Yesterday was the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. The anniversary didn’t make any newspaper that I saw, but there have been major celebrations in the church world, including a series of talks and sermons in Geneva that featured many evangelical luminaries.
I’m no Calvin scholar myself. My greatest claim to Calvin devotion is also my most embarrassing: I brought Calvin’s Institutes of Religion on my honeymoon almost twenty-one years ago, and actually read some of it.
One of the most surprising things about Calvin’s legacy is that he never set out to be innovative, at least in the contemporary understanding of that term. If innovation means inventing something that is entirely new, Calvin wasn’t truly innovative. It’s impossible to read Calvin without being struck by the extent to which Scripture was the starting point, and foundation, for all of his thought. He brings his own perspective to bear, of course, but it is always Scripture he is expounding.
If Calvin was innovative, it seems to me he was innovative in a different sense: in his willingness to challenge conventional thinking. This didn’t mean inventing something entirely new, so much as looking at the timeless truths of Scripture with a fresh eye.