Dr. Goligher's misuse of Calvin...

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It is now crystal clear that Dr. Goligher has misquoted Calvin on the question of women in civil government, incorrectly claiming that Calvin would be on his side in the current debates about the meaning and purpose of sexuality.

When conservative Reformed men are engaged in theological argument, being able to claim Calvin on one's side is a big deal. We are protestants, and so no appeal to church history can prevail in the face of the clear testimony of scripture. But because we are conservative and because we are Reformed we care about what the church has taught, particularly the reformers, and particularly Calvin.

Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, and Todd Pruitt, the collective authors and podcasters at Mortification of Spin, are engaged in a persistent campaign to limit the meaning and purpose of sexuality. I think "persistent campaign" is a very fair description of the wide range of posts and podcasts on the subject over the last year. Specifically, they claim that men like John Piper and Wayne Grudem have "betrayed" women, allowed them to be "micro-managed," and ignored abuse in the home and church. They also claim that the complementarity of man and women is limited only to the home and church. Dr. Trueman wrote that complementarianism "lost its way when it became an all-embracing view of the world and not simply a matter for church and household." Dr. Goligher has now joined them in this campaign and tried to enlist Calvin on their side. 

So you can see how quoting Calvin on these matters is quite significant.

Here is the quote which Dr. Goligher attributes to Calvin. I provide some context so the reader can see exactly how Calvin is being used. He writes:

I am an unashamed biblical complementarian. The original use of that word took its cue from the biblical teaching about the differences yet complementarity of human beings made in the image of God while not running away from the challenges of applying biblical exhortations for wives to submit to their own husbands in the Lord or the prohibition on ordination for women in the church. With only those two caveats, as Calvin told John Knox, women may be princes in the state, but not pastors in the church. But this new teaching is not limiting itself to that agenda.

When blog commenters, including myself, asked for a source for the quote, Aimee Byrd originally referred readers to Calvin's Commentary on John 1:1-3. But now, in conversation with Tim Bayly, Dr. Goligher has identified the purported source of the quote as a letter from Calvin to William Cecil dated January 1559. Readers may read this letter for themselves here (in an older but, I trust, serviceable translation). The letter in question, dated January 1559, is the first one in that volume. It begins on pdf page 24.

Let us point out a few obvious facts about this letter, which the reader may confirm:

1. The letter is to Cecil, not Knox.

2. The letter says nothing about two caveats, or anything at all about contrasting the position of women in the state with the position of women in the home and church.

3. The letter does not say that women can be princes in the state but not pastors in the church. 

It is clear at this point that Dr. Goligher cannot claim that his quotation from Calvin is authentic. He should withdraw the quote and issue a correction. And, if he will not do it, those who manage the blog where the post appears, one of whom is well-known Calvin scholar at a well-known conservative, Reformed seminary, should issue the correction.

This small misuse of Calvin might seem like a minor error -- I mean, given the important, ongoing debates about the nature of the Trinity should we really split hairs over such a minor infelicity?

We should.

This misquote actually drives directly at the heart -- directly at the heart -- of the current discussion of sexuality. When the dust settles on the Trinitarian debates, even if that time is years away, the church will still have to work out her theology of sexuality. In the Reformed world, Calvin's own view will be one that carries weight.

And, Calvin thought sex meant something in civil society.

Serious Reformed men who differ from this view should be honest that their views are innovations explicitly rejected by our fathers in the faith.

That honesty begins by not misquoting Calvin. 

Dr. Talcott earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Indiana University — Bloomington after majoring in philosophy at Hillsdale College. David resides in Plainfield, New Jersey with his wife, Anna, and six children. He is an Elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Millburn and Short Hills (PCA), and an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The King's College in New York City.