The following letter is the first installment in what will be a series of letters to John
Calvin. These “Dear John letters” are meant to speak for those who are wrestling with
whether to stay in the Christian Reformed church or divorce the church that they’ve
loved. Rather than trying to solve theological mysteries, these letters are intended to be
a place to live into the questions themselves and wrestle with the joys and challenges
(and let’s just say it: trauma) that can come from being part of a reformed church body
I will sign the letters under the pseudonym “Jane Calvin”, not as a way to hide my
identity, but as a symbol of a new voice in reformed theology – one whose purpose is to
speak for those who feel their voices have been left out in reformed circles since the
Reformation. It’s also intended to unearth the softer side of John and Calvinism.
Maybe together we can discover that although he had a lot to say, John Calvin left some
room for mystery too. Dare I say he would be considered a Christian Reformed Mystic?
By “mystic” I mean someone who had powerful personal encounters with the Holy Spirit
even while wrestling himself with his faith? Let’s find out.
Lisa A. DeYoung, DMin student
a.k.a Jane Calvin
Sometimes I wish I could just walk over to your place for a cup of tea and ask you
some questions. It is 2023 and your legend lives on here in Grand Rapids,
Michigan. Did you know that there is an entire library center dedicated to you at
Calvin University? Did you ever think there would be a university named after
you? If my math is correct, it has been 459 years since you left your earthly home
and we are still somewhat obsessed with the things you wrote during your 55
years of life. Honestly, now that I am nearing 50 years old myself, I marvel at how
much writing you produced in that short period of time. It seems there must have
been a spiritual force behind it all. I wish I could hear the stories that were
“behind the scenes” – you know, like the ways the Spirit moved in you and
prompted you to write. Did you wake up with thoughts and ideas and prayers in
the middle of the night like I sometimes do? Did you wonder which things on the
page were straight from God Almighty and which things were just your own
Here’s the thing. We have a problem, John. We are looking down the tunnel at
another potential church split. And I know that you know some things about
church splits, don’t you? We’re just a few short months away from deciding
whether or not we still want to be a family. I think the most painful thing for many
of us is that this is the church we love.
I was born and raised in the ChristianReformed Church. I was baptized as an infant,
I was sent from here as a
missionary, I was called by this church into ministry. I was taught at the seminary
named after you and ordained for ministry in this denomination. AND, I have felt
traumatized, abused, neglected, and cast aside often by the same church body.
I’ve learned over the years that our deepest pain comes on the other side of our
deepest loves. Why does it hurt so much to think about losing our church?
Maybe because it’s tied to what we hold so dear – our love of God, and our love of
the family of believers. Maybe our fighting has more to do with this…grasping to
hold onto something we love. How do we do that and still hold onto each other?
I was struck today when I entered a mentor’s office for a chat over coffee and saw
a quote from you hanging above his desk. You wrote in your Institutes, 2.8.55,
“But I say that the whole human race, without exception, are to be
embraced with one feeling of charity: that here there is no distinction of Greek or
Barbarian, worthy or unworthy, friend or foe, since all are to be viewed not in
themselves, but in God. If we turn aside from this view, there is no wonder that
we entangle ourselves in error. Wherefore, if we would hold the true course in
love, our first step must be to turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom might
oftener produce hatred than love, but to God, who requires that the love which we
bear to him be diffused among all mankind, so that our fundamental principle
must ever be, let a man be what he may, he is still to be loved, because God is
Do you remember writing this John? It sounds a lot like the letter to the
Galatians, doesn’t it? What would you say if you knew that we were still fighting
over this very thing almost 500 years after your death?
I spent the last 4 years working with men who were in prison. If there’s one thing
that I learned, it is what you write about here. There is absolutely no distinction
between them and me. We are the same before God, dearly loved, and able to be
used by the Holy Spirit in spite of ourselves. How can we as a church body live
into this notion further? Time will tell if we will have the courage to do so.
Till next time,
Jane Calvin (No, I’m not related to you John. But in Spirit, I am your sister in
Christ, a descendant of the same church.)
P.S. You use the words “human race, mankind, and man” all in this same
paragraph. I can assume, right, that when you say “man” you are speaking to me
too, correct? Just checking…