For the non-Calvinists or anti-Calvinists among us who may worry that the current issue of WORLD has several articles about John Calvin, be not afraid: It happens only once every 500 years. July 10 brings the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth—and the great theologian, even with his warts, deserves a better press than he has typically received in recent decades.
Calvin was a fallen sinner, as all of us are, but was he especially mean-spirited? He taught that God created the world out of love and loved the world so much that Christ came down from the glorious kingdom of heaven and plunged into this world's muck. Calvin saw God as a generous giver and His mercy as an abundant resource. Jehovah's Witnesses would later insist that heaven has room for only 144,000, but Calvin understood that God's grace is infinite.
Did Calvin emphasize in-group harshness toward the poor and the alien? No: He wrote, "We cannot but behold our own face as it were in a glass in the person that is poor and despised . . . though he were the furthest stranger in the world. Let a Moor or a barbarian come among us, and yet inasmuch as he is a man, he brings with him a looking glass wherein we may see that he is our brother and neighbor." Everyone is created in God's image and worthy of respect.
Did Calvin want us to abstain from all material pleasures? He wrote that God "meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. . . . Has the Lord clothed the flowers with the great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, or our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor?" He opposed any doctrine that "deprives us of the lawful fruit of God's beneficence."