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Known as a divisive theologian, John Calvin has become a unifying figure 500 years after his birth on July 10, 1509. Already several sources have recounted how conservative Baptists, charismatics, Presbyterians, and others have rallied around the reformer's teaching about the glory and sovereignty of God. But fewer have observed the diverse collection of mainline Christians who have stepped forward to defend Calvin, sometimes confronting ignorance within their own historically Reformed denominations.

Perhaps the most well known Calvin apologist today is Marilynne Robinson. She recently spoke with The Guardian about Calvin's influence on the modern novel. Before she wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead and a highly acclaimed companion, Home, she penned essays in defense of Calvin for a 1998 collection, The Death of Adam. She describes Calvin as a "sickly, diligent pastor, scholar, diplomat, and polemicist, who wrote theology of breathtaking beauty and tough-mindedness as well as line-by-line commentary of most books of the Bible." Unfortunately, many Christians might be confused about even these basic details.

"Many of us know that Calvinism was a very important tradition among us," writes Robinson, a Congregationalist. "Yet all we know about John Calvin was that he was an eighteenth-century Scotsman, a prude and obscurantist with a buckle on his hat, possibly a burner of witches, certainly the very spirit of capitalism."

During the United Church of Christ General Synod in Grand Rapids on June 28, fellow Congregationalist Charles Hambrick-Stowe highlighted Calvin's vital contributions to Protestant theology. Calvin taught that salvation comes by faith alone through Jesus Christ, not by anything we do. He bowed to the ...

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