I actually came in well under the maximum word count. So there's still space for me to add a paragraph if I want. I've thought about putting in a section about Calvin's consent to the executions of convicted heretics, most notably Michael Servetus. Besides predestination, that's the other big thing Calvin is often remembered for. How do I include that and give it the context it deserves? Anyway, give this a read if you want and make any suggestions that come to mind. Thanks!
John Calvin (1509-2009)
“I have lived amidst extraordinary struggles. I have been saluted in mockery at night, before my door, by fifty or sixty shots from guns. Think how that would terrify a poor timid scholar such as I am.”
John Calvin never set out to live a hectic life in the spotlight. “I always longed for repose and quiet,” he said. Much less did he imagine he would change the world. Yet historian E. G. Leonard was hardly exaggerating when he concluded his book History of Protestantism with a chapter entitled, “Calvin: The Founder of a Civilization.”
Born in Noyon, France on July 10, 1509—five hundred years ago this Friday—Calvin was learning to read and speak Latin at the University of Paris by the time he was twelve. At first his father encouraged him to study for the priesthood. But when he had a falling out with the church and recognized the religious turmoil of the day, he insisted that his son pursue a legal career instead. Throughout his teens and early twenties, Calvin studied law and classical literature, solid preparation for the future that lay ahead of him.
In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg’s Castle Church, launching what would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation. Calvin wasn’t among its early leaders. He was still just a boy. By the time he converted to the new movement in the early 1530s, the term “protestant” had already been coined. Nonetheless, Calvin would eventually contribute to the movement two things it didn’t have before. First, he took the most basic principles of the Reformation—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone—and organized them into a system which he clearly expressed in his most famous book, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Second, through his tremendous influence as a writer, preacher, and church statesman in his adopted hometown of Geneva, Calvin left behind a model of how his version of theology could penetrate and shape a society.
From around 1533 until his death thirty-one years later, Calvin lived as a religious exile from Catholic-dominated France. Most of that time he spent in Geneva. Many other Protestants who had fled their homelands for fear of persecution discovered the city to be a haven. There they found both refuge and a flourishing religious community led by Calvin and his associates. Once they returned to the places they came from, the future growth of the Calvinist branch of the Reformation was certain.
Most people remember Calvin for having advanced the doctrine of double predestination which says that God in his sovereignty has decreed that certain individuals will be saved and that all others will be lost. Americans, big on freedom and a person’s ability to determine his own course, have typically rejected this teaching. But don’t count Calvin out. In March of this year, Time magazine listed “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” Number 3 was “The New Calvinism,” a movement that has taken hold in large segments of conservative Protestantism in the U.S., especially among young people. The new Calvinists even have a representative Bible, the English Standard Version which was released last October and immediately sold out its first printing of 100,000 copies.
Calvin once called himself “merely a man from among the common people.” On his 500th birthday, he isn’t finished yet.