Joseph Chien, Graduate of WRF Member RTS-Jackson, Translates Calvin's Institutes into Chinese

September 24, 2010

A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, Mississippi, USA), Joseph Chien, has translated THE INSTITUTES of John Calvin into Chinese.  Below is the "Introduction" to that volume written by Dr. Douglas Kelly.  Reformed Theological Seminary in  Jackson is an organizastional member of the World Reformed Fellowship. 




by Douglas F. Kelly

Reformed Theological Seminary at Charlotte, North Carolina

23 September 2010


It is a happy day when a great nation and a great theologian meet one another! That is certainly the case when the central work of John Calvin becomes available to the Chinese people. Some historians have said that the 16th century was the Spanish century; the 17th was the French century; the 18th and 19th were the English centuries; the 20th was the American century, and now it seems likely that the 21st century will become the Chinese century.


China is by far the most populous nation on earth. It is in the midst of a massively growing economy, and thus exercises major influence throughout the world. Its influence may well determine the shape to be taken by the rest of humanity over this present century. The once ‘sleeping dragon’ is now fully awake! Its vast population is seeking education at all levels, and its education will necessarily be guided by some philosophical/theological basis, as has always been the case in every culture.


The translation of Calvin into Mandarin  could be a very happy moment. In terms of New Testament Greek usage, kairos is said generally to refer to an opportune time, whereas chronos refers merely to the passage of time, whether it is propitious or not. In my view, this availability of Calvin to the great Chinese people is surely a kairos: an opportune, or happy moment. If this vast nation becomes seriously aware of the theological work of John Calvin, it could well be guided into paths of remarkable fruitfulness and beneficial influence, both within its own heart, and to the rest of the world for a long time to come.


John Calvin is the theologian for China because of the vitality and dynamism of his grasp and conveyance of the whole Word of God for all times and places. At the 500th celebration of the birth of Calvin in Geneva, where he exercised most of his ministry, and thereby renewed Northern Europe and made America possible, I was asked, during an interview, what had been the principal contribution of Calvin to the Church for the last half millennium. My response was: ‘Calvin made available the whole Word of God for the whole people of God in every area of life, thought, culture and society.’


The lecture I delivered in Geneva on this occasion was ‘The Catholicity of Calvin’s Theology.’ I sought to bring out the fact that Calvin was not the servant of any one controlling religious or theology idea (such as predestination or even divine glory), but rather in a penetrating and coherent way, expounded the fullness of the entire Word of God, both Old and New Testament, so that both scholars and ordinary people could take hold of it with their minds, commit their hearts to it, and then live it out every day in family, church, economy and state. In many ways, the best aspects of the modern Western world were – if not born, at least powerfully renewed and developed – out of the impact of this powerful preaching, teaching, and writing and holy living.


 Individual regeneration of millions, restoration of large portions of the once moribund church, renewal of schools and universities, uplift of disadvantaged classes, opening of political liberties, and general cleansing of public morals all took place over a period of a few decades. As a result of this renewal of Biblical Christianity in the rediscovery of the Gospel of the free grace of God in Christ, multitudes in Europe (and then in the American colonies) began to live happier and more productive lives; they worked harder, saved more, invested more, and insisted on governmental response to God’s appointed ways of living as given in the Holy Scriptures, which Calvin expounded so clearly and powerfully. In less than a hundred years after Calvin, many northern European societies had profoundly changed in a Godward direction, as the late Oxford scholar, Christopher Hill, pointed out in his many books on the Puritans and society. Although Professor Hill certainly used elements of a Marxist economic critique of 17th century British society, he never hides the fact that ultimately driving all these changes was a renewed and fervent Christian faith, deriving in many respects from the thought and practice of John Calvin.


What gave Calvin’s teaching in one small 16th century city (Geneva), such world-shaking power? Many other Christians along the centuries before Calvin had been equally good men, and excellent preachers and writers. But Calvin’s life (1509-1564) constituted a kairos, an opportune turning point for Christianity, in large part because of his total reliance upon the risen Christ speaking in all parts of Holy Scripture. The Good Shepherd is to be followed, for ‘his sheep know his voice’ (cf. John 10), and the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant writes God’s law and will on the hearts of God’s people (cf. Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8), motivating and enabling them to love God and their neighbor; ‘to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God’ (Micah 6:8).


