Unless you are living on another planet, you will know that 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of Calvin, who was born in Noyon, north of Paris, July 10th 1509. One of the two or three most influential theologians of all times, along with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Calvin deserves this kind of attention, though he would have hated it were he around. Contrary to the popular caricature, he was so humble that he asked that his grave be unmarked...."
"There have been scores of colloquia during the year, each one measuring his life, his writings, his impact in different ways. I have participated in three of them so far, with more to come. For two of them Barbara and I were together with Dr. and Mrs. Peter Lillback and our good friends Joe and Jeannie Roskos. Each has been informative, edifying and even inspirational. Yet, as one of my former colleagues, Paul Wells (M. Div. & D.D. from Westminster) warns, we must be neither Calvinophobes nor Calvinolaters! Unfortunately, both tendencies have had a long history. Instead, though, it is right to be Calvinophiles, since there is so much to love in the man, his work, and his legacy.
"Jean Cauvin (1509-1564) fled his native France because of persecutions against the growing Protestant movement with which he identified. He was persuaded to stay in Geneva, where he became the consolidator and developer of the Reformation in that city and well beyond. He preached thousands of sermons, and wrote voluminously. His masterpiece, a classic of religious literature, is the Institutes of the Christian Religion, a defense and elaboration of biblical truth covering every important doctrine of our faith. No doubt he, more than any other Reformer, was the human instrument for developing what we now call the Reformed Faith, which includes Presbyterianism, and, of course, Westminster Seminary.
"The first colloquium was jointly sponsored by the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en-Provence (FLTR) and the Evangelical Seminary in Vaux-sur-Seine (in two episodes, in February at Aix and in March at Vaux). The two are the only evangelical graduate schools in France. Entitled, “The Significance of John Calvin: Theologian, Churchman, and Exegete,” the presentations were remarkable. Highlights were Olivier Millet’s lecture on Calvin as biblical interpreter, Henri Blocher on Calvin and justification, and Frédéric Hammann on Calvin the preacher. I was able to present an address on Calvin and iconoclasm, a version of which I would do in English, later, in Geneva. Perhaps the most moving part of the colloquium was the devotions, largely based on Calvin’s prayers, led by Gilles Daudet, a graduate from Aix who is presently the pastor of a vital Reformed Church in Paris. Daudet has actually published a marvelous book, Priez 15 Jours avec Calvin, which can be used for personal or corporate prayer, provided you know French!
"The second colloquium was in three parts. Westminster was one of the official sponsors. Superbly organized by the Rev. David Hall, Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Powder Springs, GA, it was titled, Calvin500. David dedicated the better part of three years to preparations for this, and all I can say is, thank you, David, for an incredible job! The first portion, “A Taste of Calvin 500,” was held in Orlando, in tandem with the PCA ‘s General Assembly in June. The event was hosted by Reformed Theological Seminary, and, again, the presentations were superb. Particularly memorable for me was Douglas Kelly, who lectured on the newly transliterated Consistory Minutes from the church at Geneva. His conclusion, after examining hundreds of hours of session records, is that very little has changed in the life of the church over the years! Other speakers included Michael Milton, Frank James, Derek Thomas, Ligon Duncan, and David Hall. I was able to show a Power Point illustrating Calvin’s impact on the arts, particularly Rembrandt, and the 17th century Dutch landscapists..."
"The last two portions of Calvin500 spanned June 30 to July 10. We began with a wonderful trip to Paris, Noyon, Orléans, Reims, Strasbourg and Bern. Over 100 people came along. Our travel agency, the Witte Travel company, did an amazing job of shepherding us around.
"We learned about Calvin’s early life as a Roman Catholic in Noyon, his law studies in Orléans, his fellowship with the Reformation-minded circle at Saint-Germain-des-Près, including abbot Guillaume Briçonnet, Guillaume Farel, Jacques Lefèbre d’Étaples and Gérard Roussel.
"In Strasbourg we visited the very church where Calvin preached. He came at Martin Bucer’s request, to serve the French refugees, during his own exile from Geneva (1538-1541). Bern was the powerful center for much of the Swiss Reformation. It was wonderful to share this time with WTS board chair Jack White, and his wife Norma, recovering well from her health struggles. We also enjoyed the company of Tim and Kathe Russell, a current PhD student, and co-organizer of the conference."
"The final portion was 5 days in Geneva itself. Another large number joined us here. It was a special treat to hang out with Dave and Jenny Coffin and Steve and Thea Vanderhill. In Geneva we were treated to (count them!) five lectures each morning and three sermons in the evening. Worship was at Le Temple Saint Pierre, which has (erroneously) been known as the 'Cathedral' since World War Two. On the Lord’s Day, our friend Sinclair Ferguson preached a powerful message from Philippians 3, urging all the pastors and theologians in attendance to count all their work as loss, compared to the surpassing knowledge of Christ. His wife Dorothy and his son John (WTS M.Div.) were in attendance. The evening service featured the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Orombi, a leader in the struggle for the gospel in that world-wide communion.
"Dr. Lillback, president, preached here, and in Aix, on 'All the Glorious Offices of Christ' from 1 Corinthians 1:29-31. Westminster grad and trustee Philip Ryken, Senior Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, preached on 'A Wide Door for Spreading the Gospel,' from 1 Cor. 16:5-11. Several other Westminster connected people preached or spoke. Every presentation was memorable. Topics ranged from particular theological points to history and sociology. Henri Blocher spoke on 'Calvin the Frenchman.'
"Isabelle Graesslé, President of the Reformation Museum, spoke on Calvin’s views on women. She stressed his love for his wife, Idolette de Bure, and his often tender relations with the women he encountered, such as the Duchess of Ferrara. Darryl Hart discussed Calvin’s impact on America. Recent WTS grad Dr. Jae Sung Kim spoke on Calvin in Asia. Dr. Kim has written a biography of Calvin in Korean. Former WTS professor Rick Gamble brought us up to date on Calvin research.
"The third colloquium was held in Aix-en-Provence. 'Calvin Revisited: Acknowledgement and Challenge' was hosted by IRTI (the International Reformed Theological Institute). The event was held at the lovely Jesuit conference center La Baume-les-Aix. The symposium included worship, lectures, and visits to places like the Musée du Désert, where the persecuted Huguenots (French Protestants) are commemorated. Again, the menu was rich (as was the French food!), as we were treated to first-rate scholars speaking on every aspect of John Calvin’s life and work. The final evening was a celebration held in the garden of the Seminary in Aix, where we ate more good food, and yours truly played some Calvinist jazz piano!
"Besides the superb presentations, other highlights included times of fellowship with friends, new and old, from all over the world; marvelous publications (my suitcase was far heavier on the return journey!); a boat trip down Lake Geneva; and… not to be taken for granted, great weather. Many of these events were filmed and recorded, so those unable to participate will be able to get their own 'taste' of Calvin. Barbara and I returned home with an enormous sense of gratitude, for what we learned about the Lord’s rule over history, the joys of fellowship, and the nurture of our souls. Anything but nostalgic yearning, these colloquia have motivated many of us to seek a new Reformation in our times.
"So, there is much work to be done. Perhaps we can measure that in 100 years. As many said when parting, 'See you at the 600th!'”
- Dr. William Edgar, professor of apologetics