Flynn’s “MASSIVE Calvin bomb”

After years of reading and research, Flynn has posted a MASSIVE amount of Calvin quotations on the Calvin and Calvinism blog that should transform opinion about the great Reformer!


This is a MUST read for anyone who has ever wrestled with getting a solid handle on disputed areas of Calvin’s theology – especially as regards the atonement. The data simply must be reckoned with regardless of where you stand on the issue, or where you end up on it.


25 thoughts on “Flynn’s “MASSIVE Calvin bomb”

  1. Reid: I would sincerely hope that, before anyone is swayed one way or the other by Flynn’s accumulation of quotations, consideration be given to Dr. Nicole’s article, “John Calvin’s View of the Extent of the Atonement”, Westminster Theological Journal (Fall, 1985) 47:2:197-225, and to that of William Cunningham, “Calvin and Beza”, British and Foreign Evangelical Review (July, 1861) 10:641-702, reprinted in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Edinburgh: Clark, 1862; Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, n.d., 1967 and 1979 printings), pp. 345-412.

    At the end of the day the following statement by Calvin must be reckoned with from his tract “On Partaking of the Flesh and Blood”: “Scire velim quomodo Christi carnem edant impii pro quibus non est crucifixa, et quomodo sanguinem bibant qui expiandis eorum peccatis non est effusus.” (translated as “I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins.”).
    [Note: the documentation of the extant sources for this tract may be found in Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, pg. 396, and in Nicole, op. cit., pg. 200, note 14.]

    After everyone has finished painting Calvin into their corner on this issue, Sola Scriptura should call us back to what should be the first, and will be the final Word on the matter.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    John T. Jeffery
    Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
    Greentown, PA

  2. Excellent suggestions Jack – Nicole’s article surely ought to be read.

    But your last statement is (for me) what is the heart of the issue. Trying to get Calvin squarely in either camp as we normally try to drag him IS in my opinion where fail to read him for himself.

    Trying to force him into a very strict either/or economy without qualifications is the problem. His ambiguity is owing to a willingness to let a certain tension stand in his own writing we won’t allow for. A both/and construct that gives universal (an objectivity in the atonement) statements their full weight, while retaining the necessary particularity which properly accounts for eternal election and predestination. If we require to sacrifice of one at the expense of the other we fail to let the Biblical tension (which I believe Calvin was willing to let stand) stand in our minds as well.

    Good thoughts, and thanks for commenting.

  3. I am not the least bit convinced by Fynn’s ‘ cherry-picking’ expedition through Calvin’s writings. I’ve written to him and raised my concerns and he was highly defensive and responded with personal animosity. He has not interacted with the likes of Nicole, Rainbow and Helm in a substantive way other than to make derogatory comments about them. He begins with an agenda and then starts rummaging around in the sources trying to find support for his thesis all the while turning a blind eye to anything that goes contrary to his preconceived notions.

  4. Well, I would hardly characterize the number of citations as cherry-picking. The debate of Calvin’s exact stand has been a continuing one. I’ve read Nicole & Helm (not Rainbow) and simply disagree with their conclusions. Flynn’s derogations are about some of the scholarship or perceived approaches, but Flynn is far from alone in those criticisms. I don’t know what agenda you believe he might have, but I’ve not seen that in my interaction with him. Nor would I accuse them (or you) in that regard. I would say we have differing views. So be it.

  5. I’m sorry, I was not aware of Dr. Nicole’s infallibility, nor of his being exempt from having any wrong or silly opinions. I doubt he himself would (knowing his stand on total depravity) would aver such claims for himself – or for any of us at any given time. There is a clear difference of opinion, and some have concluded that Dr. Nicole, despite his personal excellence and obvious love of Christ, His truth and his Church and his unassailable benefit to the cause of Christ – nevertheless, erred in some things.

  6. Reid
    Dr. Nicole would be the first to acknowledge his feet of clay and he has taken positions on the role of women in the church that I disagree with-but on this subject he has a well deserved reputation as an authority and his veiws are anything but ‘silly’-especially when coming from someone of Flynn’s caliber.

  7. Mr. Johnson,

    You said this about Flynn:

    “He begins with an agenda and then starts rummaging around in the sources trying to find support for his thesis all the while turning a blind eye to anything that goes contrary to his preconceived notions.”

