Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A word on Calvin sources

W while ago we wrote a series defending John Calvin from the attacks of Nelson Price in an abominably badly-written and researched piece on his website (our series is here). Although our list of sources contained some fifteen books, it has come to our attention that in a discussion on another blog, we were charged with relying heavily on Calvinist sources. First of all, we shall say that simply because a book is written by someone who is favourable to its subject does not mean that it is to be discarded as reliable history. Were we to do that, we should have to reject the four Gospels, since they were written by men who worshipped the subject as God!

One of the few gains of Postmodernism is the realisation that there is no such thing as an unbiassed writer. We all have our biases, and this is certainly true with John Calvin. Yet we must here show our hand. Our main source in the writing of our defence of John Calvin was none other than the biography by R.N. Carew Hunt (R.N. Carew Hunt, Calvin [London, the Centenary Press, 1933]). Of this book T.H.L. Parker noted:
"whatever qualifications must be made about its interpretation of Calvin's theology, [it] is reliable and well-written history."
Robert Reymond wrote of it:
"As a biography it is unsurpassed, but Hunt is somewhat hard at times on Calvin because of his doctrine of predestination." ('John Calvin: His LIfe and Influence [Christian Focus, 2004] P. 146)
In other words, far from being heavily dependent on Calvinist sources, our main source was a scholarly biography by a non-Calvinist writer!

Our other non-Calvinist sources were:
Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1914) [Modernist Church of Scotland pastor who rejected Calvinism]
Williston Walker, History of the Church (Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1960) [Modernist Yale historian]
John Laurence Von Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History. Trans. James Murdock (London, William Tegg, 1880) [Historic Lutheran]

In addition we quoted John Wesley, Richard Baxter and Jacobus Arminus himself to show that one need not agree theologically with Calvinism to speak well of Calvin as a man. We examined a number of the older and better non-Calvinist writers to see what they had to say about the man Nelson Price portrayed as an evil dictator. All of these men gave balanced and on the whole favourable accounts of Calvin. Why? Let us leave the last word to Carew Hunt:

"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

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