My first acquaintance with John Calvin and Calvinism came over two decades ago, when I was still in high school. I had just become a Christian, and with no one to disciple me, I was personally determined to increase my knowledge and broaden my understanding of the Christian faith. So I did not allow any Christian book to lie idle. With nobody to guide my reading, I laid my hands on anything which I believed to be Christian literature. The few books I read at that time were devotionally helpful, but did not seem to challenge my thinking very much.

Then one Wednesday evening, I happened upon a Christian radio programme on one of Zambia’s local stations. It was a weekly preaching/teaching programme called “Meditative Moments,” and the host was the pastor who is now the editor of this magazine. The style of his preaching, the theological depth of its contents, and his stirring applications made me an instant and avid listener to this programme. With time, I noticed that the Christian messages he taught on this programme sounded different from the spiritual diet I had been brought up on in my own denomination, and that put my inquisitive and curious mind into top gear. When I inquired from a number of people concerning this programme, the preacher and the kind of church he hailed from, I was told he was a Calvinist and his church was Calvinistic.

A Calvinist? Who and what in the world was that? The answers I got were numerous and various, but they all seemed to converge on two things: Calvinists are cold-hearted people who believed that God has elected some people to salvation and the rest are damned, and once these elect are saved, they remain saved forever. Having grown up on the porridge of Arminianism, which is antithetical to Calvinism, I found this “new” teaching too hard to swallow. I was determined to learn and understand what Calvin and Calvinism was all about. Thus began my journey, much like that of the young pastor in Richard P. Belcher’s theological novel, A Journey in Grace.

Several years later, my theological quest firmly planted my feet on the truths associated and identified with the name of John Calvin. Along the way, I have made new friends and lost scores of others because of the things I now believe. Centuries after the time of John Calvin, and thousands of kilometres away from Geneva, a young Zambian boy had become baptised into the doctrines that radically transformed his worldview. Such is the global influence of the man whose life we celebrate in this special issue of Reformation Zambia.

When John Calvin was born to Gerard and Jeanne Chauvin on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, France, little did his parents suspect what profound influence their son would have on the world. This year, Christians throughout the world, especially those of the Reformed persuasion are celebrating and commemorating the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. Calvin is arguably one of the most profound religious thinkers and theologians in history. His significance and influence on the church goes far and deep, and his legacy lives on, five centuries after his death.

Loved by many, and vilified by many others, we cannot overestimate the worth of this man. The impact he has had on the history and the rise of Western culture and civilisation has earned for Calvinism the recognition by the influential Time Magazine as the third leading idea changing the world today. The Latin phrase, Post Tenebras Lux, meaning “After darkness, Light,” is a summary of that influence Calvin and others exerted in shining the light upon theological truth which had lain obscure under the darkness of Roman Catholicism. This motto was adopted as the Calvinist motto and, subsequently, by the entire Protestant Reformation, signifying the blazing light of the gospel that proceeded from the darkness of Roman Catholicism. And Calvin stands out as one of the foremost luminaries of theological truth to the present day.

As we celebrate this special anniversary, we at the Reformation Zambia have a compelling reason to join the rest of the world in reflecting on the enduring legacy of this great servant of the Lord. The life and legacy of Calvin is so vast that a magazine of this limited size cannot possibly cover every important area that needs to be explored. At best, all we can do is clear the surface and reveal the depth of the mine in which we have to search for those precious and glittering jewels that recount this man’s life. And to help us do we have called upon a number of contributors to give us various aspects of the life and ministry of John Calvin. The contributors are all cognisant of the towering greatness of the “Genevan Reformer” and are passionate about bringing this out.

These articles provide us a brief biographical sketch of Calvin, and illumine, albeit briefly, his enormous contributions to our Reformed Christian heritage. We single out his stature as a theologian par excellence, and his genius as an expositor. We conclude the line-up of articles with a reflection on what relevance Calvin has to us today. It is a remarkable fact in itself that someone born in a small village in France could still be remembered a half millennium later.

In reflecting on Calvin’s worth in the history of the church, we also take a cautious approach as recommended by John Murray in the first of his four-volume works. In the chapter on Calvin as Theologian and Expositor, which was given at the Annual Lecture of the Evangelical Library, in London in 1964, Murray makes two observations:

First, if we accord to Calvin a place of unique eminence, it is not to detract from others who by God’s grace and enduement have adorned the church of Christ [and] have enhanced the understanding of the inscripturated deposit… Second, we must resist every tendency or disposition to a veneration that accords to men any deference or glory belonging only to God… we must remember that men, however great their stature, are still only men characterised by infirmity, earthen vessels into which God has put treasure, and our servants for Jesus’ sake. (Murray, 1976:305).

Ours then, is an expression of gratitude to God for the legacy of John Calvin, and we hope you will find much to learn from these pages. We hope that these few pages will inspire you, so that like Calvin, you will gain an intense, passionate and wholehearted faith which is summed up in his motto, Prompte et sincere in opere Dei (promptly and sincerely in the service of God). May our hearts be set upon our God; our minds be renewed by the word of God; and our chief desire be to glorify and enjoy the God of the Bible. Let us be part of the great assembly of the informed and knowledgeable Reformed Calvinists who will intellectually and practically illumine the glory of Christ and spread the true and faithful knowledge of Christ everywhere.


Murray, J. (1976) Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 1. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth.

John Calvin: Christian History Timeline

1509     Calvin was born in Noyon, France on July 10.

1523     Fourteen year-old Calvin goes to Paris to study.

1528     Calvin goes to Orleans and then Bourges to study law.

1532     He publishes his first work—a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia.

1533    Calvin and Nicolas Cop flee Paris. At about this time Calvin undergoes a “sudden conversion.”

1536    In March, first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion is published.

1536    In August, Calvin is persuaded by Farel to remain in Geneva.

1538    Calvin and Farel are banished from Geneva. Calvin goes to Strasbourg as pastor to the French-speaking congregation.

1539    Cardinal Sadeleto writes letter to Geneva. Calvin is asked to respond on behalf of Geneva.

1540    Calvin’s Commentary on Romans is published. In August, Calvin marries the widow of an Anabaptist, Idelette de Bure.

1541     Calvin is welcomed back to Geneva September 13.

1542    Calvin writes a treatise on free will against the Roman Catholic theologian  Albert Pighius.

1549  Calvin’s wife, Idelette, dies. Consensus Tigurinus is signed with Zurich.

1559   Calvin is made a citizen of Geneva. Final edition of Institutes is published.           Academy is established.

1564   Calvin dies on May 27.

Source: (Christianity Today Library, 2009:1)