With Calvin in the Theater of God Conference

Last year we saw a great many conferences and events giving attention to John Calvin and his tremendous influence in Christianity.  Calvin is one of those men who tend to polarize people, not that this is a detriment.  Most influential men, particularly preachers, do the same — just look at Paul.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the negative portrayal of Calvin is that of a superficial caricature, not a knowledgeable one. A lot of Christians have opinions of Calvin without ever having read anything he wrote. What a tragedy.  Hopefully this past year many Christians were impacted by some of these conferences and have developed an appreciation for Calvin.

Desiring God’s conference ‘With Calvin in the Theater of God’ was one of the best.

From the website:

John Calvin saw the world as a theater where the glory of God is always on display. This conference showed how the vision of God that Calvin lived and taught is relevant in all our lives for the parts we play in God’s drama. Through the teaching of each of the conference speakers, we grew in our understanding of John Calvin, and more, we grew in our understanding of God’s word, the purposes of God in human suffering, our glorious hope for heaven. The content of this year’s conference was amazingly helpful.

There’s a lot to be said about the messages, but I will limit my comments to just a few.

Doug Wilson’s message was absolutely phenomenal. He had the subject of Calvin and Scripture, and right off the bat he staked out some clear points that are worth repeating.  First, he said that after he came to understand and embrace the doctrines of grace, he spent the next year denying that he was a Calvinist, simply stating that these were Biblical truths, not Calvin’s truths. He gave up after a year when he realized that there is a difference between having a party spirit (I’m of Apollos, I’m of Cephas, etc.) and helpful theological shorthand. We all need human teachers.  Scripture teaches that.  Those who say they only need their Bibles and no human teachers are self-refuting because the Bible they say they are reading teaches that we need human teachers.

Wilson’s second introductory point is that Calvin never separated God from Scripture, as so many do today. People often look at Jesus condemning the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures and missing Jesus.  The implication they draw is that we should not be bibliologists at the expense of devoting oneself to God.  But this is a misunderstanding of what Jesus said.  Jesus wasn’t condemning them for diligently searching the Scriptures to find him, he was condemning them for missing him in the Scriptures — for being unregenerate and self-serving.  Their Scripture reading in and of itself wasn’t wrong, rather the way they approached it was wrong.

John Piper concluded the conference with a look at how the theater of God supremely glorifies God. Everything in this world around us is part of God’s theater, and it is all designed to give him glory. John takes us to Romans 9 to explain that even the unregenerate were created for a day of destruction, and this too gives glory to God.

The panel discussion spent some time looking at what has historically been one of the black marks on Calvin, and that being the execution of Servetus. Mark Talbot provides some very important information often overlooked about Calvin and Servetus, and it becomes pretty clear that Calvin had nothing to do with Servetus being burned at the stake, and in fact did what he could do to prevent the execution of this troublemaking heretic.

Piper spends time explaining how he understands tragedy and what God is saying to a people through any tragic event — a loud “repent before something happens to you.” Just as tragedy speaks, so does peace and blessing, in the kindness of God, just as his severity speaks. A timely reminder as my listening coincided with the earthquake distaster in Haiti.

This is a fantastic conference you shouldn’t miss.

With Calvin in the Theater of God >>>

The Doctrine of Assurance

Burk Parsons joins the Christ the Center team to discusse two books which he recently edited, Assured by God; Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace, and John Calvin; A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine and Doxology.

Assurance is a doctrine that is rarely taught in the church today, and is surrounded by a lot of confusion.  In this discussion Burk talks about the ways in which assurance is hindered, and even robbed from God’s people, by poor theology.

Burk’s motivation for writing a book on John Calvin was to introduce Calvin to the lay person, combining his person with his theology, in order to strip away the unfortunate caricatures and distortions that have clouded Calvin.

All in all a very enjoyable and informative discussion.

The Doctrine of Assurance >>>

Calvin as a Servant of the Word of God

Glen Clary recently spoke at the OPC’s pre-Assembly conference on John Calvin, looking at Calvin as a servant of the Word of God.  He joins the team at Christ the Center to discuss some of the issues raised from his address, such as Calvin’s theology of preaching, how preaching relates to the presense of Christ, and how preaching is an act of worship.  Fascinating discussion.

Calvin as a Servant of the Word of God >>>

Remembering John Calvin Conference

The Andrew Fuller Center hosted a mini-conference in commemoration of John Calvin’s 500th birthday.  This is one of many conferences this year that focus on John Calvin and his significant contribution to the church.  This is John Calvin the real man, not John Calvin the straw man of popular criticism.  How many other preachers in history have seen the attention that John Calvin is currently receiving?  Sure, there is a danger of hero worship.  But most of this attention is humbly provided and focused on the needs of the church today.  Yes, the church can greatly benefit from appreciating the contribution of Calvin.

