“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” These words were penned by a man who has been accused of generating a joyless Christianity. He is remembered as the man who taught predestination, an idea repugnant to modern minds. As historian Will Durant complained, “We shall always find it hard to love the man who darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honored history of nonsense.”

Yet those who know Calvin well regard him as a saint. Philip Schaff wrote that Calvin “must be reckoned as one of the greatest and best of men whom God raised up in the history of Christianity.”

Calvin’s Geneva

This controversial theologian was born in 1509 in Picardy, part of France. Calvin was brilliant. Initially he intended to be a priest, but his father induced him to study law. Calvin studied at different universities, including Paris, sharpening his already logical mind and avidly reading the Greek and Latin classics.

About 1533 Calvin had what he called a “sudden conversion”: “God subdued and brought my heart to docility.” Apparently he had encountered the writings of Luther. He broke from Catholicism, left France, and settled in Switzerland as an exile.

In 1536, in Basel, Calvin published the first edition of one of the greatest religious works ever written, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. The title, perhaps better translated as “Principles of the Christian Faith,” introduced a book designed to “hand on some elementary teaching by which anyone who had been touched by an interest in religion might be formed to true godliness.” At the age of 27, Calvin had already produced a systematic theology, a clear defense of ...

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