Calvin versus the Anabaptists

By Dustin Bruce

In John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, Herman J. Selderhuis attempts an unbiased telling of the Reformer’s story, counting him “neither friend nor enemy.”[1] Striving for balance, Selderhuis presents a nuanced relationship between Calvin and the Anabaptists. Against the common misconception of Calvin as a vitriolic persecutor of Anabaptists, Selderhuis states, “Calvin did not differ from his fellow Reformers in his stance toward them, but he did in his approach, for he thought that these Anabaptists had a point when they stressed sanctification of life, imitation, dedication, and devotion.”[2]

Calvin, willing to learn from Anabaptists, found commonalities with them even while feeling they went too far in some areas. For Calvin, the Anabaptist tendency toward perfectionism in the Christian life and church proved unbiblical. He sought to extend Luther’s insight of simul iustus et peccator from the individual saint to the church as a whole.[3] Calvin also took issue with “the absence of ordered, structured thought among the Anabaptists.”[4] Calvin served a God of order and he felt the absence of such to be inconsistent with divine revelation.

While the Magisterial Reformer undoubtedly took issue with the Anabaptists at points, Selderhuis makes a case for a much more understanding Calvin. As he summarizes, “He was very engaged with the Anabaptists, and even married an Anabaptist widow, providing a symbol of the way he dealt with them theologically. One had to win them over and bring them into one’s own house. In terms of the church, one might even marry them by taking into one’s own theological house the good that they bring with them.”[5] Whether you count John Calvin as theological friend of enemy, all would do well to model such a practice.

[1]Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (Downer’s Grove: IL, InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 8.

[2]Selderhuis, John Calvin, 74.

[3]Selderhuis, John Calvin, 75.

[4]Selderhuis, John Calvin, 75.

[5]Selderhuis, John Calvin, 74.


Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a PhD in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.

Precious Doctrines: Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology

On November 15-16, 2013, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin will be speaking at the Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology. The conference theme is "Precious Doctrines" and will also feature Voddie Baucham and Philip Ryken as speakers. Details on the conference can be found here. The conference is a regional conference of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

A series of video spots promoting the conference will be available here. The first has already posted.

Zwingli Against the Zwinglians?

By Ian Hugh Clary

Zwinglianism is the view that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are only a memorial and that Christ is in no sense present—what some have called the “real absence” view, or the memorialist view. The Eucharist was a hotly debated topic during the Reformation that resulted in deep lines drawn between the Reformed, particularly the Swiss, and the Lutherans. Luther could barely bring himself to say that Zwingli was a brother in the Lord because the Zurich theologian refused to believe in consubstantiation. It is often noted that Calvin sought to steer a middle course between the Lutheran and Zwinglian forms by offering a “spiritual presence” view, where the Spirit draws the believer by faith into true communion with Christ in the elements. The so-called memorial view had a continuing influence in subsequent Reformed theology, and even more so in broader evangelicalism. But was Zwingli a Zwinglian?

W. P. Stephens, in his Zwingli: An Introduction to His Thought (Oxford, 2001) puts Zwingli in perspective. The heat of Zwingli’s debate with Luther centred on the words of Christ who said of the bread, “This is my body.” For Zwingli, the word “is” should be understood as “signifies.” For Luther this was anathema. At the Marburg Colloquy (1529), though some headway towards agreement was made, the two Reformers could not agree on this point. However, this did not entail that Zwingli denied any presence of Christ in the supper. After the colloquy, Zwingli expressed his belief in the “real presence” of Christ. Stephens, pointing to Zwingli’s works like An Account of the Faith (1530) and The Letter to the Princes of Germany (1530), says, “Zwingli made it clear that the bread was not mere bread, and he began to affirm terms such as presence, true, and sacramental” (105). In the appendix to his An Exposition of the Faith (1531) Zwingli said, “We believe Christ to be truly present in the Supper, indeed we do not believe that it is the Lord’s Supper unless Christ is present” (Stephens, 105). This change in emphasis came with a greater stress on the bread and the wine, both of which were “divine and sacred” (Stephens, 107).