    Then you have the nerve to chastise him for being less than “receptive” to your critiques, lol.

    What really gets me is your constant “appeal to authority” as an argument against the case being made by flynn and others, as if it should be some how effective as a rebuttal. Why not actually deal with the data itself? Of course if you did that instead of relying om secondary sources you may have to rethink your accepted and defended party line. This is the same tactic you tried with Mr. Wedgewoth on the BH Blog.

    I mean at least we should able to acknowledge that there is a bit of variety in the Reformed tradition, instead of insisting on this mythical monolithic history that is being force feed to most people currently. But, alas, with men such as little ole flynn and others the truth is getting out to the masses and the myths are being exposed. Thank God.


  8. Gary,

    If you’re so impressed by Nicole’s work on Calvin, then don’t merely cite his name. Use one of his particular arguments that you think is strong and convincing. The same goes with Helm and Rainbow. Flynn already demonstrated Rainbow’s historical errors with respect to Augustine, Prosper and Gottschalk. Again, set forth your case with arguments and primary source documentation. If Flynn thinks one of Nicole’s arguments (which is different from referencing his person) is supposedly “silly,” then demonstrate the strength(s) of Nicole’s argument(s) to show otherwise. If you think that Flynn is “cherry-picking” (when actually he’s quoting entire paragraphs to supply context) in addition to “turning a blind eye to anything that goes contrary to his preconceived notions,” then supply us with Calvin quotes that we should be reading. If you claim to know that he is “turning a blind eye” to the evidence, then this presupposes that you have seen the evidence being suppressed. Where is it, so that we may be corrected?

    Is Flynn also wrong about Musculus, Vermigli, Zwingli, Luther, Bullinger and every other early Reformer? Is David even wrong about Ursinus? After all, Nicole has also sought to argue that the Heidelberg theologians (Paraeus, Kimedoncius, etc.) were not teaching a form of universal redemption.

  9. Gary,

    If I am reading Rainbow correctly, then he seems to suggest that Calvin did not think it is “theologically true” that “God loves all sinners and wills all sinners to be saved.” ( see The Will of God and The Cross [Pickwick Publications, 1990], p. 171.) Do you think Rainbow is rightly characterizing Calvin’s view on that point? Or, if not, why then are you confident that he is rightly describing Calvin’s view elsewhere? I mean, if that is false, isn’t that rather a serious mistake? Should we think Calvin is therefore rightly represented by the Protestant Reformed Church when they say he rejected God’s universal saving will, universal love and well-meant gospel offers? If Rainbow rightly represents Calvin on page 171, then the PRC position would then seem to be authentic Calvinism (not hyper-Calvinism), or at least alot closer to it than has been thought.

  10. Terry & Tony
    My beef with both Flynn and Wedgeworth has little to do with their postions and alot to do with their dismissive attitude towards respected authorities like Nicole, Helm and Rainbow. Surely one can disagree with a scholar the stature of Roger Nicole without calling him ‘silly’ or impying that his scholarship is jaundice.

  11. If you consider Nicole, Helm and Rainbow to be authorities in the field of Calvin’s theology on the atonement, then you should have no hesitation to cite one of their most persuasive arguments. If you’re going to make the “dismissive” accusation that Flynn “turning a blind eye to anything that goes contrary to his preconceived notions,” then you must have seen some pretty powerful quotes in Calvin that demonstrate his belief in a strictly limited atonement. Where is the evidence for this accusation? I hope you don’t think that we’re going to change our opinions about Calvin after you simply cite the names of “respected authorities.”

    Also, I am interested in what you think about my Rainbow citation above regarding Calvin’s view on 1) the universal love of God and 2) God’s universal saving will. If Rainbow is wrong on that, then should he be considered a “respected authority”? I mean, isn’t it abundantly clear that Calvin affirmed #1 and #2, and that so manifestly in his remarks on 2 Pet. 3:9 alone? It seems to me that one would have to be “turning a blind eye to anything that goes contrary to his preconceived notions” to arrive at Rainbow’s conclusion on those issues, don’t you think?

  12. “Let not the names of men draw thee one way or the other; nor make thee partial in searching for truth; dislike the men for their unsound doctrine; but call not doctrine unsound, because it is theirs; nor sound, because of the repute of the writer.” – Richard Baxter, 1649

    Quoted in J. I. Packer’s The Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Regent Publishing, 2003), p. 183.

