Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649. By R.T. Kendall (London, England: Paternoster, 1997. Originally published by Oxford Press, 1981.) 263 pp. (Paper), $35.00.
“Salvation (Justification/Reconciliation) is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” I have rarely met any Protestant who does not, in some way, affirm that phrase. Yet what one means by this varies widely. These words were proclaimed as part of the Reformation and affirmed in the creeds and are taught throughout the church to today. Yet, as early as Beza, Calvin’s successors began to append to “faith alone saves” the phrase “but faith that saves is never alone.”
Christianity Today rightly calls Kendall’s republished Oxford doctoral dissertation “an epoch-making book.” It examines the doctrine of faith from Calvin to Perkins to the Westminster Assembly to determine the degree to which Westminster theology is Calvin’s theological legacy versus Perkins’ legacy. After overviewing Calvin’s doctrine of faith, Kendall traces the interactions of Theodore Beza, William Perkins, Paul Baynes, Richard Sibbes, John Cotton, John Preston, Thomas Hooker, Jacobus Arminius, and William Ames with Calvin.
Kendall claims that Puritanism’s central figures, such as William Perkins and William Ames, drew their theology not from Calvin, but from Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva. Even J.I. Packer defends the Synod of Dort (1618–19) by putting words into Calvin’s mouth that he did not say [“Calvin the Theologian” in John Calvin (Abingdon, 1966, p. 151)]. Specifically, he asserts that the Dortian formula of Limited Atonement says what Calvin “would have said if he had faced the Arminian thesis.” Therefore, Kendall perceives a fundamental shift between Calvin and Beza. Consequently, the whole Puritan tradition, from Perkins to the Westminster Confession of Faith, followed the wrong (non-Calvinistic or anti-Calvinistic) track concerning the atonement and the nature of saving faith.
Paul Helms, Calvin and The Calvinists (Banner of Truth Trust, 1982, p. 9) visually displays what he believes was Kendall’s comparison of Calvin and the Puritans:
Faith as a passive persuasion
Faith as an act of the will
|Faith including assurance||Faith does not necessarily
|The Gospel before the Law||Preparation for grace|
|Faith before repentance||Repentance before faith|
|Salvation by grace through faith||Salvation through good endeavors|
Kendall’s 1997 edition includes a new preface as well as an additional appendix extracted from Curt Daniel’s Ph.D. thesis from New College, Edinburgh, 1983. Daniel sought to answer Kendall’s critics concerning a single passage that Cunningham attributed to Calvin defending limited atonement. Daniel demonstrates that it was not Calvin’s statement after all.
Paul Helms states the importance of Kendall’s work when he said this: “No one can doubt the seriousness of the charge that Kendall levels against Puritanism. He [Kendall] makes the bold and controversial claim that the Puritans, the professed followers of Calvin and the Reformation doctrine, were in fact undoing the work of the Reformation. If this could be shown, then whole epochs of church history would have to be re-interpreted” (Calvin and the Calvinists, p. 9).
I agree with J. I. Packer as cited in the back jacket: “Dr. Kendall’s exciting study…is a major step forward in the reappraisal of Puritanism…no student in the Puritan field can excuse himself from reckoning with this important contribution.” I recommend this book, especially this edition, for any and all interested in the theology attributed to Calvin.
Theology ought not be derived from Beza’s understanding of Calvin (nor from any other outside system), but from the Bible itself.
Chafer Theological Seminary