Posted by: Michael M. Dewalt | May 7, 2009

Calvin Tribute Conference

Calvin500 Series volumes about to come out. The next volumes of our series are about to come out, released by our Calvin500 publishing partner, Presbyterian and Reformed (all volumes are available at their site or at the RHB button to the right). Or if you purchase from Amazon.com, why not request that this be included in the Kindle Store?!

One of the awesome volumes from the Calvin500 Conference that will be released right after the conference is Calvin Tributes. To get a sense of this awesome volume, see the Table of Contents and Preface below:

 

Calvin Tribute Conference

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. CALVIN’S TIMES

William McComish, “Calvin’s Children”

Robert M. Kingdon, “Calvin and Church Discipline,”                                                           

John Witte: “Reading Calvin as a Lawyer”                                                           

Henri Blocher, “Calvin, the Frenchman”

Isabelle Graessle: “Calvin and Women: Between Irritation and Admiration”    

Hughes Old: “Calvin’s Worship Reforms”                                                           

Terry Johnson: “Calvin as Liturgist”                                                                       

George Knight: “Calvin as New Testament Exegete”

James McGoldrick: “Calvin and Luther: Comrades in Christ

 

II. CALVIN’S TOPICS

Douglas Kelly: “The Catholicity of the Theology of John Calvin”

Richard Burnett: “Calvin on Secular and Sacred History”

R. Scott Clark: “Calvin’s Principle of Worship”

Anthony Lane: “Calvin’s Doctrine of Assurance Revisited”

David W. Hall: “Calvin’s Principles of Goverance: Homology in Church and State”

Jae Sung Kim, “The Holy Spirit and Prayer”

Andrew McGowan: “John Calvin’s Doctrine of Scripture”                                   

Michael Horton: “Union and Communion: Rediscovering Calvin’s Eucharistic Theology”

 

III. CALVIN TODAY AND TOMORROW

Richard Gamble: “Recent Research in Calvin Studies”                                   

Dr. Darryl Hart: “Calvin among Nineteenth-Century Reformed Protestants in the United States”

William Edgar: “Calvin’s Impact on the Arts”

Jae Sung Kim, “Calvinism in Asia”

Bruce McCormack: “Union with Christ in Calvin’s Theology: Grounds for a Divinisation Theory?”

Herman Selderhuis: “See You in Heaven: Calvin´s View of Life and Death”

Abstract of Young Calvin Scholars Symposium

Appendix: Original Schedule of Calvin500 Tribute Conference

Contributors

Index

 

Read the Preface below

These essays provide a celebratory tribute to one of the most influential human beings in history. They are intended to illumine the many contributions of John Calvin, and this volume is a gift to his honored memory. As many gathered to commemorate the quincentenary of Calvin’s birth (July 10, 1509), it is a remarkable fact, in itself, that a French religious leader originally from a tiny village is still remembered a half millennia later. However, that so many and so many from such far-reaching corners did so in 2009, is, frankly, more surprising than our original and fondest hopes.

An earlier commentator described one byproduct of such commemorations as the resultant liberation from the narrow constraints of the immediate present. If later participants have the opportunity to “ascend some eminence which commands a view of ways long since trodden, and then, from what is taught in the review, learn to forecast the ever-widening way of the future. . . . [then we may] catch the spirit of the great historic eras which have been potent in shaping the institutions of our own times.” “It is only,” wrote Moses Hoge, “when we can transport ourselves to the distant past and evoke from its obscurity the forms of its heroic men; it is only when we acquaint ourselves with the errors they combated, the difficulties they surmounted, the hardships they endured, that we can fully comprehend the character of the men who thus toiled and suffered, or appreciate the value.[1]

One of the other benefits of periodic commemorations is the leveling of the ideological ground that no longer surrenders automatic superiority to the new, the recent, or the novel. In fact, such commemorations frequently leave us with more admiration of our parents than we previously had.

G. K. Chesterton perceptively lamented the infatuation with novelty of thought, warning that if past virtues were not championed, they would inevitably deteriorate due to adverse conditions. He understood that if things are simply left alone, those are abandoned to a torrent of change:  

 

If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. But this which is true even of inanimate things is in a quite special and terrible sense true of all human things. An almost unnatural vigilance is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity with which human institutions grow old. It is the custom in passing romance and journalism to talk of men suffering under old tyrannies. But, as a fact, men have almost always suffered under new tyrannies; under tyrannies that had been public liberties hardly twenty years before.[2]

Our motive for this commemoration took such counsel seriously. Such assessment of the utility of commemoration was also well summarized years ago for a different commemoration by William Symington who noted that the tendency to reflect on past events “springs from a law of our nature.” While aware that such commemorations could be abused, nevertheless, he averred:

 

Matters of great and permanent utility, the due consideration of which is fitted to exert a continued beneficial influence on society, are thus held forth to the view of the community, and prevented from passing into oblivion. The very act of reminiscence itself is calculated to call into operation, and consequently to improve by exercising, some of the higher moral principles of the heart, such as gratitude for benefits received, veneration for departed worth, and imitation of praiseworthy excellence.[3]

 

Thus, from the outset of our commemoration, we were grateful for those who had gone ahead of us, and we believe we may still learn from them. Moreover, the proper purpose of such anniversary is neither boasting nor a triumphalism that would have embarrassed our honoree. Rather our commemoration sought to be a means of humble review with a purpose to stimulate, reflect, celebrate, unify, and educate.

