When I was in high school, the music world suffered a cataclysmic event. It was discovered that Rob and Fab didn’t sing their own music. Milli Vanilli was a fraud. A number of my friends who owned their cassette tapes (yes I’m that old) suddenly stopped listening to their music all together. I thought this was strange. Never had my friends been to a Milli Vanilli concert and it wasn’t likely that they ever would attend a concert. They only listened to the music on the radio or on their walkmans. So it really didn’t matter who was singing, if they liked the music on Monday, they should still like the music on Tuesday. Nothing had changed about the quality of the music. The only thing that was wrong was the picture on the album cover.
I’m not a Calvinist. When I first heard Calvinism described to me I found it offensive. Later as I encountered some dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist I was caught off guard by how sound some of their arguments were. I’m still not buying it, but I understand why people are attracted to its tenets.
The most obnoxious Christians I have encountered have either been Reformed Baptist or Fundamentalist Pentacostals. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Calvinist don’t try to find more attractive ways to present themselves or their beliefs. It’s the kind of theology where you feel you’re being given the middle finger while it’s explained to you. That being said, most Calvinist are not jerks and I respect the rigorous defense of the faith and the Bible that they pursue.
Some recent arguments have been made against the character of John Calvin. I’m not entirely up on all of the details, but it seems he may have sent a political (not religious) opponent to burn at the stake. Not a rousing example of a man of Christ. While I’m certain that Calvin’s sins have been forgiven, he may have lost a few crowns in heaven for that unfortunate incident. To be honest, I haven’t really looked into the story, but for the sake of argument I’ll just assume Calvin was completely in the wrong and is a murderer.
I don’t at all think that Calvinist should abandon Calvinism because of John Calvin’s personal foibles (as egregious as they are). If he were still alive and pastoring, I would absolutely recommend that his parishoners either leave his church or remove him from ministry. But I don’t think his theological ideas must be abandoned any more than I think the Declaration of Independence has to be tossed aside because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves or the civil rights movement was misguided because Martin Luther King Jr was an adulterer.
John Calvin was not the only proponent or originator of Reformed Theology (as it’s some times called). It’s likely that if John Calvin hadn’t expressed his views, someone else most likely would have. He just happens to be the most popular presenter of his ideas at his time in history. Calvin also did not claim that Calvinism’s authority was found in his personal character. Instead he argued that it was found in the authority of scirpture and a reasoned approach to scripture. If scripture and reason have no authority, than neither does Calvinism. If Lindsay Lohan discovers the truth of Calvinism, and it is true, it still holds even if she finds a new way to crash and burn every other week. Al Gore can burn a barrel of diesel fuel on his lawn every night and be the biggest hypocrite in the world, but if his scientific arguements are correct, the earth is warming due to man made causes. What Al Gore does in his personal life doesn’t make the science any less true. Only science makes his claims false.
I recognize that Mormons may immediately say that “Well then, why are you picking on Mormonism for the things Joseph Smith did?” I think the situation is totally different. Joseph Smith claimed the authority of his teachings came from his own status as a True Prophet of God. This means that we have the right and obligation to look into his personal character to verify his claims. We need to not only investigate what he taught with that self-proclaimed authority but we need to see how he leveraged that authority in his personal life. If a prophet is producing “bad fruit” I think we have good reason to reject his authority and his teachings.
I think the situation is also different for another reason. If you confronted Calvinist with John Calvin’s sins, they would more than likely say that he was in sin and that he should not have acted that way. Getting a Mormon to actually own the facts that Joseph Smith did anything that an outsider would call questionable is a monumental feat (though it’s been easier since “Rough Stone Rolling” was published). To get them to say that Smith was wrong or sinning in any area of his life is practically impossible. I think this proves my point that Joseph Smith’s prophetic status is directly tied to his character. Smith didn’t claim to be perfect, but finding a Mormon who can name a specific reason he lacked perfection is something I’m not holding my breath for.