  13. Tony
    Since you asked , I will point you to Calvin’s debate with Tileman Heshuisus on the meaning the true partaking of the flesh and blood of Christ in the Holy Supper, and his remark-” I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins?” I read Flynn’s weak attempt to dismiss the force of this ,so don’t go rehashing those points.

  14. Mr. Johnson,

    The follow quote also comes from the same debate with Heshuisus:

    “It is indeed true, that contumely is offered to the flesh of Christ by those who with impious disdain and contempt reject it when it is held forth for food; for we maintain, that in the Supper Christ holds forth his body to reprobates as well as to believers….”

    Is Calvin contradicting himself?


  15. And also this quote:

    “He might have some color for this, if I denied that the body of Christ is given to the unworthy; but as they impiously reject what is liberally offered to them, they are deservedly condemned for profane and brutish contempt, inasmuch as they set at nought that victim by which the sins of the world were expiated, and men reconciled to God.”

  16. Gary,

    1) Why are you automatically thinking that by “wicked” Calvin means “non-elect” or “reprobate”? I was the one who long ago originally said:

    “It is interesting how some high Calvinists immediately, as if unconsciously, take the term “wicked” and convert it into “non-elect”. It doesn’t even seem to occur to them that they slide right into thinking of the “wicked” as the “non-elect” in dealing with this quote. In their desperation to use this single Calvin citation to demonstrate their continuity with him on the atonement, they don’t even pause to consider the fact that the unbelieving elect are also “wicked” prior to faith, even as the rest (see Eph. 2:3). The ones that are not wicked are not the elect as such, but the believing elect. The “wicked” are the unbelievers, whether elect or not.”

    G. Michael Thomas, I think, rightly remarks:

    “There is no need, however, to understand this in any other way than to imply that the benefits of the atonement are only intended to be effective in the case of those who believe. Over against the Lutheran view that participation in the bread and wine invariably means participation in the body and blood of Christ, Calvin taught that participation in Christ is only through faith. The promise of the gospel is to all, but is only intended to benefit those who believe. Calvin’s many statements of the atonement as being for believers are in full harmony with his view that the atonement is for all, in the context of promise, and for some, in the context of election. For belief is the response both invited by the promise, and given by election.”

    2) Is that all you’ve got in Calvin? Even William Cunningham admits that “it stands alone,–so far as we know,–in Calvin’s writings, and for this reason we do not found much upon it;…” Do you want to “found” everything upon it, even against the hundreds that Flynn has gathered? Or do you have something else? Moreover, how does this quote square with other statements in that same tract wherein Calvin says “the sins of the world were expiated”?

  17. The above G. Michael Thomas reference is from his The Extent of the Atonement (Paternoster Publishing, 1997), pp. 39-40. The full quote can be found in the link I provided above, along with other responses to this issue, such as Dr. Curt Daniel’s extensive reply contained in his dissertation.

  18. Gary,

    Again, I am still curious about your thoughts concerning Rainbow’s assessment of Calvin’s view on 1) God’s universal love and 2) God’s universal saving will. Do you think Jonathan Rainbow’s research is credible on that point? And what about Nicole’s view on the Heidelberg school? Is he right that they (Ursinus, Paraeus and Kimedoncius) did not teach a form of universal redemption? Flynn, as you know, has documented quite a bit from these men as well. Does the “cherry-picking” accusation pertain to all of Flynn’s documentation on the early reformers in your view? Or just the Calvin material?

  19. Terry
    No Calvin is not contradicting himself- please note the context of your citation. Participating in the Lord’s Supper in the Visible Church is mixed- but the intend of Christ’s work is paricular and efficient only for the elect. Also, Calvin’s comments are to be framed, as he himself tells, within the overall structiure of the Institutes and not taken at random and linked together like pearls on a string- this is where Rainbow has served to highlight Calvin’s thought in its overall context.

  20. “And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us.” Institutes 3.1.1.

