More than 30,000 English-speaking congregations around the world trace their lineage through John Calvin, the 16th century theologian whose thoughts exerted considerable influence over major religious figures and entire religious movements.
And this year, many will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of his birth. Many more, however, will probably not.
"Many Presbyterians greet the news that 2009 will mark the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth with a yawn, a roll of the eyes or even a derisive snort," writes Joseph D. Small, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Office of Theology Worship and Education.
"Why are we so dismissive of our forebear in the Reformed tradition?" he asks in the Fall 2008 issue of ideas! For Church Leaders magazine.
As the Presbyterian theologian notes, Calvin is not a Reformed idol as some in and around his century turned out to be.
"Lutherans adore Martin Luther. Methodist hearts are strangely warmed by John Wesley. Anglicans even have a sardonic fondness for Henry VIII. But Presbyterians are uncertain about John Calvin and his legacy," notes Small.
And he says Calvin would be pleased by the reluctance to revere him.
"He did not want to be idolized by future generations," says Small.
Still, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the largest Presbyterian denomination in the nation, is hoping to help its congregants appreciate the ways in which Calvin's perspectives on Christian faith and life have shaped Reformed churches throughout the world, and continue to shape the Church today.
In celebration of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, the PC(U.S.A.)’s Office of Theology Worship and Education has released a 60-minute documentary to provide a compelling opportunity to re-examine the French theologian's life and thought.
John Calvin: His Life and Legacy combines insightful interviews of well-known Calvin scholars with creative and stunning visuals from such historical places as Geneva and Paris.
"This documentary will stimulate audiences and inspire a greater passion and understanding of their history as Reformed Christians," the documentary's promoters say.
The video is subtitled in six languages – Spanish, English, French, Dutch, German and Korean – and can be used together with a 20-page printable study guide and 51-page PowerPoint supplement, available in Spanish and English.
A three-minute trailer, additional resources regarding Calvin, and ways to order the DVD are available at www.pcusa.org/calvinjubilee/index.htm. A second one-minute trailer is available at youtube.com.
John Calvin’s 500th birthday on July 10 falls on a Friday.