John Calvin and The Servetus Affair

One thing that often comes up in debates about Calvinism is the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553. Those opposed to Calvinism try to make Calvin out to be a murderer of Servetus and therefore someone that should not be listened to in the realm of theology. But there are a few problems with this argument.

The first problem with this argument is that Calvinists follow Scripture, not John Calvin. Even without Calvin, the doctrines that we hold to still apply because they are found in Scripture. They were not invented by John Calvin, they were not invented by Augustine of Hippo either. They are found in every book of Scripture.

The second problem with trying to say that the Servetus affair should dismiss Calvin is that it means there are other authors this principle would apply to as well. Should we dismiss all of Paul’s writings for his persecution of the church? Should we dismiss the Psalms of David because of his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah? I do not think you will find one person who uses the Servetus affair as an argument that would agree to dismissing those authors as well. This is an inconsistency in their philosophy.

The third and final problem that will be discussed about the Servetus affair is that the argument has no basis in historical accuracy. Unfortunately, for those who use this argument, facts matter. So what are the facts? Did John Calvin murder Michael Servetus? Did he order his execution? Did he light the flames? The answer to all of these questions is no, he did not. So what did happen?

Michael Servetus was a man who denied the doctrine of the Trinity. He was wanted on charges of heresy by both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants alike. Unlike today, heresy in the 16th Century carried the penalty of death. He had been warned by John Calvin not to come to Geneva but Servetus ignored the warning and came anyway under a disguise. However, he was found out and tried as a heretic.

John Calvin did supply the evidence against Servetus in the trial. However, he was not the one that tried Servetus, nor did he sentence Servetus to death. In fact, after Servetus was sentenced to death, Calvin lobbied to have his execution be that of beheading rather than burning at the stake so that it would be quicker with less suffering.

Now, did Calvin believe Servetus should be executed? Yes. But we need to remember the time period in which Calvin lived. It was not John Calvin who held this view and to somehow make him the villain in all of this in order to discredit other beliefs that he held is absurd.

When someone uses the Servetus Affair in arguments against Calvinism, it means they have run out of arguments and are not able to focus on the actual theology and the doctrines that Calvinists hold to in the light of Scripture.

Book Review: Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals

M56526Gavin Ortlund’s new book, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals, seeks to give us instruction on why we need to look to church history for answers in today’s age of advancement and millennial thinking.

Ortland argues that Evangelicals have lost touch with the history of the Christian Church. Much of this is for fear of becoming too close to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. And, as he explains, those are valid fears. But the fears should not keep us from exploring the rich heritage of Christianity and to explore the scenarios and events that have helped shaped the theology of the church between the first century and the church today. After all, was there nothing good that came out of the church in its first 1500 years of existence?

Ortland points out an alarming trend of people leaving Protestantism for Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. He highlights a prominent Christian Celebrity, Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, to illustrate this point explaining that Hanegraaff left Protestantism for Eastern Orthodoxy a couple of years ago. He demonstrates that this has been happening at an alarming rate. And why is this happening?

So what is causing this trend? Obviously, every person’s story is unique, and we must leave room for a wide array of different kinds of factors in each case. However, one of these recurring themes among these denominational migrations is related to how Dreher interpreted Hanegraff’s conversion: the desire for historical depth.

Gary Ortland – Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals Chapter 2

Historical depth is the problem according to Ortland as well as others. So the solution, according to Ortland, is Theological Retrieval.

Theological Retrieval is the process of studying church history. But not just the history of the church, the writings of the early church. Ortland shows a process of rediscovering the early writings of the Early Church Father’s and filtering how we ended up with the doctrines that we hold so dear today.

The second half of the book shows practical methods for engaging in theological retrieval. He explores topics such as God (Theology Proper), the atonement, and art.

In each of these cases, he takes the theological concept, puts the current thinking on the topic in light, then looks to see what the church has written about the topic historically. He admits that to be a good systematic theologian, you must respect historical theology as a discipline. In this book, he meshes those two disciplines together.

Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals is not an easy read. There were times when reading that I had to force myself to get into the text or just put it down and come back later. However, the truth contained within and the methods examined and displayed are valuable and to be encouraged.

Because of this, I give Theological Retrieval for Evangelical three out of five stars. However, I do recommend it as a read for those who are seeking to know the history of their faith and how their Evangelical Protestantism fits into the elaborate history of the Christian Church.

I was given a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The (Sad) State of Christianity

I have been witness to things over the years that makes my skin crawl. The state of the church universal, but particularly in the United States and Europe, is appalling. 500 years ago, Martin Luther sparked a Reformation that would forever change the course of church and human history. His courage and steadfastness in his search for truth is inspiring and served the church well. God did, and continues to use Luther in a mighty way.

However, today we are in need of reformation again. The church is falling back into darkness. We see a renewal to have bonds with the Roman Catholic Church that continues in its heresy. We see the rise of LGBT sympathizers in the church defying God and His created order. We see prosperity gospel being preached through the lands. We see the gifts of tongues being abused and falsified.

While all of this is happening we see the church losing the culture. Christianity is no longer an acceptable position in the eyes of the culture. This is nobody’s fault but the church. We have lost our way. We are more worried about appeasing the lost rather than telling the truth to the lost. We cater our church services to the lost which leaves us with shallow theology in the service leading to theological illiteracy in the pew.

Scripture has also lost its place as the source of truth that we are to live by. Science, which changes frequently, has replaced the Bible. Evolution is the mantra of the day despite the fact it goes directly against logic and what the Creator has told us happened. Are we really that wise? No.

Paul tells us in Romans that because we defy God we are left to our own ways. Professing ourselves, the human race, to be wise, we are becoming fools.

Where is the church? Where are the godly leaders? Where is Scripture? Why are we not fighting back? Are we afraid? Or do we just not care?

Church it is time for a new reformation. We must bring back biblical standards and authority. We must bring back rich theology. We must rediscover that the church is to feed the believers so that we can go out and preach to the lost. Stand up church!