    “On the other hand, suppose he learns, as Scripture teaches, that he was estranged from God through sin, is an heir of wrath, subject to the curse of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation, beyond every blessing of God, the slave of Satan, captive under the yoke of sin, destined finally for a dreadful destruction and already involved in it; and that at this point Christ interceded as his advocate, took upon himself and suffered the punishment that, from God’s righteous judgment, threatened all sinners; that he purged with his blood those evils which had rendered sinners hateful to God;…” Institutes, 2.16.2.

    “Once for all, therefore, he gave his body to be made bread when he yielded himself to be crucified for the redemption of the world; daily he gives it when by the word of the gospel he offers it for us to partake, inasmuch as it was crucified, when he seals such giving of himself by the sacred mystery of the Supper, and when he inwardly fulfills what he outwardly designates.” Institutes, 4.17.5.

    “Now they sophistically disport themselves over Matthew’s version of the genealogy of Christ. Matthew does not list Mary’s ancestors, but Joseph’s [Matthew 1:16]. Still, because he is mentioning something well known at the time, he considers it sufficient to show that Joseph sprang from the seed of David, since it was clear enough that Mary came from the same family. Luke emphasizes this even more, teaching that the salvation provided by Christ is common to all mankind. For Christ, the Author of salvation, was begotten of Adam, the common father of us all [Luke 3:38].” Institutes, 2.13.3.


    John Davenant, the well-respected English delegate to the Synod of Dort, was making these same observations about Calvin’s views, and even citing him in his Dissertation on the Death of Christ. Andrew Willet and Issac Watts are other early sources. See also Owen Thomas, The Atonement Controversy: In Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2002), p. 123. Are we all “cherry-picking” and “turning a blind eye” to the evidence (i.e., so far your one quote)?

  21. Gary,

    In comment #5 above, you said:

    “Anyone that refers to Roger Nicole as ’silly’ is nitwit and doesn’t deserve the time of day.”

    And in comment #7, you said:

    “…but on this subject he [Nicole] has a well deserved reputation as an authority and his veiws are anything but ’silly’-especially when coming from someone of Flynn’s caliber.”

    As one can see, you’re saying that Flynn said Nicole is “silly.” You even put “silly” in quotes, as if that is something Flynn in fact said. Where is your evidence for that? Here is the post where you initially engaged Flynn about Nicole. As one can see, NO such comment was ever made by Flynn.

    Since I did not recall the details of the conversation earlier, I said:

    “If Flynn thinks one of Nicole’s arguments (which is different from referencing his person) is supposedly “silly,” then demonstrate the strength(s) of Nicole’s argument(s) to show otherwise.”

    But, after reviewing the facts, he [Flynn] doesn’t even say that his arguments are “silly.” About all one can do is attempt to say that he did what is functionally equivalent to that by what he said, which is still different from calling Nicole “silly.”

    Regarding Rainbow, Flynn said that he is not engaging in “good historiography.” As Flynn made critical comments about their arguments, he clearly says “there is no need to make it personal tho.” He does say that he sees “sloppy work,” and that Rainbow engages in “fanciful interpretations” of Calvin (and with warrant, given what Rainbow says on page 171 of The Will of God and The Cross). Nicole is said to be, at times, engaging in “pure speculation.” Flynn doesn’t want to give them, or anyone else “cult-like expert status such that their claims are not testable or correctable.” After these type of comments, you claimed that Flynn was “heap[ing] disdain on them!” Flynn then said, “I reject the idea that I was “even more dismissive.” That is just not true, Gary.”

    I don’t see anything here which qualifies as calling Nicole [or others] “silly.” Therefore, I think you falsely represented Flynn’s words, Gary. One can strongly disagree with the conclusions of Rainbow and Nicole, and even feel that some of their work is “sloppy,” and yet not show them “disdain.”

    Anyway, I would personally rather avoid the issue of personalities and instead talk about the primary source data. To continue to discuss alleged ad hominem issues seems to just serve as a red herring. Let’s discuss Calvin’s own words in context, and see who is rightly representing him. Let us not give any man such hero-status such that criticism (and falsification) of their work is deemed a personal attack, particularly in this area where so many emotional reactions can take place, and have taken place historically.

  22. Shame that it has gone quiet around here. I was looking forward to the next installment. Perhaps Reid could email Mr Johnson and invite him to reply to the more recent posts? I feel sure that he wouldn’t want to leave things in the current state – unless perhaps he has recognised the weakness of his arguments and position?

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