23 August 2012

Calvin on the Christian life

It's been fun working slowly through John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety, edited by Elsie McKee, in the Classics of Western Spirituality series.

I sat in on an M.A. class on Calvin's theology a few years ago and am just now getting around to reading this text, highly commended in that class. The book is a representative sampling of material from Calvin's life as a Geneva pastor--his sermons, liturgy, prayers, and a smattering of related essays by Calvin concerning the Christian life.

In short, this is Calvin the pastor more than Calvin the theologian.

In his sermons, prayers, and other pastoral writings I see coloring Calvin's whole ministry the same two great traits that struck me in the Institutes: one, an enthrallment with God's majesty; two, a tender concern for the afflicted consciences of Christians and the power of the gospel to calm such internal afflictions.

Here is how McKee concludes her excellent opening introduction to the volume.
These few selections cannot give voice to the full range of Calvin's pastoral piety, but they may offer an introduction to the varied expressions of his personal religious experience and his teaching. They can perhaps suggest something of the intensity and practicality, the biblical and all-encompassing character, the active and social manifestations of this piety--a piety that reshaped religious life in the city of Calvin's exile and made it a 'school of Christ' for many people who never met the pastor of Geneva.

So what was Calvin's pastoral piety?

Intensely personal but never individualistic. Woven through with the great doctrines of justification by faith and regeneration of life, the glory of God and providence. Undergirded with prayer, proclaimed in word and shared in sacraments, sung in psalms. Embodied in action and demanding respect for the neighbor and solidarity with those who suffer in spirit, mind, or body. Not an easy or comfortable piety; it asks for one's all. Sturdy and down to earth, lived in the mundane context of daily work, yet always conscious of the presence of the transcendent God and the high calling of living before God. An energizing, lifelong response to God's liberating claim, God's righteous mercy, God's compelling love, a belonging that is all our joy.
--Elsie McKee, ed., John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Paulist, 2001), 34-35

Could a better statement be made on John Calvin's understanding of what it means to walk with Christ?

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