John Calvin: Why He Would Have Embraced Social-Networking
(and Why We Should, too) by Douglas Estes
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There is no doubt that John Calvin, had he lived during our time of blogs and tweets, would have fully embraced social-networking technologies—even though he was not known to be a strongly social person.
By all accounts, John Calvin had a choleric personality. As a result, he had a passion for what he felt was truth, and an unending desire to see that truth known. At times, that made Calvin as pleasurable as sandpaper on bare skin, especially to those with whom he disagreed. Due to the success of his ministry, as well as some of his more visible personality flaws, Calvin’s detractors had a great deal of ammunition to use against him.
People with choleric personalities tend to be very invested in relationships with value. Calvin loved mentoring his students (because he valued their growth), engaging in theological discussion (because it brought greater value to our understanding of God’s glory), and promoting sound doctrine (because it brought greater value to peoples’ lives) through any means necessary. Calvin could have much more effectively accomplished all three if he could have logged onto Facebook; it is a social medium he would have definitely used had it existed in 1545.
In many ways, digital social-networking has little to do with socialness and much more to do with communication. I’m not, at this point anyway, on Twitter, though I could certainly join today and start tweeting. With no followers. What a mighty Tweet that would be! A Tweet heard ‘round the … well, nowhere, really, because at this point no one’s listening. Why do people tweet or blog or post? It’s because they want to add their opinion; they want to communicate what they have learned or come to understand.
Calvin would have been little interested in opinions, being choleric in personality. But he would have seen how powerful social-networking media is to transmit value to other people. I doubt he would have cared much about Facebooking his students about their homework, but he would have regular posted his newest discovery about God from his theological and exegetical studies, in the hopes that his students, his friends, even his detractors would be challenged because of it.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I have a choleric personality. When digital social-networking was new, I was the first to say, "This is stupid. I don’t have time for this." But the more I started to engage the new media, the less I saw it as a way to update my friends about my life’s minutiae and more of a way to promote value through what I am learning about God as I go through life. My revelation came a little late, so I’m still something of a noob to the phenomenon—but Calvin’s life situation would have driven him to it even faster.
I’m not arguing that every Christian communicator must embrace every form of digital media available today (far from it); but if we want the same things Calvin wanted, we will find a way to communicate value to our world. As a choleric, Calvin understood that the message is more important than the messenger; how important is the message God has given to each of us?
Douglas Estes is Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Western Seminary-San José and Lead Pastor at Berryessa Valley Church, San José, California. He received his PhD in Theology from the University of Nottingham, UK. His publications include The Temporal Mechanics of the Fourth Gospel: A Theory of Hermeneutical Relativity in the Gospel of John (Brill, 2008) and SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World (forthcoming, Zondervan, Oct. 2009). Douglas blogs at http://www.bvcblog.com
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