Stephens does an excellent job tracing out Zwingli’s overall Eucharistic theology. After establishing that Zwingli was not really a “Zwinglian,” as the term has become known, he also makes the important point that Zwingli was consistent in his theology from his early to his later years. While his earlier views were nascent, his later views did not contradict them. In 1523 Zwingli spoke of the soul being fed in the supper. Admittedly he emphasised the “symbolic” understanding of the elements after 1524, yet he held this view when he spoke of feeding on Christ. Stephens summarizes Zwingli’s overall thought saying, “The more positive notes in the later Zwingli do not indicate a real shift in his position, rather a difference of emphasis” (Stephens, 109). The concern for Zwingli, as for other Reformers at this time, was the place of faith in the communicant—he guarded against any gracious effect for the unbeliever who partakes. In this, he appealed to the early Luther who emphasized the need for faith. While issues of Christology and philosophy play into their differences, Zwingli was not as far from Luther as the German Reformer thought. Though he they did not share full agreement, Zwingli was much closer to Calvin, whose view Luther was not so scathingly against.

So, in a sense, Zwingli was against the Zwinglians.


Ian Hugh Clary is finishing doctoral studies under Adriaan Neele at Universiteit van die Vrystaat (Blomfontein), where he is writing a dissertation on the evangelical historiography of Arnold Dallimore. He has co-authored two local church histories with Michael Haykin and contributed articles to numerous scholarly journals. Ian serves as a pastor of BridgeWay Covenant Church in Toronto where he lives with his wife and two children.

Two new works on Covenant Theology in its Baptist expression

By Jeff Robinson

One of the theological questions I have been asked most often during my first 24 months as pastor has been some version of this query: Do Baptists believe Covenant Theology or is that just a Presbyterian thing? My answer (which is consistently “Yes, Baptists have historically believed Covenant Theology that obviously differs a bit from our Presbyterian brethren”) has puzzled some and made others curious enough to launch your own study of my conclusion. But my dear friend Mike Gaydosh at Solid Ground Books in Birmingham, Ala., the city where my family lives, has recently published two books that will provide plenty of grist for that mill and will provide substantive historical and biblical answers to the question of Baptists and their relationship to Covenant Theology.

The first work is titled The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism by Pascal Denault. The point of pressure separating the Baptist and non-Baptist version of Covenant Theology is, of course, the subjects (the who?) of baptism. In the concise span of 140 pages, Denault’s work provides a brilliant historical, biblical and theological defense of believer’s baptism and provides an excellent overview of the consistent, biblical Covenant Theology which the Calvinistic (Particular) Baptists of 17th century England espoused. Denault surveys British Particular Baptists who held to Covenant Theology such as Benjamin Keach and John Gill and also shows biblically how paedobaptists misinterpret the continuity between the promises given to Abraham in the OT and baptism in the NT and arrive at the conclusion that baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of membership in the covenant people of God. The author traces the points at which historic Baptists and their fellow Puritans parted ways on issues of the continuity and discontinuity between the old and new testaments and argues forcibly that Baptists more consistently held to a biblical version of Covenant Theology.

Edited by Earl M. Blackburn, the second work, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, is a multi-author work and includes chapters from contributors such as Justin Taylor, Fred Malone and Walter Chantry. Like the Denault book, this work is brief in compass (161 pages, including three appendices) and each of the five well-written chapters examines a separate issue related to the covenants of Scripture, ranging from baptism to the question of the existence of a covenant of works. Blackburn opens with an excellent overview of Covenant Theology and Malone follows with a discussion of biblical hermeneutics and Covenant Theology. This work, like Denault’s book, offers a well-done overview of the Baptist version of Covenant Theology and I heartily recommend them both for your spring or summer reading.

To order, see the Solid Ground Christian Books website at Phone: (205) 443-0311.


