Almost everyone knows that Calvinism stands for an informed faith as well as a reformed one: that it has always represented that approach to Christianity which places the highest premium upon spiritual learning, whether ministerial or lay. Calvinism has won a just reputation for being as concerned with the state of the mind as with the state of the heart; with the need to understand the Gospel as well as to accept the Gospel. Indeed, because Calvinism’s interest in knowledge has been so pronounced, its critics often accuse it of being altogether bookish: a theological system without a heart.
But most people do not know that Calvinism’s admitted love of learning is the natural by-product of its understanding of the fundamental way God deals with men. By that I mean that when Calvinism preoccupies itself with theology, shows its distaste for doctrinal error and preaches its high regard for the Bible, it is only demonstrating its basic view of religion and of the way human beings become children of God. John Calvin was not only a systematic theologian; he also was a prime educator. And Calvinism’s love of learning does not reflect the reformer’s systematic theology as such. It rather reflects the reformer’s theory of religious education.
The Modern Debate
I have the feeling that John Calvin would have taken a keen interest in the modern debate in religious education. He was intelligently aware of the basic importance of having a correct answer to the question, “How does one appropriate religious values?” His own answer to this question may be deduced from what he had to say about the means of grace. And it is an answer which has lost none of its significance in the four hundred years since the reformer first required everyone ...1
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