Domestic violence is a serious problem, which I have tried to address here. Abusers need to be disciplined ecclesiastically and punished by civil authorities. Invoking centuries old caricatures of evident theological opponents (Boston University was founded as a Methodist school) hardly contributes seriously to addressing the problem.
Few bogeyman frighten Moderns as much as Calvin apparently does. He has been frightening them since about the onset of the European, British, and American Enlightenment movements and has served as a bogeyman for longer than that. He was caricatured during his own lifetime. One of earliest was by a theological opponent, Jerome Bolsec (d. c. 1584), a former Carmelite (Romanist) monk who converted to Protestantism about 1545. He married and became a physician. 1550 finds him in Geneva, a city of refuge for many Protestants looking for safe harbor. He did not impress the Genevan authorities who, in an October 1551 letter wrote, “one of those strolling physicians, who, by habitual deception and trickery, acquire a degree of impudence which makes them prompt and ready in venturing upon anything whatever.”1 He became especially notorious in Geneva when, early 1551, at the Friday night Bible Study in St Pierre Church, he stood up—thinking Calvin to be absent—to denounce Calvin and the “doctrine of free [unconditional] election.”2 He sided with the older semi-Pelagians against Augustine (and anticipated the Arminians) by charging that the doctrine of unconditional election makes God the author of evil.3
Calvin, as it happened, did hear Bolsec’s speech and proceeded to refute him at length. The city magistrate (not Calvin) arrested Bolsec and put him on trial.4 In his defense he claimed that a number of Reformed ministers, Heinrich Bullinger, agreed with him. Thus, the Genevans asked Bern, Zürich, and others for their judgment on the matter.5The Genevans argued:
That we are justified by faith, we all agree; but the real mercy of God can only be perceived when we learn that faith is the fruit of free adoption, and that, in point of fact, adoption flows from the eternal election of God. But not only does this impostor fancy that election depends upon faith, but that faith itself is originated as much by man himself as by divine inspiration. There can be no doubt, on the other hand, that when men perish, it must be imputed to their own wickedness. But by the case of the reprobate whom God, from His own mysterious council, passes by and neglects as if unworthy, we are taught a striking lesson of humility.6
Some of the replies proved unsatisfactory to Calvin. He complained about Myconius’ “coldness” about the unconditional election.7 The Venerable Company of Pastors admonished Bolsec and Calvin even tried to tutor him privately.6 On a second offense he was summoned before the Genevan Consistory. He argued the salvation is accomplished for all (anticipating the Arminians) and that election has nothing to do whatever with whether one comes to faith or not. Finally, the Swiss Churches supported the Genevan rejection of Bolsec’s complaints against the basic Augustinian doctrine of salvation.
Bolsec was banished from Geneva for sedition in December of 1551. He moved to a town in Bern (who had been the most solicitous toward him of the Swiss Churches), but was banished thence in 1555. Bolsec was evidently a problem child. In France, he sought re-admission to the Reformed Church but eventually apostatized and returned to the Roman communion.9 In 1577 he published his alternative Life of Calvin—alternative to Theodore Beza’s earlier biography—in which he made a number of unsubstantiated charges. That volume is the principal source of much of what gets repeated today about Calvin. For Bolsec, Calvin and his doctrine of predestination was the source of what is wrong in the world.
The Enlightenment essentially agreed with Bolsec. His narrative became the dominant narrative and Calvin became the bad guy, the foil to Modernity. Many evangelicals have essentially absorbed the Modern story and, without realizing it, Bolsec’s narrative of Calvin as the tyrant of Geneva. This approach to Calvin and Calvinism is reflected in a recent short blurb in Relevant touting a study by Boston University’s Steven Sandage, which claims:
In particular, he says, that attitude is a danger in Calvinism, a word that may conjure notions of a God who preordains every human for salvation or hell, unalterably, before time began. But Calvinism—“a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy,” according to one writer—is enjoying a resurgence.