Celebrating John Calvin, Talking About Predestination

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TCelebratory events are occurring throughout the year and around the world in honor of the 500th birthday of John Calvin on July 10.

Some think that Calvin himself would not approve of all the attention. Others, however, say that his impact on church and society has been enormous and ought to be acknowledged.

Calvin’s birthday was honored at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) in April when the Calvin Studies Society hosted a conference titled “John Calvin: Myth and Reality.” Topics included Calvin’s teachings on theology, worship, prayer, church discipline, the political order, women, and the doctrine of predestination.

The latter topic—predestination—was the focus of an evening panel discussion that drew a capacity crowd to the seminary chapel.

Richard Muller, P.J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at CTS, spoke about Calvin’s views on predestination in relation to other theologians of his time. Laura Smit, associate professor of religion at Calvin College, spoke of her gradual move toward accepting the doctrine of predestination through her teaching of it.

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, noted that Calvinism was recently listed in Time magazine (March 2009) as one of the big ideas affecting the world today, but was not portrayed in a very positive light.

Western Theological Seminary professor John Hesselink said that predestination is a doctrine of comfort because, regardless of how we feel about our salvation, we can be certain of it, even in the darkest night of the soul.

About the Author

Rev. Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, adjunct professor of church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.