John Calvin on gifted unbelievers

Jay Adams, the founder of nouthetic counseling, based his entire method on the premise that believers are more qualified to counsel, based solely upon their faith, than an unbeliever.

I found this gem of a quote today from John Calvin (Institutes 2; 2; 15).

Calvin would argue that Adams view is a despising of the gifts of the Spirit, and an insult to the Giver.

Is the status of “unbeliever” a disqualification of all their gifts, wisdom, insights and understanding? According to the Scripture, even an unbeliever is given tremendous gifts by God.
Fundamentalist separatism, in whatever form it takes, is an insult to the Holy Spirit. We ought to know better. Here’s Calvin:

15. Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver. How, then, can we deny that truth must have beamed on those ancient lawgivers who arranged civil order and discipline with so much equity? Shall we say that the philosophers, in their exquisite researches and skilful description of nature, were blind? Shall we deny the possession of intellect to those who drew up rules for discourse, and taught us to speak in accordance with reason? Shall we say that those who, by the cultivation of the medical art, expended their industry in our behalf were only raving? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we deem them to be the dreams of madmen? Nay, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without the highest admiration; an admiration which their excellence will not allow us to withhold. But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God? Far from us be such ingratitude; an ingratitude not chargeable even on heathen poets, who acknowledged that philosophy and laws, and all useful arts were the inventions of the gods. Therefore, since it is manifest that men whom the Scriptures term carnal, are so acute and clear-sighted in the investigation of inferior things, their example should teach us how many gifts the Lord has left in possession of human nature, notwithstanding of its having been despoiled of the true good.



Filed under nouthetic counseling, Pastoral ministry

4 responses to “John Calvin on gifted unbelievers

  1. Good stuff Sam, and certainly good in the context you have placed it.

    He’s my beef with the whole idea, however. I’ve actually been wounded a few times when men, non believers, were given positions, status, jobs I wanted within the church simply because they were men. The first time it happened it was in a Bible study and I tried to tell myself maybe this was God’s plan, maybe people thought the Word would find it’s way into his soul if he was leading it, but as time went by I realized that his “innate gifting” simply lived in the fact that he was a man.

    Many times since I have been passed over because faith, experience, wisdom, are not seen as a credential within the church, because we simply pursue worth and value in the same way the world does.

    We can, we would, and we do, hire experts because their credential is more important to us than their character. It’s especially painful when you discover the preferred expert actually has his own record for domestic violence and is also under investigation for prescribing an unbelievable amount of opioids.

    My “gifting” Sam, has involved peeling potatoes and working in the nursery for some 30 years while counseling adult survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, addiction, all on the down low, beneath the radar, because most churches are afraid to even acknowledge such things exist, and even more afraid to acknowledge that Jesus actually heals.


    But when do their research cross the line. Like Evolution and creation?

  3. Calvin deals with that as well. It’s in the institutes

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