The Reformation Piety of Theodore Beza -- By: Shawn D. Wright

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 10:4 (Winter 2006)
Article: The Reformation Piety of Theodore Beza
Author: Shawn D. Wright

The Reformation Piety of Theodore Beza

Shawn D. Wright

Shawn D. Wright is Assistant Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, from which he received his Ph.D. Dr. Wright serves as an elder at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the author of Our Sovereign Refuge: The Pastoral Theology of Theodore Beza (Paternoster, 2004). He is also the editor (along with Thomas R. Schreiner) of the forthcoming book, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Broadman & Holman, 2007).


Theodore Beza (1519–1605) remains one of the enigmas of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation even though he led the church in Geneva, and its efforts in France, from the death of John Calvin in 1564 until his own death forty-one years later. These were tumultuous years in Geneva’s history, and Beza led a very exciting and busy life at its helm.1 But many scholars assume that Beza transformed Calvin’s theology in the process, acting as a hinge between the biblical emphasis of the early Reformation and the later philosophical and logical (but not primarily biblical) emphases of Protestant Scholasticism.2 We cannot here enter into the complexities of this debate, although we think that these charges are fundamentally wrong.3 Our purposes in this article are much more modest. Here we hope to point out the major contours of Beza’s piety.4 Our hope is primarily to trace the course of Beza’s thinking on this significant subject so that we can learn from him.

To understand Beza’s piety we must attempt to enter into his worldview. This is necessary because Beza’s view of ultimate realities shaped his evaluation of what was essential to Christian living. We will see that Beza had a very supernatural view of reality, complete with God and Satan, heaven and hell. This “eschatological vision,” as I will call it, meant that for Beza the single most important aspect of Christian piety was that a believer might navigate the vicissitudes of life and arrive safely in heaven. With this eschatological vision as the necessary background to Beza’s thought, we shall then note three of Beza’s emphases concerning Christian piety. First, we shall see the importance of the word of God; second, the reality of difficulties in Christian living; and, third, the hopefulness of God’s sovereignty to Christian piety. These components together comprise Beza’s realistic, yet ultimately optimistic, view of the Christian life.

Beza’s Eschatological Vision
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