Plain Talk With A Gilt Edge: An Exploration Of The Relation Between “Plain” Biblical Exposition And Persuasion In Chrysostom And Calvin -- By: Peter Moore

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 73:1 (Spring 2011)
Article: Plain Talk With A Gilt Edge: An Exploration Of The Relation Between “Plain” Biblical Exposition And Persuasion In Chrysostom And Calvin
Author: Peter Moore


Plain Talk With A Gilt Edge:
An Exploration Of The Relation Between “Plain” Biblical Exposition And Persuasion In Chrysostom And Calvin

Peter Moore

Peter Moore is a Lecturer in Theology, The Timothy Partnership, Sydney, and a Ph.D. candidate, Macquarie University, Sydney.

As a young man, John Calvin had been trained in classical rhetoric, yet it seemed that his first attempts at persuasive oratory failed. In 1538, after less than two years practicing this art, John Calvin left Geneva with his colleague Guillaume Farel and went into exile.1 Calvin’s departure was hurried and painful, and it must have seemed to the young man as he made his way to Strasbourg that his training had failed.2

Calvin had in fact been a reluctant preacher on his first coming to Geneva, and initially because of his natural shyness, he had not agreed to preach at all.3 It seems he probably remained just a “reader” and “lecturer” until well into 1537, a form of public oratory that is more about informing than persuading. However, he himself came to be persuaded, and he consented to be ordained as Farel’s colleague. In doing so he embraced a ministry that proved tumultuous in the extreme.

Writing to Farel later from his exile in Strasbourg, Calvin spoke of his ministry in Geneva as a “gulf and whirlpool . . . dangerous and destructive” and he expressed his reluctance to ever return to it.4 Yet after a little more than three years in Strasbourg, Calvin, “minister of the Gospel,” agreed to return to Geneva.5 He took up his ministry again, preaching there for the rest of his life.

Calvin’s first years back in Geneva were very difficult ones, and it would be wrong to think that this time his public oratory carried all before him. However, over time his preaching did succeed. Not only that, but preaching was clearly the centerpiece of this second Genevan ministry. Thus Parker states, “It is impossible

to do justice to his work in Geneva unless preaching be given the main place.”6

Clearly Calvin became a public orator of special influence. In an age before modern mass media, in public oratory Calvin employed the primary means by which large groups of people came under the influence of new ideas (and old ones) and by which a culture and a civilization were shaped. This was certainly...

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