Calvinism and Catholicity

Todd Billings has a cool piece on The Promise of Catholic Calvinism. I can relate to this. I remember one time saying something in class about the Trinity and afterwards a student came up to me rather concerned and asked: “I didn’t think we believed all that Catholic stuff like the Trinity?” I was aghast and retorted, “Oh yes we do!”. I also remember a couple of people in a former church I attended being rather agitated by the fact that I put up a picture of  Jesus from the Hagia Sophia in a power point presentation for my sermon, and they objected on the grounds that the picture was too “catholic”! The assumptions here is that old stuff is catholic and everything catholic is heterodox. The problem is that I’m pretty sure that a renunciation of all Christians who lived before 1517 was not the goal of the Reformation.

So I agree with Todd Billings when he writes:

In our day, the Reformed tradition is in dire need of recovering the Catholic dimension of our heritage. Calvin and other Reformers did not, in fact, seek radical revision of a Nicene doctrine of the Trinity and a Chalcedonian Christology; moreover, the sacramental theology of Luther, Calvin, and even Zwingli was much closer to the patristic theology of Augustine, for example, than the highly cognitive memorialism that takes place in many of today’s Reformed churches.

In conclusion, why speak of a “Catholic Calvinism”? I choose to speak this way because it highlights what is missing in many understandings of Reformed Christianity: the Trinitarian, Christological and sacramental theology about which classical Reformed theology owes great debts to patristic reflection. The term “Catholic” captures some of what has been lost by Reformed churches on the “left” and “right” that have fallen into a “mere Christianity” that is a reduced Christianity. If Reformed Christianity in America is to recover from the paralyzing reductionisms of the Enlightenment, it must retrieve riches from the premodern Reformed tradition– from the patristic theological tradition that Calvin and many later Reformed theologians so admired.

Infusing some catholicity of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan kind can only strengthen the Reformed churches and remind us that the Reformation was not the attempt to renounce the past but to recapture it!

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  • Joel Haas

    YES!!!!

  • Joel Haas

    YES!!!!

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  • Glenn

    Reformed Catholicity matters because we are called to love Christ AND his Church. Reformed Catholicity is not a cure all solution for eliminating disagreements, disunity, and dissent. However, Reformed Catholicity is the living, breathing resurrected Christ who is presently working in his church through the ministry of the Spirit. Reformed Catholicity is the Holy Spirit bringing us into unity by drawing our eyes to the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Reformed Catholicity is the church vibrant and alive seeking God and hungry for his Word. Reformed Catholicity is intimacy with God and others through faith in Christ and repentance of sin. Reformed Catholicity does examine and digest what the Church Fathers taught, without becoming frozen in time. Reformed Catholicity does stand on the shoulders of the spiritual giants of the past, but also trusts God to be a witness of Christ in this present world. Reformed Catholicity is our vision because Christ is our Life.

  • Glenn

    Reformed Catholicity matters because we are called to love Christ AND his Church. Reformed Catholicity is not a cure all solution for eliminating disagreements, disunity, and dissent. However, Reformed Catholicity is the living, breathing resurrected Christ who is presently working in his church through the ministry of the Spirit. Reformed Catholicity is the Holy Spirit bringing us into unity by drawing our eyes to the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Reformed Catholicity is the church vibrant and alive seeking God and hungry for his Word. Reformed Catholicity is intimacy with God and others through faith in Christ and repentance of sin. Reformed Catholicity does examine and digest what the Church Fathers taught, without becoming frozen in time. Reformed Catholicity does stand on the shoulders of the spiritual giants of the past, but also trusts God to be a witness of Christ in this present world. Reformed Catholicity is our vision because Christ is our Life.

  • Luke Isham

    Sounds like you’re channeling Doug Wilson and the Moscow Idaho crowd, not that that’s a bad thing!

  • Luke Isham

    Sounds like you’re channeling Doug Wilson and the Moscow Idaho crowd, not that that’s a bad thing!

  • Joe Mock

    Hi Mike,

    Very interesting that you refer to “infusing some catholicity ….” Most Reformers avoided any “infusion” language but Bullinger was happy to use it (as did Augustine) as long as it accurately conveyed what Scripture said. I believe Bullinger deliberately used the terminology of the Roman church but gave these words a proper biblical understanding. This is evident in Bullinger’s writings during the time of Trent.

    cheers, sujomo

  • Joe Mock

    Hi Mike,

    Very interesting that you refer to “infusing some catholicity ….” Most Reformers avoided any “infusion” language but Bullinger was happy to use it (as did Augustine) as long as it accurately conveyed what Scripture said. I believe Bullinger deliberately used the terminology of the Roman church but gave these words a proper biblical understanding. This is evident in Bullinger’s writings during the time of Trent.

    cheers, sujomo

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