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Calvin, Participation, and the GiftThe Activity of Believers in Union with Christ$
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J. Todd Billings

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199211876

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199211876.001.0001

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Calvin's Doctrine of Participation: Contexts and Continuities

Calvin's Doctrine of Participation: Contexts and Continuities

(p.24) 2 Calvin's Doctrine of Participation: Contexts and Continuities
Calvin, Participation, and the Gift

J. Todd Billings

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the historical and metaphysical aspects of Calvin's ‘background’ used to support the claim that Calvin systematically opposes the divine and the human, thus rendering superfluous his language of ‘participation in Christ’. It begins with a brief historical account of Calvin's academic training and context, evaluating the common arguments for considering Calvin to be a ‘dialectical’ theologian who opposes the divine to the human. It argues that the late medieval influences upon Calvin are frequently misunderstood, and that the ‘nominalist’ tendencies are exaggerated. Rather, through a gradual and eclectic appropriation from various church fathers, Calvin developed theological presuppositions which do not neatly fit into the generalized categories of ‘Thomist’, ‘nominalist’, or ‘voluntarist’. Following an introductory account of Calvin's use of the church fathers, the chapter proceeds through a series of queries related to participation and Calvin's appropriation of the fathers on particular points. It sketches a metaphysical account of God's saving relation to humanity in Calvin's theology. The chapter shows the way in which Calvin develops a theology of participation that builds upon the Pauline themes of participation and adoption, as well as upon the Johannine themes of indwelling, engrafting, and union. While Calvin avoids expansive metaphysical speculation, it is argued that Calvin has a metaphysic that affirms a differentiated unity of God and humanity in creation and redemption, such that humanity may participate in God through Christ; union with God is not only the eschatological end, but a paradigmatic feature of the God-human relationship.

Keywords:   Calvin theology, Gift theology, participation in Christ, God, theological metaphysics, nominalist

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