De Gruchy oor Calvyn – “Word and Spirit”

25 03 2010

Het ‘n baie prikkelende twee dae deurgebring waar Prof John W.  de Gruchy gepraat het oor “The Reformed Pastor as Theologian”.  Dit is aangebied deur die Begeleidingsnetwerk van die NGK in die Oos-Kaap as deel van hulle VBO (Voortgesette Bedieningsontwikkeling).  Ek gaan probeer om my verstaan van wat hy gesê het, in ‘n paar posts hier te plaas. Belangrik! Dit is wat ek GEHOOR het wat Prof de Gruchy sê, m.a.w. my indrukke. Ek alleen is verantwoordelik vir wat ek gehoor het. Hierdie is nie Prof de Gruchy se amtelike, ex cathedra uitsprake nie! Omdat die lesing in Engels was, is dit ook vir my makliker om die meestal in Engels weer te gee. Sal lekker wees as van die ander mense wat daar was kan aanvul waar ek verkeerd/te min gehoor het.

Wat hieronder volg is my notas oor Prof de Gruchy se verduideliking van Calvyn, en hoe hy vir ons vandag as Gereformeerde teoloë/dominees iets te sê het.

Word & Spirit

Understanding Theology

The earliest understanding of doing theology was as Prayer. Anselmus’ way of doing theology was, for example, by writing a long prayer. From there it evolved into theology as Science, as Critical Reflection, and as Engagement.

Priority of the Word

After the iconoclastic controvesy of the 9th century, the theologians that lost the battle, went West to Charlemagne’s court. Here they influenced the Western church so that WORD became more important than IMAGE. This was done in the light if John 1:1-14. The fact that faith comes by hearing was seen as important. Calvin said: “We hear the Gospel in order to see.”

Scripture and tradition

Tradition in Eastern Orthodoxy :”Handing down what the Spirit allowed us to understand.”

In Reformed circles tradition is seen as being handed down by the confessions.

Tradition and Gospel

Often people have a fear of tradition. It was also true in the reformation. This is partly why the reformers stresses :”Scripture alone” (There is much more to this though!)

We must however remember that we all stand in a tradition. Tradition is the way the Gospel is transmitted. Our identity as Christians are shaped by our traditions – it is our way of being. Tradition should help us reform, not box us in, hold us down.


Calvin didn’t try to break with the Catholic church, he tried to reform Catholicism. Today Calvinism is often seen negatively, but Calvyn’s passion was the ongoing reformation of the church.

He lived at a time of a Europe in transition, during the Renaissance. There was an upsurge in nationalism, Europe expanded it’s boundaries, there were peasant revolt, and a lot of religious ferment.

Calvin & Christian Humanism

Calvin was deeply influenced by humanism. This included the need to reform Church and society. The returning to the sources, to read the classical and biblical texts in their original languages. He was trained in Rhetoric, and saw the Humanities (Languages, philosophy, art, etc) as extremely important.

Who was Calvin?

He was born in Noyon, France, in 1509, as a devout Catholic. Studied at the Univ. of Paris in the humanities. Later he went to Orléans to study law. After he finished his law sudies, he published his first book, a commentary on a archaic law text.

Around 1533 he heard Luthers teachings in Paris, at the court, and was converted to evangelical thinking. He was influenced by both Luther and Zwingli.

Calvin goes to Geneva as a refugee, fleeing Protestant persecution in France. He was actually on his way to Strasbourg, but was convinced by Farel to stay on in Geneva. After a fallout with the city council, he left for Strasbourg where he was influenced by Bucer, especially in his thought on liturgy and pastoral care.

In 1540 the Geneva City Council calls Calvin back to Geneva, to help with the Reformation there. Reluctantly he goes back.

Reforming Geneva

Geneva was a city of about 10,000 people, 5,000 of whom were Protestant refugees, fleeing persecution in France.

Geneva wanted both society and church reformed.

Regarding Society, Calvin did a lot, especially regarding the education of women.

Regarding Church, the following were reformed:

  • Pastors, elders, deacons and doctors were instituted.
    • The deacons represented the church in the wider society (did not collect money), for example in hospitals.
    • Pastoral care (huisbesoek) did not exist in the church in the Middle Ages. Calvin, through the elders, started it.
    • Doctors of the church were the educators of the pastors and were also responsible for writing commentary on the Bible.
  • Word & Sacraments – the importance and understanding were changed.
  • Discipline – For Calvin discipline was not a mark of the church. It arised out of his talks to the Anabaptists.

Institutes of the Christian Religion

Four books:

  1. Knowledge of God and ourselves
  2. Christ the mediator
  3. Come, Holy Spirit
  4. The church is our mother

The Institutes were written to help us understand Scripture, as a catechism. It is not a dogmatics.

Basic theme:  “You cannot know God if you don’t know yourself, and you cannot know yourself if you don’t know God.


This is not a major theme in edition 1. Luther says a lot more on predestination, especially in his correspondence with Erasmus. Only after reading St Augustine, did Calvin start to write more on the theme. It is handled in book 3, under the topic: “The Christian Life”. Later Calvinists gave it a lot more prominence and puts it at the beginning of their Dogmatics.

  • Calvin saw predestination as a terrible, terrifying idea. He wished that he didn’t have to say anything about it, especially double predestination – Some are chosen to be saved, some to be damned.
  • Calvin talks about predestination because of it’s pastoral relevance. He talks about it to support the Protestant refugees, to let them know that God is on their side. This was an answer to the Catholic church who said to the refugees that there is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic church. Calvin uses predestination to stress that God is the one who saves! Therefore he first writes about Christ the mediator, before he tackles Predestination as a pastoral topic.
  • To talk about predestination in order to talk about who is saved and who is damned is from the Devil, according to Calvin.

Predestination – comments

  • There is nothing like an elect nation in Calvin’s thinking.
  • It was soly a pastoral concern for people under threat.
  • De Gruchy likes Barth’s option:
    • In Christ God has elected humanity for salvation. How God handles this, is His business. To say more, puts you in an untenable position.
  • Faith is a way of life, not a mental decision.

Further reading

The Young Calvin – Alexandre Ganoczy

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson).