Calvin And The Beasts: Animals In John Calvin’s Theological Discourse -- By: Peter A. Huff

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 42:1 (Mar 1999)
Article: Calvin And The Beasts: Animals In John Calvin’s Theological Discourse
Author: Peter A. Huff

Calvin And The Beasts:
Animals In John Calvin’s Theological Discourse

Peter A. Huff*

In the twentieth century, John Calvin’s theology of creation has been the subject of much debate, especially as it has figured in controversies regarding the legitimacy of natural theology in Christian thought and of what is now called “animal theology” in Christian ethics. Read through systematic Barthian categories, Calvin’s thought on nature has been construed as conceptually negative, simply a thematic foil for an exclusive “theanthropocentric” gospel of salvific revelation in Jesus Christ. 1 At the hands of animal rights theologians, his thought has been reduced to a “humanocentric” misreading of the Christian message, a severe departure from the biblical vision of the peacable kingdom and a significant contributor to the Western desacralization of nature. 2 Consequently, studies in historical theology, shaped by such ideological concerns, have routinely obscured what Calvin actually said about the excellence and integrity of creation.

The publication of Susan Schreiner’s study of Calvin’s theology of creation has signaled the beginning of an attempt to reassess the longstanding negative verdict on Calvin’s view of nature. In The Theater of His Glory: Nature and Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin (1991), Schreiner makes the case that Calvin’s theological vision was profoundly shaped by a deep appreciation of nature. “In all of [his] writings,” she states, “Calvin taught that God’s glory extended beyond the fate of the individual soul and encompassed the whole of creation.” 3 Arguably, Calvin’s thought reveals an intimate acquaintance and engagement with nature absent in most modern forms of theology, even those advertising themselves as creation-centered. While it certainly does not anticipate twentieth-century experiments in ecological theology, neither does it represent the kind of exclusive “humanocentricism” that some theologians have found characteristic of the dominant Christian theological tradition. Rather, Calvin’s theological imagination, instinctively shaped by assumptions regarding the interface of the natural and supernatural, conceives of nature as a created order whose theological

* Peter Huff is assistant professor of theology at Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester, NH 03102–1310.

significance far exceeds its importance as the setting for a divine-human drama of redemption.

It is difficult to turn a page in Calvin’s se...

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