Calvin’s Gravesite Identified?

Maybe, if he has recently turned over in it.

Except that TULIP is not Calvinism. …there is a sense in which these points are not Calvinism at all, because, while Calvin’s theology does implicitly teach them, they were formulated after his time in the context of controversy, and he would never have accepted them as an adequate summary of or even as the essential parts of his system. Calvin’s soteriology cannot be separated from his whole system as set forth in his Institutes, and that system includes his eccelesiology which includes his doctrine of the sacraments. 

Despite his direction that he be buried in an unmarked grave, we may now know where Calvin is buried.  We can look for upheaved earth in Geneva caused by the violent turning over of the great man in his grave.

The reason Calvin’s rest may have been disturbed is that he may have read the twitter posting by a PCA elder. A picture of this scion of one of the PCA’s most preeminent families with Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Southern Seminary, was captioned: “The most important Calvinist on the planet.”

We do not deny our brother the right to his opinion.  Nor we deny to Dr. Mohler his importance. We ourselves hold Dr. Mohler in high esteem. We read his Blog and at times pass it along to others. Further, we expect that the statement was received without exception by the vast majority of those who read it. They may not have thought before about the question, “Who is the most important Calvinist on the planet?”, but upon reflection, many no doubt will agree that Dr. Mohler is the most important Calvinist on this terrestial ball, while others may propose a different candidate.

We expect that it occurred to only a few that it is odd that a Baptist should be considered the most important Calvinist on the planet. Not a minister or member of a Presbyterian or Reformed denomination. But a Baptist.

This is evidence once again that Calvinism has become reduced to agreement that God is sovereign over all in general and in salvation in particular as assserted by the five points in contrast to the propositions of the Remonstrants. The five points are what a great many mean, and all that mean, when they say they are Calvinists and what they use as a tool and summary when they introduce others to Calvinism.  TULIP is Calvinism today.

Except that TULIP is not Calvinism. Calvinists do believe that men are totally (or in every part of human nature) depraved (or corrupt) so that they are unable to contribute even the willing to their salvation, that God unconditionally (apart from any human merit) chose some for salvation, that Christ’s atoning work is limited in its efficacy to the elect (that the atonement actually accomplished salvation for the elect), that God’s grace in irresistible (in that it makes the sinner efficaciously willing to believe in Christ unto salvation), and that all the saved will persevere and be saved because God preserves them in faith.  But, there is a sense in which these points are not Calvinism at all, because, while Calvin’s theology does implicitly teach them, they were formulated after his time in the context of controversy, and he would never have accepted them as an adequate summary of or even as the essential parts of his system. Calvin’s soteriology cannot be separated from his whole system as set forth in his Institutes, and that system includes his eccelesiology which includes his doctrine of the sacraments. 

Calvin’s understanding of baptism was that it is “the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children.” He believed that Scripture is so clear about the baptism of children that “infants cannot be deprived of it without open violation of the will of God.”

With regard to the Eucharist (“the thanksgiving” or “the blessing) Calvin rejected Roman Catholic transubstantiation and Lutheran consubstantiation. The risen, glorified body of Christ is in heaven. But that does not mean the the Lord’s Supper is a mere memorial which stirs up pious thoughts and feelings. It is a real means of grace in which Christ is truly present, or in which were are lifted up to heaven where Christ is. He gives himself to us, and we feed upon or communicate with his sacrificed body and shed blood.

That we really feed in the Holy Supper on the flesh and blood of Christ, no otherwise than as bread and wine are the ailments of our bodies, I freely confess.

I confess that our souls are truly fed by the substance of Christ’s flesh.

Those who exclude the substance of vivifying flesh and blood from the communion defraud themselves of the use of the supper.

When, therefore, we speak of the communion which believers have with Christ, we mean that they communicate with his flesh and blood not less than with His Spirit, so as to possess thus the whole Christ.

We say that the substance of Christ’s flesh and blood is our spiritual life, and that it is communicated to us under the symbols of bread and wine: for Christ, in instituting the Supper, promises nothing falsely, nor mocks us with a vain show, but represented by external signs what He has really given us.

The truth of God, therefore, in which I can safely rest, I embrace without controversy. He declares that His flesh is the meat, His blood the drink, of my soul. I give my soul to Him to be fed with such food. In His sacred supper He bids me take, eat and drink His body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine. I have no doubt that He will truly give, and I receive.

Our simple contention is that Calvin’s doctrines of the church, of the means of grace, and of the sacraments as means of grace are not incidental to but integral to his system, or to what is called “Calvinism.” Indeed they are integral to his soteriology. And these are Calvinistic doctrines which our Baptist brethren do not and cannot accept and still be Baptists.

While Calvin was not at all interested in having the system of Biblical doctrine he explicated in his Institutes and other writings to be known as Calvinism, given that there is a system of doctrine so called, he would not recognize as Calvinistic thr affirmation of the five points combined with denial of his eccelsiology and sacramentology.

We are happy that there are Baptists (and others) who can affirm certain teachings of Calvin. What we cannot concede is that it is historically or theologically accurate to hold that those truths Baptists can affirm constitute Calvinism.

When Dr. Mohler is called the most important Calvinist on the planet, we believe there is more involved than an unacceptable limitation and diminishment of Calvinism.  There is also at work an agenda, self-conscious or not, acknowledged or not, to to grow a pan- or trans- or perhaps a-denominational alliance. This kind of coalition is primarily theological (five points) and secondarily cultural (based on engagement social issues, primarily gender and sexual ones).  When “Calvinism” is used, albeit inaccurately, to identify this theological and cultural outlook, one can  see how Dr. Mohler is the most important Calvinist on the planet.  Where better to find the coincidence  of the circles of five-points charismatics and five-points Presbyterians, than in a five point Baptist who articulates and represents their shared theological and cultural views? Who may better unify the young and restless five-pointers and the old and less restless five-pointers than a Baptist five-pointer? Dr. Mohler may well be the most important representative of this alliance on the planet.

But the most important Calvinist on Calvin’s terms? Not on Calvin’s grave.

Bill Smith is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church of America. He is a writer and contributor to a number of Reformed journals and resides in Jackson, Miss. This article first appeared at his blog and is used with his permission.