From Chapter 6 – entitled “Reformed Dogmatics” –  of Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena by Herman Bavinck:

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Reformed theology starts with Zwingli.  In his work the basic ideas are already present – the theological starting point, the absolute dependence of humanity, predestination, the human nature of Christ, the spiritual conception of the church and sacraments, the ethical and political import of the Reformation.  But there are still many lacunae in Zwingli’s theology.  As a result of his humanism, he fails to plumb the depths of sin and the atonement; as a result of his spiritualism, he abstractly and dualistically construes God and man, divine and human justice, the sign and the thing signified in the sacrament, as opposites.  Zwingli’s clarity and lucidity of thought cannot compensate for the lack of depth.  He never arrived at a somewhat well-rounded and coherent system.  Zwingli laid down only the general contours within which various strains in the Reformed churches later unfolded.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

John Calvin (1509-1584)

It took Calvin’s organizational genius and systematic mind to give the Swiss Reformation its clearly defined doctrine and stable organization.  Calvin’s theology had already assumed firm shape in the first edition of his Institutes (1536).  There is expansion and development but no change.  Calvin differs from Zwingli in that he banishes all philosophical and humanistic ideas and adheres as rigorously as possible to Scripture.  Further , more successfully than Zwingli, he maintains the objectivity of the Christian religion, of the covenant of God, of the person and work of Christ, of Scripture, church, and sacrament, and is therefore in a stronger position to resist the Anabaptists.  Moreover, he overcomes Luther’s antithesis between the spiritual and the secular and Zwingli’s antithesis between flesh and spirit and therefore, though rigorist, is in no way an ascetic.  Finally, he introduced unity and system in his thinking – something neither Luther nor Zwingli succeeded in doing – and nevertheless consistently maintained the connection with the Christian life.  In time, Calvin managed to win all of Switzerland for his views – even in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Consensus Tigurinus, 1549) and predestination (Consensus Genev., 1552, Second Helvetic Confession, 1564).  Soon Calvin’s Institutes were studied everywhere.

Related posts:

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  2. LIberating Black Theology
  3. Outward Show
  4. “The most important proof for the dogma was the proof from Scripture.”
  5. The End of Liberation Theology

2 Responses to The Beginnings of Reformed Theology

  1. Jordan says:

    As great as Bavinck is, he still has the “Calvin as chief codifier” problem, and makes rather remarkably indefensible statements like, “he banishes all philosophical and humanistic ideas and adheres as rigorously as possible to Scripture” and “Calvin managed to win all of Switzerland for his views.”

  2. Marc says:

    So if not chief codifier, what was Calvin?