Jeff Robinson (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church. Jeff is the author of the forthcoming book, The Great Commission Vision of John Calvin. Jeff is also a fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

Fuller’s Three Classes of Religious Dissenters

By Dustin Bruce

Often when considering the English Reformation, we distinguish only between those who remained within the newly formed Church of England and those who dissented from it. In “A Brief Statement of the Principles of Dissent,” Andrew Fuller reminds us that “as all dissent is expressive rather of what is disapproved than of what is embraced, it is natural to suppose that the objects of disapprobation will be different in different persons.”[1]

Fuller goes on to distinguish three classes of dissenters:

  1. Those who disagree with the theology of the Church of England.
  2. Those who approve of the theology, but desire further Reformation within the English Church.
  3. Those who approve of the theology, but reject the establishment of a nation church in principle.

Concerning the first class of dissenters, Fuller speaks of those who abandoned the Church of England due to some unorthodox beliefs or practice. For Fuller, disagreement with the doctrine of these dissenters provides no justification for persecuting them. None who hold respect for private judgment and the authority of Christ “can forbear to regret that the Reformation should at so early a period have been stained with blood.”

The majority of Puritans and Nonconformists form the second class of dissenters. These men did not take issue with the establishment of a national church, but desired a national church with a Presbyterian form of government, which they found “more agreeable with the Scriptures.”

For the third class of dissenters, the primary objection to the Church of England was not one of theology, but of the very existence of a national church. Fuller states,

“The temporal power of bishops, the imposition of ministers, to the exclusion of the free election of the people, the mixture of godly and manifestly ungodly characters at the Lord’s table, the corruption of worship, the total want of discipline, and all other deviations from primitive Christianity, appeared to them to be no more than might be expected, if circumstances admitted it, to grow out of a national establishment. They, therefore, peaceably withdrew from its communion, with the view of forming churches on the plan of the New Testament.

To this third class of dissenters belongs the Independents and the Baptists. Both holding to a form of congregational church government, the Baptists further dissented from the Independents by rejecting the practice of infant baptism.

Interestingly, Fuller makes two points of application for the third class of dissenters.

  1. “If the government should even offer to make theirs the established religion, however they might be obliged to them for their kindness, they could not accept it without relinquishing their first principles relative to church government.
  2. “Neither can they, without relinquishing the first principles of the system by which they are distinguished from other Christians, persecute any man for his religion, whatever that religion be. They may think and speak of men according to their true character; they may refuse all religious connexion with them; they may expose their principles to just abhorrence; but their hand must not be upon them.

[1] Andrew Gunton Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume 3: Expositions—Miscellaneous, ed. Joseph Belcher (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 459.


Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a ThM in Church History at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.

Diarmaid MacCulloch: All history writing is autobiography

By Ian Hugh Clary

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch give a lecture on the history of Christianity and sexuality. MacCulloch is a church historian from Oxford who specializes in the English Reformation. As an evangelical, I find that his interpretation of history squares with my own, so I was perplexed by his talk.

For those who may not know, Prof. MacCulloch is an out-of-the-closet homosexual—just check the acknowledgements section of his masterful biography of Cranmer. He is also an advocate in the Church of England—where he was once an office-bearer—for gay rights. He recently left the church and now considers himself a “friend” of Christianity. As you can imagine, his lecture provoked questions. I believed that I would hear a very careful handling of sources, though admittedly there may be revisionist elements. I was wrong in my assessment.

Before I explain why, I should say that MacCulloch is an exciting lecturer—the hour or so he took in his first talk went by quickly. He addressed the role of sexuality from the Old Testament to the late Middle Ages; it was fast-paced and he covered a lot of ground, but it was never confusing or boring. I could only imagine what it must have been like to take one of his classes.

As the lecture progressed, however, I became troubled. From beginning to end, MacCulloch gave a large polemic against traditional interpretations of scripture and history. I also became more and more incredulous. This was not due to hearing an historian defend gay rights, that doesn’t shock me—it’s commonplace in academia. My upset was due to my hearing one of the world’s leading ecclesiastical historians be so shaped by his personal bias that it allowed him to crudely handle texts and history. As for scripture, MacCulloch used Boswell’s hermeneutic, alluded to gay relationships between figures like David and Jonathan, and drove a wedge between the sexual ethics of Jesus and Paul (saying the latter was the more liberal); all of this has long since been repudiated by scholars like Robert Gagnon. MacCulloch was dishonest to his audience by making his case seem so open and shut, when such is far from the case.

