Could Calvin Be A Pastor Today?

Could John Calvin, the (in)famous Genevan Reformer, Biblical scholar and theological powerhouse actually get a job (for lack of a better expression) in the pastorate today, Or would this Bible expositor and eminent scholar be generally unemployable in 2014?

Before you answer, we’re talking about a man who preached pretty much every day across Geneva and was so dedicated to the ministry of the Word that when he made his return to Geneva following his forced exile, he picked up his preaching ministry in EXACTLY the following verse where he had left off years before. Could a man that radically devoted to the truth of Scripture and its proclamation receive the call to pastor a church today? In the majority of popular church circles, probably not. At least, that’s the picture I get from the attitude of Christians to the Word in general.

It’s been three and a half years since I came to adopt what is commonly called “reformed theology”. In that time, if you could ask me what the one major thing that has changed in my approach to life in general, it would be this: everything has shifted around my desire for God’s Word. And I’m not alone in that assessment. The desire to be rigorously Bible-based is something I’m exposed to all the time in my circle of friends, but outside of friends who share a similar belief in the doctrines of grace, I find that the Bible has become boring for many “believers” I know, particularly young people, to who my post will be addressed.

I think there are three distinct reasons why being – to put it forcefully – completely and utterly consumed by a passion for God’s Word is shunned by so many:

1. It takes work. Young people, especially, are some of the most mentally lazy people on the face of God’s good green earth. One could argue that the effects of an entertainment generation have dulled our ability to think, though for what it is worth, I don’t buy the myth that attention spans are dying. Folks still watch soap operas for 25-30 minutes, don’t they?

It’s like we choose not to apply our brains to thinking through deep concepts and ideas. After all, many young people are engaged in full-time education, studying in fields which require deep thinking, analysis and coming to conclusions. Most students read very complicated material for their courses – but why isn’t that translated into our pursuit of God through the Word?

2. We like to be entertained. Now, we won’t put it as flippantly as that, but it sums up our attitude to things. We’ll put spiritual-sounding expressions on it like “ministered to me” or “feeds my spirit”, but I ask: What exactly is the material we often associate with these things? Eight out of ten times (which is a lot), we really mean, “I wanted something which wasn’t too heavy, didn’t require me to think through and made me feel warm inside.” Now, the Word of God, accurately preached, can do that too.We can read Christian books which are Bible-based and be encouraged. But seeking those things WITHOUT the Word is dangerous.

3. We don’t like to be challenged.  As I write, I’ve been engaged in a conversation with someone upset that someone dared argue against the idea that women can serve in ordained, local church ministry. At the rub of the argument is the desire not to be challenged on that issue. That attitude means you never step outside your own boundaries, you never question anything outside your little world and when someone who actually believes the Word trumps your world comes along and tries to get you to see things a little differently, the response is one of anger because your artificial world has been turned on its head. Going to the Bible, being a good Berean and proving all things (1 Thess 5:21, cf. Acts 17:11) will sometimes mean that traditions get the roundhouse to the face which they deserve. Sometimes changes will have to take place and relationships may have to be severed but if this is because of God’s Word, then let’s have it!

Ultimately, it is God alone who imparts a love for His Word, but we need to desire it, even in days when it is not popular and not cared about. May it the prayer of all God’s people that we would esteem the words of His mouth more than the food we need to live physically.

And so we return to the question we began with – could Calvin really get a job in 21st century evangelicalism? Well, he wouldn’t be invited to most of the leadership conferences of our day but among those who love and cherish the Word, I’m certain he’d have a home and a warm welcome.

[Contributed by Kofi Adu-Boahen]

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9 Responses

  1. Born4Battle says:

    My first response to the question was ‘yes, but…..’, meaning that while Calvin might be able to fund a pastorate, most of today’s ‘evangelical churches wouldn’t hire him. John Calvin was all about the sovereignty of God, not the glory of man and his best life now, or custom designed special purpose. The word of God cuts and can slice through our self esteem like hot butter. On the other hand, we are told in Phil 2:13 that God works in us to desire and to do what pleases Him. What might that be saying about the thousands who fill ‘theater seats’ with the ‘mocha lattes’ they bought in the lobby, to have their ears tickled.

  2. It was my experience over 40+ years as a “Reformed” pastor that people, even those who expressed a desire to be taught the Word of God, were more concerned for programs for their children and teenagers than for a biblical ministry. Given the choice between sound doctrine and programs, they would choose programs every time.

  3. SLIMJIM says:

    He preached every day…I’m still stuck on that point

  4. Sean Mustian says:

    It is interesting to think about a big name like Calvin in that way. Washer once said that many of modern ‘reformed theology’ who build monuments to Whitefield would stone him if he lived today.

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