The 2009 Ligonier Ministries National Conference begins today.
Though the conference proper does not kick off until after dinner, the
Pre-Conference, “John Calvin–Celebrating a Legacy” began bright and
early. This mini-conference features messages from Al Mohler, Steven
Lawson, Sinclair Ferguson and Ligon Duncan. They will each speak one
time and will also participate in a panel discussion.
Al Mohler began with this reflection: the legacy of John Calvin is
now represented by a half millennium of influence. Calvin would no
doubt be shocked to learn that, 500 years after his birth, several
thousand people would gather in a Pre-Conference to talk about his
legacy. That so many are gathered here is a testimony to God’s
faithfulness to his church.
Mohler’s task today was to introduce John Calvin as a preacher and a
teacher. And indeed, the focal task of Calvin’s ministry came down to
these two tasks. He excelled in both.
The first portion of Mohler’s address was biographical, a quick
overview of Calvin’s life focusing on his tasks of preacher and
teacher. It was too fast to easily summarize, so I will leave it to
those who are interested to watch the webcast.
Calvin believed there were four offices within the church: preachers,
teachers, elders and deacons. This message revolved around the first
Having given this thumbnail sketch of Calvin’s life, Mohler spoke
about Calvin as a teacher. Calvin left behind a significant legacy of
teaching material, even down to his personal correspondence which was
filled with teaching. Early in his career he desired a quiet life of
reading and writing, but he was compelled to take up the pastorate in
He saw two offices that had a distinct teaching function. The task
of the teacher was to prepare those who would have the sacred task of
teaching the Word of God. Before he was a preacher in Geneva, he was
involved in this teaching task. The preacher was the key agent to whom
God would speak to his people, but the preacher needed to be taught;
hence, Calvin was convinced that there needed to be a learned clergy.
His singular aim was that the church be properly taught the Word of God
and be protected from error. Here Mohler looked to the Institutes giving a quick overview of their contents, style and usefulness, even in our day.
The need Calvin perceived is a need that continues today, perhaps
even more emphatically. Teaching suffuses all that he does, all that he
offers to the church, all that he was.
In all the world, there is only one office higher than the teacher
and that is the preacher. Calvin desired to be first a teacher, but
once he became a preacher, he took up this task with a passion. His
theology of preaching begins with his understanding that God speaks
through his preachers, through the Word. Calvin did not deny natural or
general revelation but saw that God speaks through a human voice in a
special way in the act of preaching. Preaching is not a human invention
but a means God had already used to speak to his people of old and a
means he would now use again to instruct his church. It is an act of
God’s kindness and accommodation that he speaks to us through a human
voice; if he spoke through his own voice, we would be destroyed.
Calvin understood the majesty of preaching because he understood the
majesty of God. Calvin’s mode of preaching was verse-by-verse,
book-by-book so he would not selectively avoid things he did not wish
to teach. In this way God’s people receive all that they need and not
just what the preacher determines the people need. The preacher is
neither to add nor subtract from Scripture.
Calvin believed preaching is the Word of God in at least three ways:
- Preaching is the Word of God because it is the exposition of the Bible
- Preaching is the Word of God because the preacher is sent and commissioned by God and given his authority to speak in his name
- Preaching is the Word of God because it is revelation, revealing the treasures of God’s Word.
Calvin looked to three movements in his day, offering both agreement
and disagreement with each of them. From these we can see some of the
emphases of his ministry.
The enthusiasts – they were right in that they preached the
necessity of the Holy Spirit but wrong in that they said there was no
need for preachers.
The Church of Rome – they were right in that the church is to listen
attentively to the preacher but wrong in that the church taught that
Christians did not need to verify the minister’s words according to
The fanatics – they were right in that believers are to read the
Bible on their own but wrong in that they downplayed the need for
guidance from teachers and preachers.
Mohler offered these four hallmarks of John Calvin’s preaching:
- Centrality of Scripture
- Systematic exposition
- Simplicity of expression
- Practical application
And here he recommended Steve Lawson’s The Expository Genius of John Calvin as a useful, accurate summary of John Calvin’s teaching ministry.