Review: Calvin and the Calvinists (Paul Helm)

Overview:  early summary of the Calvin vs the Calvinists debate but excluding the Barth factor.

Application for today:  Good early rebuttal against some Federal Visionists who sometimes tend to pit Calvin against Calvinists.

This is an early response to the line of argument that said Calvin taught the sweet doctrines of the Reformation until the Puritans came along and ruined it. Paul Helm responds to RT Kendall’s book on Calvinism. While Helm vindicates Calvin, that is secondary in my opinion. The book is a fine, short read and gives helpful ways of thinking about Christ’s work.

Unity of Christ’s work of intercession and death. 

The question of the hour: Did Calvin teach Limited Atonement? Kendall takes Calvin’s silence as a “no.” Helm rebuts by showing what the atonement actually means for Calvin. It produces actual remission (Helm 13).

We are going to jump ahead and examine a claim by Kendall: Christ died for all but intercedes for the elect. Helm points out that such a view means Christ’s death wasn’t enough. The efficacy had to be completed by his intercession. But this is not what Calvin said: Christ discharged all satisfaction by his death (Inst. II.xvi.6). If that’s true, then what remains to be accomplished by his intercession (Helm 43)?

The Christian and Conversion

Kendall said that Calvin saw faith as God’s act; it is passive. The Puritans saw faith as man’s act, and Kendall quotes Inst. III.13.5 for proof of the former. Helm, however, shows that Kendall moves too quickly. Calvin said in that passage that faith as regards justification is passive, but not faith simpliciter.

The final problem Kendall has with the Puritans is their emphasis on “preparationism.” He sees them as proto-Arminians, as though man can prepare himself to be saved. But this isn’t what the Puritans meant. They denied man could prepare himself, but they affirmed that man could find himself in a state of being prepared (that is, by using means such as hearing the Word, etc.).

Conclusion

I read this book in about an hour. It is short and clear. Highly recommended

One thought on “Review: Calvin and the Calvinists (Paul Helm)

  1. Glancing from a periphery, I’ve found much of this debate to be really confused about key terms, periodization, and methodology.

    I think it’s almost impossible to rebut the idea that Calvin’s intellectual milieu was different from the post-Reformation period. Renaissance humanism motivated many of the first and second wave reformers far more than latter figures, who were more encyclopedic systematizers, a new era of scholastics within new frameworks. Plus, the confessional battles were way more hard-core and solidified in later periods. How could that not have a serious impact on the scope of debates, their stakes, and, thus, the content of them?

    Plus, I always find the moniker ‘puritan’ a really lazy trope for intellectual historians. There’s very little in common between a Richard Sibbes, a Roger Williams, a Richard Baxter, and an Oliver Cromwell, even though they all agreed that the Church of England had not gone far enough in reforming.

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