Wednesday, July 8, 2009

John Calvin Forum - Reflections

Well, our fourth forum is done and I was very happy with how well it went. With the absence of Dr. Muller we had an unexpected benefit--each speaker was allotted extra time and that gave each presenter the time to flesh out details they could have never done in a shorter time span. This gives me reason to perhaps limit the number of speakers in future forums.

We planned on 50 people and quickly exceeded that with over 60 in attendance. We were scrambling at the last minute for any chair available. Due to another group's meeting in the store at the same time our normal allotment of chairs had to be split. But when the dust settled most everyone had a seat and the evening was informative and most enjoyable. This was my first exposure to Dr. Maag and I was immediately impressed. Her presentation on Calvin was the best I've ever heard. (I'm so glad we recorded it. CDs should be available as soon as the end of this week.) Dr. Maag addressed four main areas regarding Calvin and misperceptions or misrepresentations as the case may be. 1) Calvin's temperament or personality. 2) Calvin and church discipline. 3) Calvin and predestination. 4) Calvin and Servetus. As Dr. Maag spoke the fallacies fell like apples from a ripe tree. Calvin did not bring the reformation to Geneva. It had already been accepted by the city before he got there. Calvin was not a dictator of Geneva. In fact, he had no voting rights until 1555. He was an influential pastor in the town but not the only pastor in town. Her discussion of Servetus was excellent. She never excused the act but put the entire event in its 16th century context. We are trying to get the video excerpt of that segment for you to see.

Dr. Wittmer was equally impressive. He expressed concern at first at his assigned topic. (I'll admit I was the one who gave it to him.) But he noted on Calvin's 400th birthday the up and rising star was a young theologian named Karl Barth. The thinking of the young liberal was in the air at that time and on this celebration of Calvin's 500th birthday we have the liberal thinking of many in the emergent church. He said that Calvin's 600th birthday was "not his problem." (That got a good laugh!) Wittmer did as I expected and hoped you would. He contrasted the liberal notions of the emergent church with the clear thinking of Calvin. But he emphasized that it is not just Calvin that he spoke for. The historic church (Iranaeus, Augustine, Luther, and many others) stand as a unified witness against the emergent church. The rejection of the cardinal doctrines is fundamentally at odds with historic Christianity. When Wittmer was done I saw Calvin as a pastor with a deep heart for the church and the health that comes with sound doctrine. He told how Warfield said that the number one name for God in Calvin's Institutes is "Father." It is the grace of God that is the shining light for Calvin much more so that his sovereignty. The most shocking thing he said was how some in the emergent movement are now saying that "they don't really believe everything they write!" Can't wait for the CD? His most recent blog post explains what this oddity means. One of Wittmer's main points was that "we have a revelation." That may sound simple but it has profound implications. With a revelation "we can know something about God and ourselves." That is incredibly important. We don't have to live in a world where doubt not only exists (he never denied that people have doubts) but that for some has become a virtue. Revelation makes knowledge possible.

We at Baker Book House have had a wonderful time hosting these forums and I'm already pondering what next year's should be. If you have any suggestions please let me know. For now let me publicly give a hearty thank you to both Dr. Maag and Dr. Wittmer for making our event such a success.


Paul said...

Thanks so much, Louis, for the highlights and I sorely regret not be able to be there. But REALLY look forward to any audio/video made available.

Dr. Wittmer's comments and yours here are vital to wit: "With a revelation "we can know something about God and ourselves." That is incredibly important. We don't have to live in a world where doubt not only exists (he never denied that people have doubts) but that for some has become a virtue. Revelation makes knowledge possible."

Oh that the emergents would feel (every existential pun intended) the import of this statement and get on board with a sound, solid, and secure epistemic basis for the wonderful, gracious "God who has spoken" (to quote J.I. Packer).

Louis said...


Thanks for the comment. I've sometimes wondered if the emergent church isn't something like a rebel teenager. Pushing against the tradition to see how far they can go. Though none would put quite like this I think it's fair to say some are thinking it: "I don't need revelation. I have doubt!" The solution rarely seems to be "let's work through the doubt" but rather "can we think of more questions which will cause us to doubt even more." I've heard some say, "Well, they're just trying to get people to think. You know, get a conversation going." It never occurs to them that conversations can start from a position of knowledge as well as genuine doubt. I've personally seen you do this on numerous occassions. Time for the teenager to grow up.

Paul said...

Yes...interesting alignment between teenagers and emergents. Even the Socratic precept of being aware of our own ignorance starts from a place of knowledge or knowing that we do not know. Likewise, the emergent's commitment to doubt cannot escape some kind of knowledge position.

Andrew Rogers said...

Sounds like it was a great forum, Louis. I'll be looking forward to the audio.