Wednesday, July 8, 2009

7/9/09- The French Connection

(Calvin's home in Noyon, Picardy, France- not a museum)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

7/9/09- Calvin- The French Connection

Calvin’s background and affects.

Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia , but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. (ACTS 22:3)

Calvin: we are unjustly charged, too, with intentions of such a sort that we have never given the least suspicion of hem. We are, I suppose, contriving the overthrow of kingdoms — we, from whom not one seditious word was
ever heard; we, whose life when we lived under you was always acknowledged to be quiet and simple; we, who do not cease to pray for the full prosperity of yourself and your kingdom, although we are now fugitives from home! (Preface to 1560 edition on Institutes written for Frances I, King of France).

I am at a Calvin conference in Montreat. When people meet me (especially if they are from the South) they say, “Where are you from?” Where you are “from” tells a good deal about who you are. Calvin was born in France, which had some leading avante garde (cutting edge/creative) thinkers. Erasmus had studied at the same college Calvin had studied in. LeFevre translated the Bible into French, criticized the church (without ever becoming Protestant). Farel, Calvin’s good friend, studied under him. There are many who believed that Calvin met with LeFevre D’Etaples (who was from the same region in France-Picardy) right before he decided to become a Protestant. There is good evidence that Bernard of Clairvaux of France had a tremendous influence on Calvin’s idea of the union we have with Christ. France was well established in its basic Christian beliefs. We should not take this for granted when we think about Calvin’s influences. Calvin read and wrote Latin and French well. He was not very fluent in English or German. This meant when he fled, he was most comfortable fleeing to Geneva which was French speaking (his sojourn in Strasbourg was short and among the French exiles, as was his time in northern Italy). Calvin wrote to many French speaking individuals. Philip Schaff said that Calvin and Rabelais were primary formers of classical French because of their mastery of French as well as so many publications read.
We should never downplay our background. The idea that someone can be totally neutral and objective instead of subjective is an illusion. Calvin spoke a great deal about this- that our hearts deceive ourselves. Sometimes we react negatively to our environment or background- but even in doing this our environment affects us. Rather than totally fight who we are, we should recognize our own strengths and weaknesses and try to recognize how they may affect us. A vacuumed, totally-neutral background is not necessarily better than a strong, healthy, loved background. The idea that we are born with a blank slate (Locke) has some merits, but it is for the most part untrue. Our slate is full and we cannot erase it. We are blind to some things and very aware and sensitive to others. Just as some fish live in a cave all of their lives (like the Mexican blind cave tetra) and are blind to light but are able to navigate because they are extra sensitive to water movement and pressure. There are old tales of missionaries bringing a native to the USA and they could not see depth in pictures. Pictures were like ink blots to them. We are insensitive to some of our own sins today because we are so used to them. In many parts of the world a sleeveless dress is seen as provocative. We can’t see that because we grew up around sleeveless dresses. A PG-13 movie in our day and culture may be the equivalent of an x rated movie (think Midnight Rider which was x when I was a boy and now PG-13). We must think of our background, and it is important to understand Calvin that we think of his.

Prayer: Lord, you know the exact times and places of our lives. Use our backgrounds to shape us and direct our service of you toward your glory.

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