Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man

Recently, we discussed the important question of where to begin in formulating a systematic theology? The question is really between Theology Proper and Bibliology. Both are dependent on the other. Scripture or revelation, presupposes a Revealer. Yet at the same time, how do we know anything about this Revealer apart from His revelation?

As I was thinking about this important question, I was reminded of how John Calvin began his theological tome, Institutes of the Christian Religion (read online for free here). Calvin begins with a great discussion on the knowledge of God and the knowledge of men.

1. Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stript of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us (see Calvin on John 4:10), that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. 

2. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white. Nay, the bodily sense may furnish a still stronger illustration of the extent to which we are deluded in estimating the powers of the mind. If, at mid-day, we either look down to the ground, or on the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the earth is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus too, it happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity




For more:
Blogizomai - Dungeons & Dragons, and Calvin, O My!: Moore's Exhortation to the New Calvinists
Blogizomai - He Turned the Water Into Wine: MacArthur, Alcohol, & Christian Liberty
Blogizomai - Reformed in Grace But Arminian Everywhere Else: MacArthur on the Future of the YRR Movement
Blogizomai - Was Calvin a Calvinists?: Helm Weighs In
Theology -A Brief History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Theology - The Assurance of Things Hoped For: 150 Years of Southern Seminary
Reviews - "Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: 1859-2009"
Reviews - "James P. Boyce:  Select Writings"
SBC - The Conservative Resurgence at SBTS (here is Dr. Mohler's recount of the conservative takeover)
SBC - The Complete Works of Albert Mohler
Blogizomai - Theology Thursday | Calvin on the Redemptive Necessity of the Resurrection
Theology - Calvinist Baptists and the Many (False) Misconceptions
GBC - "Without the Gospel": A Gem From John Calvin
GBC - Calvin on God in Theology and the Christian Life
GBC - Calvin on Providence
GBC - Calvin on Treasures in Heaven
GBC - Calvin on Fasting
GBC - Calvin on Prayer: Why Bother?
Reviews - "Young, Restless, and Reformed"
Reviews - The Theology of the Reformers  
Reviews - The Unquenchable Flame  
Reviews - "On the Necessity of Reforming the Church" by John Calvin
Reviews - John Calvin:  A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology 
Reviews - Christianity's Dangerous Idea 
Reviews - "Five Leading Reformers"
Blogizomai - "The Reformer": Christianity Today Does Exposé on Albert Mohler
Theology - Mohler on the Future of the SBC
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