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Robinson Responds to Hesselink

By August 1, 2011 No Comments

Dear John,

Trepidation isn’t called for.

I think what may be most unconventional about my writing on Calvin is that I am often writing for a relatively non-specialist audience. You must admit, this is unusual. My hope is to make it less so.

This awareness of a larger audience does limit my willingness to deal with secondary materials, creeds and so on, which in my opinion fall short of the spirit of his theology in any case. (Westminster is the best of them.) I do feel strongly that Calvin is too important to be solely the possession of a few, rather small, ethnic and confessional communities. So I talk about what I take to be most essential in his thought. I find much that is uniquely resonant with the theology of liberal Protestantism, and I am inclined to emphasize these aspects of his though for the sake of his reputation (which, as you are no doubt aware, is intensely illiberal). In any case, I feel that the traditions of theological writing give me the same right to return to Calvin himself that Luther and Calvin had to return to Augustine himself. Or to Paul himself, for that matter. I can’t imagine why I would want to conform my thinking to a pre-existing tradition of interpretation. To do so would strike me as very un-Reformed.

What does Calvin mean by “sin”? Any response to this question seems to me to be deeply rooted in his anthropology, in his model of consciousness. There is nothing casuistical about it. I don’t think the word sin can be used relative to his thinking without careful contextualization, though if I had to offer a broad definition, I would say sin is the failure to recognize and act consistently with the divine in another human being, and in oneself.

How does Calvin’s Christocentricity manifest itself? His sense of the Holy Spirit? I find no instance in which he seems to make distinctions among the Persons of the Trinity that are more than circumstantial. Christ is the incarnation of God, the Holy Spirit is the effective presence of Christ and God. The centrality of Christ and the centrality of God and the Holy Spirit are simultaneous, identical. The creeds may say otherwise, but Calvin doesn’t.

I’m enclosing a copy of my Princeton lecture–titled “Open Wide Thy Hand: Moses and Origins of American Liberalism.” I guess I just love that word!