Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Calvin's 500th Birthday

One of the key questions I have been asked in my visits throughout Lake Michigan Presbytery is that of identity. Who are we Presbyterians? A beginning answer to that is that our spiritual lineage is Protestant and Reformed. Christians in the Reformed Tradition are celebrating John Calvin’s 500th birthday this year. John Calvin, who articulated a Reformed Theology in the 16th century in Geneva, was born on July 10, 1509. There are celebrations and events world wide. The March 23rd issue of Presbyterian Outlook lists a comprehensive list of these events including celebrations in Geneva May 24-June 3. I will be attending the Calvin in Retrospect at my almamater Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, May 6-8, in conjunction with my class 25th anniversary gathering. Other opportunities include: Calvin Jubilee at Montreat July 8-10 sponsored by the PCUSA office of theology and worship and Austin Seminary, www.pcusa.org/theologyandworship, After 500 Years: John Calvin for the Reformed Churches Today, September 3-5 in Grand Rapids at the Protestant Reformed Seminary (www.prca.org/Seminary/seminary.html), a lecture series on John Calvin, September 24-25 at Journey, a center for the church’s learning at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, among the lecturers is Dr. Ellen Babinsky, Associate Dean for Student Academic Affairs and Professor of Church History, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and Ravished with Wonder: John Calvin and the God Who is Love, October 19-22, the Warfield Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary. I commend any of these lecture series as a way of helping us ground our identity in the historic and theological roots that formed and shaped us Presbyterians.

I took a course a few years ago with Dr. Ellen Babinsky, who is coming to Western in September, on the Medieval Roots of Protestant Spirituality. We studied four mystic Christian leaders who lived in the period prior to the Protestant Reformation. Then we considered Calvin’s writings and heard their voices and spiritual hunger and longing for mystical communion and union with God come through his words. The Scholastic/Reformed theologians who followed Calvin and my seminary professors missed this passionate spiritual side of Calvin. In addition to the intellectual “head” side of Calvin, which has marked us Presbyterians, is the passionate “heart” side which I believe we Presbyterians need to reclaim today. This other side of Calvin mostly ignored over the years by the church, originally gave the church its symbol for Calvin: the burning heart in the hand. Let us explore these roots of our identity. As we consider who we are, what God is calling us to be and do, there is at the core of our historic and theological roots a spiritual heart filled passion ready to be recovered, reclaimed, and restored. As you know we are reformed, and always reforming.