Calvin. . .did not think of himself as a dogmatician in the modern sense of that term: rather, like most of the other theologians of his time, he understood himself as a preacher and exegete, and he understood the primary work of his life as the exposition of Scripture.  The Institutes of the Christian Religion is equaled in size by Calvin’s sermons on Job and dwarfed by the sermons on Deuteronomy, as well as by the individual commentaries on Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Pentateuch. . .

What Calvin intended to teach was the church’s doctrine, not his own doctrine.  To the extent that he was successful, his originality must be sought more in his manner of presenting Christian doctrine, in the way he received, incorporated, or modified forms and arguments of patristic and medieval theology, in his particular fusion of older theological substance either with his own exegetical results or with Renaissance rhetorical forms, and in the nuances that he gave to the elements of extant tradition.  Thus, when Calvin and one of the other founders of the Reformed tradition, like Bullinger, differed on a doctrinal nuance – as is evident in their views on predestination and the Lord’s Supper – both had clear patristic and medieval antecedents and, particularly in the case of their disagreement on predestination, neither offered a radically new perspective.  On the other hand, even in those cases in which Calvin produced a doctrinal tractate on a particular subject – predestination, the Lord’s Supper – the treatise is so lodged in a specific sixteenth-century context and, therefore, so defined by polemical debate and exegetical practice that a modern synthesizing or dogmatic approach will either distort or lose much of its meaning and implication.

From: The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition by Richard A. Muller (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 5, 7.


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