When hearing the word “prophet,” there are a wide range of responses. What may come to mind are images of a spiritual leader with the gift to see into the future. Another common reaction may be to think of the Old Testament prophets who condemned the wrong-doings of ancient Israel and exhorted them to follow after God. In a different direction, the term may be taken negatively, as charlatans who deceive others with their claims of supernatural power.
Jon Balserak approaches the subject of prophet in conjunction with John Calvin in John Calvin as Sixteenth-Century Prophet (Oxford University Press, 2014; source: publisher). I looked forward to reviewing the work after benefiting greatly from Balserak’s earlier work Divinity Compromised: A Study of Divine Accommodation in the Thought of John Calvin, a comprehensive assessment of Calvin’s doctrine of accommodation. In the present volume, Balserak addresses Calvin in the role of a prophet, particularly, Calvin’s own self-identification as a prophet.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Scott Manetsch, Professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (and one of my former profs), give a lecture on “Pastoral Collegiality and Accountability in Calvin’s Geneva.” This lecture is part of the “Scripture and Ministry” lecture series at the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.
In the lecture, Manetsch made good on years of painstaking research on John Calvin and his associates and successors by discussing some of the takeaways for the church today. Avoiding both antiquarianism and presentism, he first gave listeners a rich description of pastoral ministry in Geneva as molded by Calvin and his fellow pastors and then discussed ways we can learn from them—positively and negatively—for today.
As debate over worship styles continue, and what has been dubbed the modern worship wars remain a heated issue, I would like to offer two pieces of advice from those who have gone before us. The first comes from the great reformer John Calvin and the second from C. S. Lewis.
Those looking for a text addressing the history of Calvinism, marked by its thoroughness but also approachability, need not look any further than D. G. Hart’s Calvinism: A History (Yale, 2013). The volume covers matters from the Reformation to almost the present day. At the same time, Hart writes in a clear and precise manner, not overburdening the reader with an onslaught of facts and events. The work provides a wonderful narrative of not only the history of Reformed theology but also the story of Calvinism.
In addition to familiar topics such as Calvin, Scotland, Kuyper (see my review of Bratt’s biography), and the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, Hart addresses a vast amount of unfamiliar Calvinistic history. His treatment of the Reformed church in Germany is quite good. The discussion of Reformed and Lutheran relations is also very interesting. Lastly, Hart discusses the Reformed church in countries not often dealt with, such as Hungary, and Reformed missions into countries such as South Africa and Korea.
Summer is always a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. Here is my top ten reading list for this summer.
1. Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis
The work is an account of an army chaplain commissioned to minister to the Nazis held at Nuremberg. Sure to be thought-provoking.
Given my previous review of George Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, in which he concluded the work with a Kuyperian approach to religious pluralism in the public sphere, it seemed fitting to take a look at James D. Bratt’s Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Eerdmans, 2013).
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was born to a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. Following his father, Kuyper studied theology at Leiden and then entered the ministry. In addition, he served as the longtime editor of De Heraut and De Standaard, in which he contributed many articles promoting his reformed theology. In opposition to political and ecclesiastical authority, he founded the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880, where he served as a professor of theology. As the leader of the Christian Anti-Revolutionary Party from 1879 to 1920, he lobbied for public funding of religious schools and educational reform. As member of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, he took office in the Dutch Parliament and became the country’s prime minister from 1901 to 1905. In 1898 he travelled to America to give the Stone lectors at Princeton Seminary. Amidst his duties as editor, theologian, and statesman, he was a prolific writer, earning him the title father of Neo-Calvinism.
Cocceius vs. the Cartesio-Cocceians? Probably not the first face-off that would come to mind when thinking about Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669). The more natural pairing would be Cocceius vs. Voetius. But today I want to take a moment to examine a phenomenon that occurs throughout history; namely, the discontinuity between teacher and disciple.
By the 1640s, a cohort of orthodox Calvinists gained the moniker “Voetians,” named after their leader Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676). Over the years they also gained a reputation for affirming a scholastic form of Calvinism and combating heterodoxy in all forms. Cartesianism became a repeated target for the Voetians, claiming that Cartesian skepticism elevated reason over revelation.