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.