MacCulloch based his historical arguments on Hellenization that he argued infected the early church so that it denigrated the physical world and thus sexuality. He also hammered against the celibacy that has so dominated the western church. While I have sympathies with his views of monastic celibacy, he did not give a rounded view of the early church on the goodness of sex and marriage—the work of David Hunter offers a needed corrective. Though I was not able to attend his second lecture the next day, a friend told me that MacCulloch also did not deal with the Puritans and their views of sex, marriage, and the body—the Puritans, as Leland Ryken and others have shown, had a healthy view of sex, and were not Platonists in their view of the material world.

In the Q & A I shocked myself by raising my hand. Seemingly without control I stood and asked, “If you will allow me to ask a personal question, that is not at all meant to be cheeky, I wondered how you view your reading of history in light of your own personal story and struggles in the church. Could traditional historians not accuse you of allowing your own bias to inappropriately control your historiography, as you have accused Augustine?” He was gracious in his response, and even acknowledged the importance of the question. He replied that “all history writing is autobiography.” I found this so perplexing to hear from a scholar who has been such a model historian to me. For one who could appropriate the findings of Catholic revisionists like Eamon Duffy, yet do so while being true to the English Reformation and vindicating earlier historians like A. G. Dickens, I was disappointed to hear him justify a reading of history that would not square with his earlier historiographic methods.

Professor MacCulloch serves as a reminder to all of us: as historians, now matter how great or prestigious, we must be aware of our personal biases and strive towards objectivity. While pure objectivity is impossible, I do believe that historians can put forth a body of work that can withstand scrutiny from specialists. And while my autobiography may lurk, I cannot allow it to so colour my work that it misleads readers.


Ian Hugh Clary is finishing doctoral studies under Adriaan Neele at Universiteit van die Vrystaat (Blomfontein), where he is writing a dissertation on the evangelical historiography of Arnold Dallimore. He has co-authored two local church histories with Michael Haykin and contributed articles to numerous scholarly journals. Ian serves as a pastor of BridgeWay Covenant Church in Toronto where he lives with his wife and two children.

New Book on Heidelberg Catechism Celebrates 450th Anniversary

Next year (2013) marks the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism. This Protestant document was written in Heidelberg in 1563 on behalf of Frederick III, Elector Palatine and spread over the world when it was approved by the Synod of Dort in 1619. A new volume is being released next March to commemorate this important event in church history—Power of Faith: 450 Years of the Heidelberg Catechism, edited by Karla Apperloo-Boersma, Herman J. Selderhuis. See flyer from publisher the Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht here. In this 440 page hardcover book, respected specialists in their fields present how the Heidelberg Catechism spread and influenced culture, education and ecclesiastical life. In addition to the text, over 250 pictures illustrate the contributions making an attractive volume for display. This work will include the following contribution from Michael A. G. Haykin and Steve Weaver "To 'concenter with the most orthodox divines': Hercules Collins and his An Orthodox Catechism—a slice of the reception history of the Heidelberg Catechism."

Power of Faith is slated to be released in Dutch, English and German editions. You can preorder the English edition from (German edition).

Posted by Steve Weaver, Research Assistant to the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin.

Audio interview with Dr. Haykin on The Reformers and Puritans as Spiritual Mentors

Dr. Haykin was recently interviewed on the podcast of the "New Books in Christian Studies" website. The subject of the interview is Dr. Haykin's recent book, The Reformers and Puritans as Spiritual Mentors (Joshua Press, 2012). The interview has been posted here and is available on iTunes as well.

Posted by Steve Weaver, Research Assistant to the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin.

Hitchens on the Cromwellian Revolution

Thanks to a tip by Ian Clary, here is a fascinating observation by Christopher Hitchens in his essay, “The Importance of Being Orwell”:

 “The Protestant revolution was partly centered on the long battle to have the Bible made available in the English vernacular and removed from the control of the linguistic priesthood or “Inner Party.” ”