Throughout both Old and New Testaments, Calvin found Christ (e.g. see his comments on Genesis 1, Exodus 3, Psalms 22, 23 and 69, on Isaiah 53, Jeremiah 31,and Zechariah 9, to mention only a few), and the Christ he found in Old Testament Israel, became incarnate as one of us (while remaining fully God (e.g. cf. his comments on John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11). As the God/man, Christ lived a perfectly holy life, pleasing the heavenly Father in every way (e.g. cf. his comments on John 5 and 17), thereby – on our behalf - fulfilling all of the Old Testament law, prophecies and promises (e.g. cf. his comments on Hebrews 1, 4, 5, 8, and 10), and as ‘the holy one of Israel’ in human flesh, died in the place of us sinners, thus eternally reconciling to God all who believe (cf. his comments on II Corinthians 4 and 5, and Romans 4 and 5). The heavenly Father fully accepted the atonement of His beloved Son for sinners, and demonstrated His acceptance by raising him from the dead (cf. his comments on Romans 1:4, and 3:20-28). The risen and ascended Christ sent down in mighty, personal power from his throne in heaven the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (cf. Calvin’s comments on Acts 2), to transform the believers, and indwell his church forever.


Hence, by virtue of the Holy Spirit of God, Christians are indwelt by the risen Lord, and as the Father sent him, even so, he sends us (cf. his comments on John 20:21) with his transforming love and power into a corrupt and needy world. Calvin constantly taught that ‘without Christ we can do nothing’, but because he is the vine, and we are the branches abiding in him, the church divinely empowered from above to complete all the will of God on earth (cf. his comments on John 15, Gal. 2:20, 5:22,23, Colossians 1 and 2).


Much of the power of Calvin’s biblical teaching lay in his appropriation of all parts of the Scriptures in a coherent whole, in which the parts made sense in light of the whole, and the whole shone through all of the parts. Calvin in that sense was the truest ‘cahtolic’. Although he severely criticized the Roman Catholic Church of his day, he considered himself a true catholic, in that he profoundly desired to call the church back to its biblical and patristic roots, away from the medieval innovations which had tended to obscure the saving Gospel (cf. his ‘Epistle to Cardinal Sadeleto). So, what was the essence of Calvin’s discovery of the overarching ‘catholic’ teaching of Old and New Testaments?


The 20th century Reformed scholar of France, Pierre Courthial, noted that the two central ‘catholic dogmas’ held by all truly orthodox Christians of various denominations and continents are the Holy Trinity and the hypostatic union of the two natures (divine and human) in the one Person of Christ, as these have been defined by the first six ecumenical (or ‘catholic’) councils of the church from the fourth to the seventh centuries.[1] Another French speaking Reformed historian and theologian, Richard Paquier of Switzerland, also showed that true catholicity in the Reformed teaching of Calvin, was: “… to affirm God entirely, the Scriptures entirely, the church entirely, the ‘cosmos’ entirely…”[2] That is to say, Calvin and his followers rediscovered the cosmic aspects of the reign of Christ over this entire created world, not unlike what the Eastern Orthodox Fathers meant by Christ as Pantocrator.


In years to come, perhaps, for instance, some of the Chinese mathematicians, physicists, and cosmologists who have drunk deeply in the biblical catholicity of Calvin’s teaching of Christ as Lord, Saviour, and Patocrator will lead world scholarship into new insights, discoveries and interconnections in these still underdeveloped areas, with beneficent renewal of many fields of scientific theory and practice. Be that as it may, I am eternally grateful for the way our provident God has used my well-loved former student, the Rev. Joseph Yao-Cheng Chien, in inspiring and guiding to a successful conclusion this happy publication of The Institutes of John Calvin. I, among many other admirers of the Chinese people in the West, await with expectation as to what the Lord will do as China and Calvin come together!





[1] Pierre Courthial, De Bible en Bible (Messages: L’Age d’Homme: Lausanne, 2002), 14.

[2] Richard Paquier, Vers la Catholicite Evangelique (Eglise et Liturgie, Cahier No. 6: Lausanne, 1935).