Calvin-ISM

The word Calvinist or Calvinian goes back a long way

After the spate of “Calvin against the Calvinists” articles, books, and chapters in the twentieth century, in which Puritans featured prominently, people started to question whether the later folks could really appeal to the great man as in some way foundational for their theology. The Calvinists had twisted and deformed the theology of the Genevan Reformer, it was said.

 

Calvinism used to be synonymous with Reformed theology. Indeed, it identified it more quickly and easily, because many people have no idea what you mean if you say “Reformed” but they immediately seem to recognise “Calvinism” as a term. A term of abuse perhaps, but recognisable.

After the spate of “Calvin against the Calvinists” articles, books, and chapters in the twentieth century, in which Puritans featured prominently, people started to question whether the later folks could really appeal to the great man as in some way foundational for their theology. The Calvinists had twisted and deformed the theology of the Genevan Reformer, it was said. Calvin wasn’t a five point Calvinist, for example (they said). I won’t here go into the sloppy history and theology behind the Calvin vs Calvinism school of thought, which is often lamentable. But in understandable reaction to it, many Reformed folks reverted to calling themselves Reformed rather than Calvinist.

And there has been a fruitful investigation by some into the wider roots of Reformed theology. People like Musculus, Bullinger, Vermigli, Zanchi and their friends have been dug up and exhibited as “the other Reformed people” alongside Calvin. Just to show we’re not followers of one man, but of a broad and diverse movement. This is all good, in a way. But if all we do is look at these recent developments in historiography, we might start to think that “Calvinism” is a rude word just invented by “Calvin vs. The Calvinists” type writers in the twentieth century. It wasn’t.

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