What Would John Calvin Think of Bethlehem College & Seminary?


I spent last semester with John Calvin. That is, during the Spring semester, I had the privilege of reading Calvin’s Institutes and teaching a course on the book to twenty-two Bethlehem College & Seminary undergraduates. It was wonderful.

Teaching a course on Calvin is no small task. The Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, after teaching just such a class wrote to his friend, “I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.” Some of us wish Dr. Barth had done just that.

As the last essay question for their final exam, I asked my students, “What would John Calvin think of Bethlehem College & Seminary?”

Several students remarked that Calvin would not like our school’s “neglect of infant baptism.” A few mentioned that he would lobby for a Latin language requirement. One student  even noted that he might not prefer our chapel music’s inclusion of a drum kit. (That student actually plays the drums in our chapel.)

As I read through their reflections, through their descriptions of our school through the eyes of their study of Calvin, I was filled with thankfulness to the Lord for what he is doing at Bethlehem College & Seminary. Let me pass on four categories of these reflections for your encouragement.

First, almost all the students mentioned that Calvin would love the academic rigor of Bethlehem’s programs. “Calvin,” wrote a future seminarian, “would like Bethlehem’s high view of Scripture and the teaching of biblical languages and exegesis.” One young lady wrote, “Calvin would appreciate that we are not slaves to our education or to knowledge; rather, we seek to use them for God’s glory.” One student made me laugh: “Calvin would like the reading of Great Books, the study of theology, and the fact that we sleep about as much as he did.”

Second, many students noted that Calvin’s enthusiasm for the liberal arts would endear our school to him. One wrote, “As a humanist, Calvin would appreciate Bethlehem’s intentional effort to study and incorporate the liberal arts into a theological education.” Indeed, Calvin wrote, “Men who have either quaffed or even tasted the liberal arts penetrate with their aid far more deeply into the secrets of the divine wisdom” (Institutes, 1.5.2). Our students believe that Bethlehem’s History of Ideas program “would be up his alley: ad fontes!” What does this look like at our school? One young man noted, “Calvin would approve of our emphasis on understanding an author before evaluating them.” Another young lady summed it up well: “Calvin would like the fact that we actively study languages, Augustine, and Homer—all in one semester!”

Third, many students believed that Calvin “would like Bethlehem’s Christian community.” While people might view Calvin as a solitary genius, our students noted how Calvin’s biography revealed the importance of Christian friendships. Calvin’s recent biographer, Bruce Gordon, wrote, “Calvin’s friends provided him with a stability absent in both himself and his family. He never found friendship easy, … but he relished it greatly. Friendship provoked his most contradictory impulses” (Bruce Gordon, Calvin, 30). As our class read Calvin’s biography, we discovered how his friendship with William Farel stirred a bookish Calvin toward kingdom activity. We saw how his friendship with Martin Bucer provided Calvin with experience and ministerial wisdom that steered him toward fruitful ministry and protected him from foolishness. We learned how his friendship with Pierre Viret helped Calvin live and think carefully. And we read how Calvin’s friendship with Theodore Beza focused his life on advancing the kingdom even after he died. These are the type of friendships Bethlehem students want in their lives, the sort of community Bethlehem works to form and maintain.

Finally, Bethlehem’s students thought that John Calvin would love our school’s emphasis on “satisfaction in God” and “serious joy.” One student wrote that Calvin “would really like the emphasis on serious joy: delighting in God as we study his Word.” Another wrote that “Calvin would approve of our emphasis of textual study and the centrality of Christ to all preaching and Scripture.”

Reading our students’ descriptions of our school encouraged me. I do think John Calvin would like Bethlehem College & Seminary. I know I like it. And I hope the descriptions and reflections you have read here have encouraged you as well. God is on the move at our school. John Calvin would (mostly) be thrilled. Would you consider supporting what the Lord is up to here? Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated.

Matthew Westerholm
Assistant Professor of Music and Worship

Prayer Requests

  1. Continue to pray for God’s grace to abound in our faculty and students’ lives and for their joy in the Lord to be full as they teach and learn.
  2. Please keep our Self-Study writing project in your prayers as well. These next few weeks are critical for us to complete the writing of this important document which we pray will extend our accreditation for another 10 years.
  3. Pray for the filling of the Alex Steddom International Student Fund to provide for René and ChyingChying for the 2018-2019 school year.