John Calvin As Pastor -- By: Shawn D. Wright

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:4 (Winter 2009)
Article: John Calvin As Pastor
Author: Shawn D. Wright

John Calvin As Pastor

Shawn D. Wright

Shawn D. Wright is Associate Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been active in church planting and pastoring and currently serves as an elder at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to contributing in journals, Dr. Wright has authored Our Sovereign Refuge: The Pastoral Theology of Theodore Beza (Wipf and Stock, 2007) and co-edited Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant In Christ (Broadman & Holman, 2007) with Thomas R. Schreiner.


Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about John Calvin. Charles Spurgeon did. He said, “The longer I live the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system is the nearest to perfection.” Another preacher had a more negative view. Jimmy Swaggart noted that “Calvin has, I believe, caused untold millions of souls to be damned.” Even supposedly “neutral” and scholarly sources like the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church cannot help claiming that “Calvin was the ‘cruel’ and ‘the unopposed dictator of Geneva.’” So much for scholarly objectivity! Even Calvin’s contemporaries had varied evaluations of him. One of his best friends and his chosen successor, Theodore Beza, eulogized him in this way: “I have been a witness of him for sixteen years, and I think that I am fully entitled to say that in this man there was exhibited to all an example of the life and death of the Christian, such as it will not be easy to depreciate, and it will be difficult to imitate.”1 Jerome Bolsec was another early biographer of Calvin. He, though, had been run out of Geneva by Calvin and the city authorities for his attack on predestination and later reverted to Catholicisim. Here’s his evaluation of the Genevan:

It seems that in our day this enemy of God and Christian unity [that is, Satan] has gathered most of the described heresies and false doctrines already long refuted and condemned and stowed them away in the city of Geneva through Jean Calvin of Noyon, a man, among others of the world, ambitious, presumptuous, arrogant, cruel, malicious, vindictive and, above all, ignorant.2

If nothing else, this shows us that the study of Calvin is a very interesting subject indeed.

In this article, I am not going to prove definitively that Calvin was good, or bad for that matter. I have much more modest aims. I hope to show that John Calvin, the great Reformed theologian, was a pastor. This is often overlooked as we think of Calvin the systematic theologian or the biblical scholar. He was these things, but his f...

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