Remembering John Calvin Conference >>>

Calvin and the Development of Covenant Theology

The CTC team invited Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, to discuss his book, “The Binding of God; Calvin’s Role in the Development of Covenant Theology

Though I’m not of the Covenant Theology camp, this discussion at Christ the Center was helpful for me to to understand more about Covenant Theology by seeing how Calvin agreed, differed, and expressed his understanding of covenant.  Lilliback says when he began to research this subject for his dissertation, he did not bring any preconcieved paradigm to  Calvin.  Rather he just began to read the source material to see how Calvin interacted with the issue surrounding Covenant theology.

Calvin is better defined as a ‘testimentarian’, a term I am not familiar with, and Peter explains in some detail how Calvin differed from Luther and many other theologians.  A great deal of time is spent discussing where works fit into Covenant theology, and the danger of Covenant theology in bringing works to bear as a basis for God’s covenant with man, which destroys justification by faith alone.  Lilliback also turns his attention to the contemporary camp of the Federal Vision and explains what he sees are dangers with that.

This is not a discussion for everyone.  There are some very weighty theological nuances addressed, and the discussion assumes the listener has some grasp of the historical positions regarding soteriology and Covenant theology.  You could certainly learn some things here, but just be forewarned, you might do a lot of head scratching.  It certainly pushed me into new territory — all in all not a bad thing.

Calvin and the Development of Covenant Theology page >>>

Calvin Resources at Monergism

This coming July 10th marks John Calvin’s 500th birthday, and there is a surge of Calvin resources washing ashore.  Very few names and labels carry the stigma and power to polarize people than the name of John Calvin.  People even gauge their degree of agreeement with Calvin’s soteriology numerically: 4 pointers, 4.5 pointers, 5 pointers and even a few 7 pointers (even though there are only 5 points).

The tragedy in all this is that we’ve lost the man for the ‘-ism’ that he’s become.  When I first began to read Calvin (which I did because I didn’t want to be someone with an opinion about something I haven’t engaged with) I was surprised to find Calvin to be very easy to read, very insightful, and amazingly pastoral and gracious.  He was far from what I expected.

If you are unfamiliar with Calvin the man or his theology, Monergism has compiled a large selection of audio resources on John Calvin and this thing we call Calvinism (also known as the doctrines of grace).

Monergism’s audio listings on:

John Calvin the man >>>

Calvinism the theology >>>

Calvin: Of Prayer and the Christian Life

The free audio download at Christan Audio this month is an excerpt from Calvin’s Institutes. If you’ve never read the Institutes, this would be an excellent introduction.  Calvin’s Institutes has always been intimidating to me.  The book is big (2 volumes in some editions), and Calvin is old, and I assumed it would be a dry and difficult read.  What I discovered to utter shock was that Calvin was entirely readable and incredibly pastoral — exactly opposite of what I expected.

So, here, you can be introduced to what is arguably the greatest Christian book every written.  To get the audio book for free enter NOV2008 in the coupon box during check out.

From Christian Audio —
“Let the first rule of right prayer then be, to have our heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into converse with God.” So begins John Calvin and his treatise on prayer. These seminal writings are from his Magnus Opus The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Prayer as Calvin describes it is not giddy, and he goes on to give Scriptural definitions of proper thought, engagement, and attitude.

Christian Audio free download page>>>

A History of the English Puritans: J. I. Packers seminary lectures

For the past few weeks I’ve been making my way through J. I. Packers lectures on the English Puritans, and I have to tell you, it’s been a real treat.  This is one of those series you will want to go through a second time and take notes. I can’t begin to scratch the surface of all the good material.  Much here on ministry philosophy, worship, pastoral concerns.  Some very fascinating biographical material on lesser known Puritans.  A great deal on Baxter and Owen. 

Some highlights from one of the first messages that looked at many more contemporary giants who were greatly affected by the Puritans. Packer looks at sermonic structures of the Puritans and more recent contemporaies such as Lloyd-Jones.  How soon in a sermon do you begin application?  In the cases of Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones, they started right away. Where did the 3 point sermon originate? He also talks about the contemporary loss of rhetorical prayer, where pastoral prayers were presenting arguments before God.

This series of lectures has been generously provided by Reformed Theological Seminary, which has conveniently supplied their audio through iTunes.

RTS iTunes page >>>


Sproul & Lawson on ‘The Expository Genius of John Calvin’

R. C. Sproul interviews Steve Lawson about his new book ‘The Expository Genius of John Calvin’, which is published by Ligonier’s own Reformation Trust. Calvin has been one of the most maligned and misrepresented figures in church history. Lawson and Sproul aim to introduce the true John Calvin. This is a short but interesting introduction to Lawson’s book.

To find the audio you have to click on the audio tab in the media player of Ligonier’s front page.   Sorry, I tried to get a direct link, but it’s embedded in Flash.

Ligonier’s website>>>

Reformation and Modern Church History with Dr. David Calhoun

Church historian David Calhoun’s lectures on church history have been made available online by Covenant Theological Seminary.  These excellent lectures should not be missed.  The old saying, ‘Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it’ holds a particular truth for Christians.  We must know church history.  Calhoun does a great job of making church history accessible and interesting.


Dr. David Calhoun’s Reformation and Modern Church History lectures>>>