Interview with Dr. W. Robert Godfrey on his new title, John Calvin: Pilgrim and PastorPosted: May 18, 2009
A: I think often that people forget that Calvin was a preacher of the gospel and I heard the gospel from Calvinists. It is not something esoteric. Calvin’s favorite verse was John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (ESV). Calvin was Christ-centered in his preaching and that Christ-centeredness is the powerful fruit of Calvin that Calvinists today don’t stress. I wanted to show the Christ-centeredness of the gospel.
Calvin’s doctrine of providence is also a great comfort knowing that in the circumstances of our lives our heavenly Father is overseeing and directing all things. Even in the bitter times we can have comfort in the advancement of his kingdom. This is a huge blessing and encouragement as an individual, father, teacher, and pastor.
Q: After the enormous amount of works on and about John Calvin, what made you want to write a biography on John Calvin?
A: A lot of the books I read on Calvin didn’t seem to me to communicate the Calvin I felt that I met in his writings. Some of these books are by scholars and for scholars so not accessible and they focus narrowly on one issue and so distort Calvin. There are books that are a good introduction to his life and others to his thought but these two things have been kept separate. Some introductions speak only about his life and there are other introductions that speak only about his theology. It would bring Calvin alive to integrate both his life and thought. I thought to write a book of his life and thought for laymen in the church, but I hope also reflecting good scholarship in my presentation.
Q: How has the life of John Calvin helped your work ethic in teaching and preaching?
A: Knowing something about Calvin’s life is profoundly humbling since most of his work and scholarly production was done in his last 25 years. It helps to be a genius, as Calvin was; he had remarkable gifts of memory and analytical skills. In his own life this was linked to a remarkably disciplined will to be productive and in a sense he wore himself out and worked himself to death. Most of us, if we worked as hard as he did would not produce the quality of work that he did. It is good to have him as inspiration but also to realize that we don’t have the same gifts. This will keep us humble as we work.
Q: In a few ways, how has John Calvin/Calvinism influenced Westminster Seminary California?
A: Our seminary, Westminster Seminary California, does follow Calvin’s basic curriculum for the preparation of ministers. The first thing Calvin would stress is that education take place in the context of faith and piety and life for God.
Secondly, Calvin would say that one could not be a good pastor who is not a good student. The critical part of the office is to study and preach the word of God. The knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is important to study the Bible in the biblical languages. We continue that with talented teachers of Greek and Hebrew at our seminary.
Q: What do you believe to be the most important truth that Calvin lived out of his theology in the ministry of teaching the gospel to Geneva?
A: I think the single most important teaching of Calvin would be justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Calvin believed that it was the hinge on which our religion turns because justification teaches us that we are helpless in ourselves and that Christ must do it all. This was foundational to what Calvin did in Geneva.
Q: In what ways do you think today’s younger generation could learn from the life and work of John Calvin?
A: I believe they can learn that Calvinism in the first place is not theology, but it is Christianity for the church. Calvin did not see himself primarily as a theologian but as a pastor. This is critical. Some people have been drawn to Calvinism because of intellectual power. As valuable as that is, Calvin would have seen intellectual power as secondary to Christ and the church.
The second thing is the church today needs to listen to Calvin on worship. There is all sorts of craziness being done and promoted in the worship of the church usually in the name of evangelism. We need to learn afresh from Calvin that worship is not evangelism but meeting with God and that meeting has to be conducted on God’s terms and most people in America today don’t think like this. Reading Calvin on this would help the church to worship God appropriately.
Q: What do you want your readers to get the most out of reading John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor?
A: I hope in the first place that if they’ve been influenced by the negative stereotype that float in various books they’ll begin to see the real Calvin who was a real person, whose personality was positive and not negative and grim.
Secondly, I would want them to learn Calvinism not only as theology but as a living form of religion that certainly has theology but encourages the life of the community in a vibrant way.
Q: In one or two sentences, why would you tell people to read John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor?
A: They should read it because they’ll find it readable, interesting, informative and spiritually profitable.
You can purchase John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor, by Dr. Robert Godfrey here.
The same day I release mine, so did another, here is Collin Hansen’s interview with Dr. Godfrey.
(special thanks to Maatern Kuivenhoven for transcribing this interview)