Calvin on Conversion

William Bouwsma writes of Calvin:

…Calvin attached little or no significance to “conversion” as a precise event in his many discussions of the Christian life and the way of salvation…Calvin always emphasized the gradualness rather than the suddenness of conversion and the difficulty of making progress in the Christian life. “We are converted,” he said, “little by little to God, and by stages.”

4 thoughts on “Calvin on Conversion”

  1. I agree with Calvin and looking back on my life I believe my life agrees with what he wrote. Unfortunately in evangelicalism the important thing is to record a decision for Christ. This point is made in different ways. I remember when I applied to Moody Bible Institute I had to submit a short testimony basically naming a specific point in time when I was saved. Then in an evangelism class we had to do the same sort of thing by writing out our personal testimony. I always felt a bit awkward with naming a specific point in time, but figured it was just me. Now I am relieved to have discovered many people who line up with Calvin’s thoughts on this matter.

  2. It’s such a paradigm for US Protestants, but I think it’s very inaccurate for most people who grow up in the Church. Maybe for unbelievers who convert it makes more sense.

    1. Wesley placed a specific date for his conversion when he feared for his life on his ship in the Atlantic while the Moravians were calm. He was preaching the Gospel before his “conversion” and had actually founded a holy club at Oxford–sounds like Calvin’s progression to me. This started an evangelical tradition for others to name a specific date. One can draw a line from this to Finney’s emotionalism. When you “feel” really sorry at the mourner’s bench then you can say you are saved, or say that you yourself rededicated your life to God…as if…
      That Bouwsema book is great!

  3. I agree Jim, I don’t get how Wesley was ‘converted’ later when he was baptized as a baby and looked like a Christian prior to the ‘strangely warmed’ experience. I think we need to define what ‘Christian’ and ‘saved’ mean in order to talk effectively about these issues. A lifetime of constant conversions makes sense to me.

    The Bouwsema book is great. I keep getting more and more things to look up when I read it.

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