A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm a "sort of" Calvinist

This is to say that there are themes in the writings of John Calvin, a French Reformation leader, that I take as my own while leaving other parts behind. I thought I'd highlight what some of the themes I've taken.

1. The natural world tells us all of God that we are in a position to know. That's a robust natural theology! Special revelation is not new information beyond our world. It illuminates something already at play in our world.

2. Theology starts with anthropology. To know something of God is to know something about ourselves and our relationships to each other and our wider world.

3. Sin, pride, impiety is an over (or under) estimation of ourselves in relation to one other and our world. Any number of cruelties (to use Niebuhr for a moment) against each other and nature occur when we ignore those relations.

4. Sin and grace are bigger than individuals. They both indicate significant features of a world that draw us either to inordinate self regard or other regard. The ambiguity is living in a fallen world that yet gives signs of God's redemptive purposes.

4. Calvin was just as able to draw from Seneca as Scripture. As a French Humanist he saw the Christian tradition as a wisdom tradition, a philosophy almost that could draw from the best, including non Christian resources.

5. Like Augustine, Calvin also believed that all knowledge was from God. Science, literature, philosophy, any field and discipline was a gift not something to be wary of or at war with. In fact it can set us on a path to discern our proper place in our world and relations.

6. God's redemptive work is for the whole of creation. So there is no way to cut off some part of the world, the secular, or some area of life as not religiously significant.


At 6:09 PM , Blogger Pseudonym said...

It's SOP these days to judge historical figures by the standards of today. I personally don't buy this. I think it's much more fair to judge people by the best wisdom of their day. By that criterion, Calvin was a great man.

I seem him as trying to understand what Christianity really was, when divorced from the tangled mess of corruption and intrigue and that was the Medieval-era Roman Catholic Church. This was new territory, so he did a pretty good job considering.

Pioneers always get stuff wrong. That's the nature of progress: If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn't learn anything. But even for Calvinists, theology didn't stop with Calvin.

At 8:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 6:09 PM , Anonymous Debra said...

Loved number 6.. great stuff!!

At 1:49 PM , Blogger Robert said...


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At 1:23 PM , Anonymous Jean Chauvin said...


The problem with this irrational liberal, is his method of argument.

When we start within our argument, we never ever start with man. Anthropology is absolutely never a logical place to start. Calvin knew this.

This was the problem with the Renaissance. da Vinci tried to start with the particulars to find a universal meaning via humanistic mathematics. He failed. He then tried to do this within art via the soul. Not a Biblical soul but rather a soul of absolutes connected to universals, this he also failed.

Finite + anything is always a bunch of particulars. Thus giving no meaning to man or anything else.

For us to have absolutes and meaning via universals, we must always start with God, thus give meaning to our world and our humanity.


Jean Chauvin (Jude 3).

At 1:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please don’t feed the Sharks

Republican’s and Teabaggers and the Christian "Right",
seeks who they may devour.
They roam to and fro,
like a shark in the darkest hour.

Especially after our blood,
like our Daughter or Son.
They care less for our tears,
or faith with life we run.

They circle our schools these sharks,
and seek for kids away from home.
They gnash teeth and growl with hunger,
that prayers are silenced from their roam.

Death to America’s Justice system,
Death to the liberty we all share.
Death to freedom of speech,
Me, myself and I is the sharks adorn.

Kids are such a sweet treat,
and such an easy prey,
Protection needs to stop,
to devour without delay.

I was twelve left in schools zone,
where a Christian teacher attacked.
I reached out for teachers help,
that lead to harder paddle whacks.

Remembering this day,
when my years were few.
I have now grown old with scars,
that warns what sharks will do.

Jimmie Robinson

At 7:25 AM , Blogger Jeselle Arce said...

Hi, very great post. Overwhelming message to read. Religion is a collection of belief systems, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.


At 8:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i realy like it better then all the other pg there so mean and nasty and show hatered to america jews and christens but your it nice i love it

At 3:08 PM , Anonymous Gay Spirituality said...

Thank you for making these points. You shed light on Calvinism that was helpful to me.

At 3:09 PM , Anonymous Gay Spirituality said...

Thank you for making these points. You shed light on Calvinism that was helpful to me.

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At 9:38 AM , Anonymous Jba09d said...

I don't think human beings can begin anywhere but anthropology, or at least with humble interpretive practices that remind us us that whether or not there is an absolute truth about anything, something that is not already self-evident and tautological, meaning something meaningful, how would any human being have access to that without making a leap into a seemingly inaccessible meaningful objectivity that we simply don't have access to, because even if we had the original manuscripts of the scriptures, which we don't, Jesus didn't write them. Now Jesus or the Holy Spirit whispering into our hearts or heads how to interpret something once and for all, that just isn't how language works. Language meaning is infinitely deferrable, sometimes ironic, and often, said in the only way God can say it, still mysterious to us. God does not reveal his whole self in the life of Jesus, nor does Jesus reveal everything to his disciples; Luther called this the hidden God. We know enough to be the disciples Jesus called us to be.

This is why even Karl Barth, who brought us back to revelation rather than anthropology as the beginning of ethics and theology, reminded us that we are never given the exact absolute truth about anything; Christianity is based on faith not guaranteedstarting still questing when interpreting anything Jesus, who was not a writer, made no effort to ensure that we get his words precisely, and again even if you point to the Holy Spirit as making sure the core of what we need to know, I think we are led directly and not incidentally to Calvin's city of torture.

PS This is not to agree with Tillich's now outdated method of using theology to answer the questions set by anthropology or philosophy, though still often brilliant in its anecdotal particulars, in his sermons for instance. Calvin proved quite effectively that religious "absolutes"are just another way of reading into and dreaming for universals that we have no access to. Even Jesus never claimed that his reading of the scriptures was absolute, because he understood that language doesn't work that way. 2+2 may equal 4, but when everyone seems to have 2 of something different, trading for someone else's 2 is not always doubling your investment. (See the parable of the buried talents). Knowing absolute truth is comforting, but look at Jesus being tempted by Satan: Satan is offering guarantees. A God who dies on a cross for his friends to experience a new life, a new politics, a new truth, I'm not sure that's quantifiable.

At 7:23 PM , Blogger scoobysoop said...

Dwight Welch, my pastor, is also an Adjunct Professor teaching World Religions at OCCC in Oklahoma City.


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