January 12, 2022
Mark Tooley is a Methodist layman and writer. He recently wrote an article about the ten Protestants who have influenced him most. Of course, C.S. Lewis made his list. So did John Wesley [duh, Tooley is a Methodist}. What stood out for me was the inclusion of John Calvin and Reinhold Niebuhr. Both would be on my list. How about you? What theologians/ writers, past or present, have been most influential in your spiritual journey?
Karl Barth would have to be in my Top Five, especially for his work on election, as well as his opposition to Nazism and reclaiming Biblical theology from early 20th century liberalism.
I really like what Tooley says about Calvin and Niebuhr.
As Tooley describes him, "Reinhold Niebuhr as German Reformed pastor and theologian addressed the dark complexities of American Christianity, urging systemic social reforms but cautioning against hubris about accomplishment in this world. Everyone, including the saintly elect, are influenced by self-interests and limited vision, even at their best. He understood America’s Calvinist and revivalistic history, which explained for him his nation’s strengths and weaknesses. Niebuhr urged America to lead in WWII and the Cold War but also warned America not to exult in its own supposed goodness. Hope in God but not in yourselves, Niebuhr implored."
Next, about Calvin, Tooley writes, "Methodists like me aren’t supposed to embrace Calvin because of predestination, which was never his emphasis. He turbocharged the Reformation and also was central to molding the modern world. Lutherans were mostly Germanic and accepted the political and social status quo. Calvinists were international and revolutionary. They sternly feared God and sought to conform the world to His purposes. Their angst over salvation and calling created a social dynamism that electrified societies politically and economically. Calvinists were dangerous to tyrants. And Calvinists, unrestrained, could be tyrants. Sometimes they didn’t know when to stop. Calvin approved the burning of Servetus, a (Unitarian) for heresy. But when Calvinists are on the right path they are unstoppable. I’ve always been intrigued by and appreciative of Calvin and his followers. Once in the college library, I randomly examined his Institutes of the Christian Religion, and I reassuringly spotted a passage promising any believer fretting about salvation was already secure, as the nonbeliever would not worry."