An earlier Swiss historian, J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, provided helpful advice for our perspective in this endeavor when he wrote: “We entertain no blind admiration . . . We acknowledge that, sharing in the faults of his century or rather of ten centuries, [Calvin] believed that whatever infringed on the respect due to God ought to be punished by the civil power, quite as much as anything that might be injurious to the honor or life of man. We deplore this error.” However, D’Aubigne also continued to note: “How can anyone study with discernment the reformer’s letters and other writings, and not recognize in him one of the noblest intelligences, one of the most elevated minds, one of the most affectionate hearts, and in short, one of those true Christian souls who unreservedly devote themselves to duty?”[4]

A perspective that values the past “protects us from confounding the errors and vices which are the true poison of society with its pleasant food, and the wholesome and necessary medicine with its poison. It teaches us,” as Robert Dabney observed well, “to distrust the temporary and specious prosperity or gain which attends immorality and error, and tells us, with solemn and monitory voice, to remember, amidst all the clash of unthinking applause, that ‘the lip of truth shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.’”[5]

In the earliest planning discussions for Calvin500, one of the desiderata was to provide a sympathetic (but not uncritical) academic forum to discuss the influence of John Calvin. Many fine conferences were sponsored during 2008-2009 toward that end, and the papers that were presented in Calvin’s own quarters July 6-9, 2009, which are included in this volume, represent one of the more extensive efforts to bolster scholarly discussion of John Calvin during the quincentenary. The chapters comprising this book were presented at (or written by presenters of) Calvin500 at the Auditoire in Geneva’s Old Town. We have sought to share with our readers the fullest version of those presentations.

Of course, previous Calvin celebrations did similarly. Philip Vollmer compiled a set of essays at the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth in 1909, as did the southern Presbyterian church meeting that year in Savannah, Georgia (The original 12 essays of the Calvin Memorial Addresses: Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of Calvin’s Birth, edited by B. B. Warfield, Thomas Cary Johnson, James Orr, and R. A. Webb were reissued this year). Four outstanding 1909 lectures were featured by Princeton Theological Review in 1909 (republished recently as Calvin and the Reformation: Four Studies by Bavinck, Doumergue, Lang & Warfield, edited by William Park Armstrong), and numerous other commemorative events were held early in the twentieth century, including the beginning of the Reformation Wall in the Parc De Bastions in Geneva in 1909.

Interestingly, there were few anthologies compiled for the 450th anniversary of Calvin’s birth—perhaps accounted for jointly by the low ebb of popularity of Calvin in that period and due to the fact that celebrations are normally made at century marks instead of half century ones. Of course, the largest monument to Calvin’s honor in 1959 was the work and almost completion of Ford Lewis Battles’ edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, published in 1960. However, in terms of sheer volume, this and other publications compiled for the quincentenary constitute the largest single year of literary commentary on Calvin in history.[6]

The presenters herein are some of the finest living Calvin scholars who contributed to that body of literature. They represent different continents, different religious communities, different eras, different specialties, and differing perspectives. All, however, honestly seek to deal with the texts, the times, the topics, or the contributions of John Calvin. Some may find this refreshing, too, in that this faculty does not begin with an axe to grind or an attempt to discredit Calvin while denying him the opportunity to defend himself.

The result is both an introduction to a living and a lively tradition, and it is also an exhibition of some of these scholars at the apogee of their professions. Each chapter could well spawn its own dissertations, monographs, and symposia; they will certainly engender discussion.

The arrangement of chapters is altered from the order of original presentation in Geneva, and the program is included in an appendix at the rear of this volume for historical and informational purposes. Notwithstanding, I thought it would be instructive to compile the sections around essays which either set the context for Calvin (Part I), or elaborated on some topic (Part II), or discussed continuing relevance (Part III).

Obviously, not all readers will agree with each essay; neither do all essayists herein agree on everything. Yet a worthy production is found in this collection, which gives friends and foes of Calvinism alike a glimpse into the state of Calvinism in our day—at least a snapshot of those who profess to identify largely with Calvin. No attempt has been made to alter the substance of any essay to fit an enforced mold; each author was free to use his sources, her expertise, and pen as he or she saw fit. At the conclusion, when the papers were presented, a stunning assortment was delivered.

While many tributes will be published in this eventful cycle, we trust that this one will contribute to the modern understanding of Calvin’s life and work. It certainly has enough expertise from this group of All-stars to do so, as some of the finest scholars of Calvin’s work are gathered between these covers.

We thank all the authors, their families, and their supporting institutions for their contribution to this project. Their sacrifice, combined with an informed willingness to edify the church, is surely a compliment to the Tributee. If Calvin is not smiling somewhere at his descendents for at least a minute or two over this momentary unity and witness, surely Theodore Beza must be.

All of the authors have been a pleasure to consult with, and their work certainly stands on its own. Accordingly, we wish to dedicate this volume to our children—biological, adopted, pedagogical, ecclesiological, or literary—in hopes that the robust faith that animated John Calvin and his children will so move our children for centuries to come. SDG.

 


[1]. Moses D. Hoge, Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, 1647-1897 (Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897), ed. by Francis Beattie et al., 189.

[2] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: Lane, 1909), 210-211.

[3]. William Symington, supra, 31-32.

[4] J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, The History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1863-1879), vol. III, vi-vii.

[5] Robert L. Dabney, Lectures and Discussions, vol. III (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 17.

[6] As this volume was being completed, an ambitious 97-volume digitized set was released by Calvin500.com, including 46 volumes of Calvin’s Commentaries, 9 different editions of the Institutes, 4 volumes of Calvin’s letters, 8 volumes of Calvin’s shorter treatises, 10 biographies, and 20 works on Calvinism.

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