Editor’s Introduction -- By: Jonathan Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 10:4 (Fall 2001)
Article: Editor’s Introduction
Author: Jonathan Armstrong

Editor’s Introduction

John H. Armstrong

For most modern evangelicals the name of John Calvin is often associated with a system of theology that bears his name. If anything else is known about the famous Genevan Reformer of the sixteenth century it usually is the story of how Calvin consented to the death of the noted heretic, Michael Servetus. General misperceptions about the man, his character, and his theology, abound. Stereotypes, in this case, have become the norm.

Much more accurate and helpful is the insight of one contemporary writer, Sherwood E. Wirt.

It could be said that God laid his hands on the wrong man in John Calvin. A thin, timid, dyspeptic Frenchman with a scraggly beard, Calvin was basically a scholar who desired nothing better than to spend his life in libraries. Instead, he was thrust into the vortex of Europe’s fiercest religious battles. Before he died in 1564 at the age of fifty-four, he had met the challenge, overcome his opposition, and become one of the most influential figures in religious history.1

John Calvin clearly was a man who possessed incredible talent. He had a vigorous mind and an amazing gift to write. But in addition to these considerable strengths, he also had a few glaring weaknesses. His angry polemics, which were certainly not the greater part of his work, and mistakes in personal and pastoral judgment, conspired to prompt many, both in his time and ours, to despise him. Yet few today bother to understand this man whole, especially since it is far easier to recite a few popular (and sometimes false, or distorted) myths and move on to commonly assumed criticisms.

I first met John Calvin, as a great thinker and writer, second hand. I heard the usual stories, read a few quotes here and there, and decided that this was a harsh and mean-spirited man of no real importance to me as a pastor. In time I had to change my mind by reading Calvin for myself. I came to see that John Calvin was one of the most remarkable men in the history of the Christian church. Yes, he did have enemies for sure, but what great Christian doesn’t? People insulted him regularly, even setting dogs on him on one occasion. Once they fired guns outside his house, overtly threatening his life. And yes, his enemies hurled suggestions of immorality at him, with no basis in fact at all. But, as Sherwood Wirt has further observed, there is much more to the real John Calvin than most modern Christians have seen or understood.

There was gentleness in Calvin not often mentioned. He knew how to retain the admiration and affection of his friends. During the twenty-seven years he was ...

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