Friday, February 26, 2010

Lent Blog 7: An encounter with Calvin

John CalvinImage via Wikipedia
Travelling up and down the M6 yesterday, I had two very different experiences of listening to the radio. The first was In Our Time on Radio 4. The subject was John Calvin, which might not inspire many people immediately. In fact it was fascinating. As a student chaplain I came across a number of people very committed to the understanding of Christianity upheld by UCCF, the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. This is an umbrella organisation for many of the Christian Unions in Higher Education and its Doctrinal Basis owes a lot to Calvinist theology. The programme was a very helpful introduction to this tradition within Christianity, and helped to explain why Christians of the background act and speak in the way that they do. If you're quick, you can catch it here, or download the podcast.

One theme that struck me was that although Calvin and his allies were keen to put the Bible in people's hands - hence the Geneva Bible - the Bible came with comprehensive notes as to how it should be read. In other words, he replaced one form of church authority with another. In some Christian circles today, people describe their views/policies/structures/ethics as 'Biblical' to contrast them with 'human' views. Some (but not all) who come from this Calvinist/Reformed tradition can portray themselves as the carriers of the unpolluted message and be very suspicious of those who do not sign up to the same methodology.

In fact, of course, any 'Biblical' view is not simply an unblemished and unfiltered reading of Scripture with no presuppositions; it is affected by a whole set of theological assumptions. Maybe we all need to be a bit more humble and a bit more modest about our grasp on truth. It's not that I don't believe it; it's just rather hard to filter out from our own prejudices and preferences.

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