Friday, June 12, 2009

Calvin the Interpreter

A while back I spent some gift money to purchase Baker Academic's Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, Daniel J. Treier, and N. T. Wright (2005) [see this post for more details about this volume]. I have not been disappointed!

This evening my eye caught the article on John Calvin by John L. Thompson (Fuller Theological Seminary). I found this article to be focused, well-balanced and constructively critical. It is focused on Calvin as an interpreter of Scripture. It is well-balanced and constructively critical in that it presents the strengths of Calvin's approach to biblical interpretation in light of his historical setting (i.e. Renaissance humanism) and his attempt to maintain an appropriate balance between literal and allegorical interpretation. It also cautions the modern reader with regard to Calvin's methods and rhetoric which have lead some to the extremes of "Protestant triumphalism."

I would like to share a few highlights from this article with you:
Thompson argues that, when interpreting Scripture, Calvin was concerned with "how to ascertain an author's meaning and how to communicate that meaning persuasively." (96)

"Calvin attempted to write commentaries with 'lucid brevity'; unlike many of his contemporaries, he usually succeeded. But this particular principle was much more than a plea for clear prose; it was also expressive of his commitment to exegesis in service of the church, including the laity." (96, emphasis mine)

"His goal of lucid brevity was strategically supported by reserving what could have been lengthy theological digressions--loci communes, commonplaces--for his oft-revised Institutes. The work is integrated far more closely with his commentaries than modern editions make known." (96)

"[F]or Calvin the final authority of Scripture by no means warranted neglect of earlier commentators or theologians. Calvin elsewhere went so far as to insist that these ancient writings (Augustine and Chrysostom took pride of place) were providentially arranged aids for our own reading of Scripture, and we would be ingrates to neglect them." (96, emphasis mine)

With that in mind, the joining together of Calvin's Commentaries and Institutes by Baker Publishing was a great idea. The Institutes should have been included in the set from the get-go. This weekend, you can purchase this set at a discounted price at Christian Book Distributors . Take a look! This is a set you ought to have on your shelf, if you can afford it.