In a recent article published by The Gospel Coalition entitled The Counterintuitive Calvin, Keller offers a few thoughts in reflection of what he learned about theology, Calvin, and God. Here are just a few highlights I thought that were worth noting. First, we begin with Calvin's treatment of grace:
Third, the Institutes are, I think, the greatest, deepest, and most extensive treatment of the grace of God I have ever read. I was struck by how many times Calvin tells us that the foundation of real Christian faith is both grasping with the mind and sensing on the heart the gracious, unconditional love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Over and over again he teaches that you are not truly converted by merely understanding doctrine, but by grasping God's love so that the inner structure and motivation of the heart are changed.
So in Institutes I.3.1 he argues that, while you may know a lot about God you don't truly know God until "reverence [is] joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. . . . Unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him." In other words, you don't have true saving knowledge of God until you long to obey him, out of a desire to please and delight him because you are pleased and delighted with him for his grace. Calvin adds that in a Christian soul "this restrains itself from sinning, not out of dread of punishment alone; but because it loves and reveres God as Father. . . . Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him." (I.3.2 )
When Calvin comes to his three chapters on what it means to live a Christian life (III.6-7), again grace is at the forefront. He taught that the briefest statement of the Christian life is this---"You are not your own; you were bought with a price." (1 Cor. 6:19-20) Because you were saved by sheer grace ("you were bought with a price"), now your new principle of life is "you are not your own." You no longer live for yourself, but for God and for your neighbor. All of the Christian life is the working out of that verse, that grace, and that new principle of joyful self-donation.
When Calvin applies this principle of gracious self-donation to our relationships with other people, he argues that we should treat even those who deserve nothing but disdain as if they were the Lord himself.
Say [about the stranger before you] that you owe nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits which God has bound you to himself. . . . You will say, "He has deserved something far different from me." Yet what has the Lord deserved? . . . Remember not to consider men's evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them." (III.7.6)
Regarding the doctrine of predestination, which Calvin is more notorious known for rather unfortunately, Keller writes:
When Calvin comes to his well-known doctrine of predestination, it is important to see where he places it. He does not deal with the doctrine under Book 1 where he treats God, or even Book 2 where he addresses sin and Christ. He waits until Book 3, which is about "How We Receive the Grace of Christ" through the Holy Spirit. Calvin insists that the opposite of the doctrine of predestination is not the idea of free will but the teaching that we are saved by our good works. He argues forcefully that, unless you see your saving faith is a gift from God to you, not from you to him---you have not yet grasped how free his grace is. You will ever so slightly believe that you are a Christian because you were more humble, open, and repentant than those who have not believed. But, Calvin reasoned, if you see your salvation is 100 percent by grace you will embrace and be both humbled and comforted by the truth of predestination.
Read the whole thing here.
A couple of thoughts in response. First, Keller is reminding us why it is best not to buy into stereotypes and caricature's of such influential men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. What we term "Calvinism" today (usually meaning the Five Points of Calvinism - T.U.L.I.P.) does not adequately summarize Calvin's theology. Keller, in a brief format, breaks down some of these stereotypes. Calvin comes down through history, mostly because of this wrong-headed stereotypes, as dull, boring, studious, unloving, and stubborn. But Calvin was a pastor, a husband, a writer, and a man who lived a full life of ministry. Calvin's theology shaped his life and thus to read Calvin - whether his commentaries, his Institutes, his other books or letters - is to read a man who genuinely loves Jesus.
Furthermore, I appreciate Keller's heavy emphasis on grace. It dominates his article. It dominates Calvin's theology and I pray that it will dominate Christian theology going forward. Grace is amazing when properly understood.
Finally, I want to recommend a few resources on Calvin (and I am no expert) that may be well worth your time.
"Letters To a Young Calvinist" by James Smith: A Review
"Kuyper For Piper" - An Interview With Dr. James K. A. Smith
"John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology"
"The Theology of the Reformers" by Timothy George
Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man