Blog 91: 3.2.7 - 3. 2.10

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In this section, Calvin defines true faith over against false alternatives.  It is, he says, `a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.'
 
A number of comments are in order.  First, we see here the centrality of assurance to Christianity.  This was not something that was an issue for medieval Catholicism; in fact, lack of assurance provided - and still provides - much of the ethical imperative for Catholicism.  That one could never know with certainty that one was a true member of God's chosen people acted as a deterrent to wandering from the visible fold of the Church and her teachings; and even those often heralded as forerunners of the Reformers, such as John Wyclif and Jan Hus, did not break from the medieval paradigm on this.  Only with Martin Luther and those who followed in his wake did the great change take place.
 
Second, Calvin's view of faith is Trinitarian: God the Father's benevolence towards us, revealed in Christ and sealed to us by the Holy Spirit.  Each person of the Trinity plays his part in the salvation of each individual.   This is truly catholic theology in the best sense of the word.  It is also of a piece with the Reformation emphasis upon encountering God in his word.  It is in his word of promise in Christ, grasped by faith, that God is himself grasped.  God is present in his word, and there is no separation of tension between God and his word: we deal with him in faith as he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ, now displayed before us by the declaration of his word.
 
Third, Calvin rejects the medieval distinction between formed and unformed faith.  Based in 1 Cor. 13.2, the Catholic argument was that faith needed to be perfected (or `formed') by love in order to be saving.  For Calvin, this represents a misunderstanding of exactly what faith is: mere knowledge of the facts of the gospel is not faith; mere assent to the truth of the facts of the gospel is not faith; even a temporary delight in some of the benefits of faith (as with Simon Magus) is not true faith.  In this, Calvin's thought points to wards what Later Reformed theology would see as the three essential elements of true faith which, though formally separable, never exists independently: knowledge of the gospel, assent to the truth of the gospel, and trust in the gospel for salvation.   True faith always involves trust, is always existential in this sense, can never treat the facts of the gospel as something which are not, to use the trendy terminology, self-involving.
 
Protestants can - and indeed, should - rejoice that their faith holds out the promise of assurance.  While real Christians can, and do, go through periods where they may well struggle to be assured of God's favour, the Reformed Protestantism of Calvin brings out of the Bible the joyous fact that assurance of God's favour should be the normal experience of every believer.
Posted May 11, 2009 @ 12:07 PM by Carl Trueman
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