Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 15, 1959

Calvin's Influence On Modernism

Robert C. Welch, Birmingham, Alabama

Modernism is the name given for a lack of confidence in the complete inspiration of the Scriptures. It applies only to those theories now in vogue which tend to deny Or doubt the integrity, authenticity and/or genuiness of all the text of the Bible. Modernism is not new. It is merely a current name for skeptical criticism of the Bible.

John Calvin would never under normal circumstances be considered a skeptic; he would be considered as just the opposite. Neither would he usually be accused of contributing in any way to the modernism which is so widespread today. But that is the very purpose of this paper; that is, to show that there was a degree of skepticism in him which could only be dissolved by special powers upon him personally, and to indicate that this has developed through succeeding years into the various degrees of criticism, skepticism, modernism and neo-orthodoxy which now so widely prevails.

Calvin was one of the reformers and a contemporary of Luther. Both were breaking from the shackles of formal, ignorance thriving, mercenary, superstitious, faithless Catholicism. Calvin was more the theologian than Luther. Perhaps for this reason the Frenchman's theories have had greater influence on succeeding religions than those of the German.

Both reformers made the plea to return to the Bible, and let all the people read and know what it teaches. Calvin taught that it is the revelation from God, that it is inspired of God. He wrote at great length to show that it was neither secondary to nor dependent upon the authority of the Church (Roman Catholic) and that its understanding was not dependent upon the systems of sophistic reasoning used by the Catholics of that day. In that effort, however, he argues that each person must have a direct working of God upon his heart before he can appreciate the Bible as the inspired revelation of God's will.

"But I reply, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to all reason. For, as God alone is a sufficient witness of himself in his own word, so also the word will never gain credit in the hearts

of men, till it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit. It is necessary, therefore that the same Spirit, who spoke by the mouths of the prophets, should penetrate into our hearts, to convince us that they faithfully delivered the oracles which were divinely intrusted to them." (Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, chapter VII).

This conforms to one of the major points of the Calvinistic doctrine which continues in the creeds of many protestant denominations such as Presbyterians and Baptists. The doctrine of "total depravity" contributes heavi-

ly to modernism. If men must have a direct working of the Spirit within them before they can perceive any good thing, even the excellence of the inspired text, then the Scriptures do not make the man of God complete (see 2 Tim. 3:16,17). Calvinism declares the insufficiency of the Scriptures in proof of their perfection and completeness in inspiration and authority. When this fact is considered it is no wonder that those who followed the doctrine drifted into the modern types of skepticism. Hear him further:

"For though it conciliate our reverence by its internal majesty, it never seriously affects us till it is confirmed by the Spirit in our hearts. Therefore, being illuminated by him, we now believe the divine original of the Scripture, not from our own judgment or that of others, but we esteem the certainty, that we have received it from God's own mouth by the ministry of men, to be superior to that of any human judgment, and equal to that of an intuitive perception of God himself in it." (ibid)

It is from such teaching as this that men now have the theory that they would not exchange the feelings of their heart for all that the Bible says. Calvin makes the argument in the above quotation that the Scriptures are subject to the feelings created by the Spirit in the heart. Catholicism says the Bible is dependent upon the authority of the Church and of her logic. Calvinism says the Bible is dependent upon the authority of the feelings of each man.

It is just such teaching as this of Calvin's that causes men to say now that one man's notion about the Bible is just as good as the other's, that it is inspired only to the extent that each man considers it inspired.

Neo-orthodoxy is not really new. It ties right in with the old Calvinistic doctrine. It makes each man's learning and emotions determine for him the degree of inspiration and authoritativeness of the Bible. If the claims of the Scriptures depend for proof upon the working of the Spirit in our hearts, then we can as easily have further inspiration and revelation by the working of the Spirit in our hearts.

Modernism among protestantism has its roots in the fantastical doctrines of men like Calvin's, who fled from one grievous error of Catholicism to another just as grievous, that of the inspiration of every man. As Calvin would never think of himself as being skeptical of inspiration in the promulgation of his doctrines, so no modernist thinks of himself as such today when he denies phases, degrees and statements of inspiration as claimed by the Bible itself.