our evangelism to shame, but nevertheless his theological views count for NOTHING to us. "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"
If we are to quote a secular author, I prefer to quote R.N. Carew Hunt, son of an Anglican vicar and certainly no Calvinist. Of Hunt's book T.H.L. Parker says: "whatever qualifications must be made about its interpretation of Calvin's theology, [it] is reliable and well-written history":
"At this point what we may think of his doctrine or his system become of no importance. We are left in the presence of a man who followed what he believed to be the truth, and consecrated his life to its attainment, and for this he will be had in honour as long as courage and singleness of purpose are held as virtues among men."
R.N. Carew Hunt, Calvin (London, the Centenary Press, 1933) P. 316

Price's cited sources are:

Our sources are:
Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (Trans. Darlington, Evangelical Press, 1997)
Jean Cadier, The Man God Mastered (London, Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1960)
R.N. Carew Hunt, Calvin (London, the Centenary Press, 1933)
Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology (Fearn, Mentor, 2006)
John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, (repr. from London edition of 1855, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1980)
Basil Hall, 'The Calvin Legend', The Churchman Vol. 73, (London, 1959)
Robert M. Kingdon (editor) Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2000)
T.M. Lindsay, History of the Reformation, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1908)
John Laurence Von Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History. Trans. James Murdock (London, William Tegg, 1880)
Nick R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ's Power, Vol. 3 (London, Grace Publications, 2004)
J.I. Packer, 'John Calvin and Reformed Europe', Honouring the People of God (Carlisle, Paternoster, 1999)
T.H.L. Parker, A Portrait of Calvin (London, SCM Press, no date)
Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1914)
Williston Walker, History of the Church (Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1960)
Francois Wendel, Calvin (London, Collins, 1965)
Despite the age of some of these sources, they are far more scholarly than those cited by Price. It is surely incredible that he should give a list of sources the most scholarly of which is the Catholic Encylopaedia! The article from Washington State University is the source of many of Price's errors, and in fact the Wikipedia article (!!!) is much better.
Other volumes have been read, but did not contribute to the final form of this article.

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