Why All This Fuss About Pierre Viret?

By Martin G. Selbrede
February 28, 2011

While true that the 500th anniversary of the birth of a key figure in Christian history is inherently worthy of note, there is something doubly valuable in recounting the work of Pierre Viret. I won't steal the thunder of the writers who've contributed to this issue by explaining why it is that Viret's influence has been neglected by subsequent generations (it's not the reason you'd think). But Viret's significance relative to Chalcedon's work, and to the work of R. J. Rushdoony in particular, bears some attention. Why? Because Viret's contributions to the Reformation prove that Rushdoony's work was not a recent innovation in Biblical thinking, but was actually the recovery of a key component of the Reformation itself: the comprehensive application of all of Scripture to all of life.

The relationship in which Viret stands to Calvin, then, becomes important, because many modern theologians wouldn't hesitate to sever these two thinkers from one another, and by implication proceed to sever Rushdoony from Calvin as well, arguing that Rushdoony departs from Reformational thinking. But the recovery of Viret's major contribution to the Reformation turns the flank on such criticisms. The notion of Biblical faith as, literally, the faith for all of life, didn't arise on the world scene when this publication changed its name in the prior decade: it stems from the Reformation itself. And faith for all of life entered into the Reformation because it was a Biblical teaching being at long last recovered after the long sleep that the Reformers so profoundly interrupted.

Faith for all of life simply isn't something new under the sun. Faithful Christians passed this way before: it was present in the very midst of the Reformation, it rubbed shoulders with the great Reformers, it was recognized (in the person of Viret) as a highly-respected, compelling aspect of the recovery of Biblical faith in the sixteenth century.

The actual innovation, then, was the church losing sight of this comprehensive vision, with the result that subsequent generations have turned their back on these world-changing truths out of ignorance of their birthright. Even well-informed Christians today who "look unto the rock from whence [they] were hewn" (Isa. 51:1) gain a crippled view of the quarry when Viret isn't visible among the chief cornerstones of our Reformation heritage. Crippled vision, in this instance, translates into a crippled worldview: when Viret was lost from sight, the church's view of its Biblical wellspring, and hence of itself and its mission, was buried. For this reason, Jean-Marc Berthoud graciously co-edited this issue to bring to light what had been so long obscured by twists of historical circumstance.

Is a recovery of Viret as a proto-Rushdoony truly important? Some may argue that the church did just fine with this man's work, seminal in its day, being subsequently sunk into the dustbin of history. But the church can no more do without the key ancient landmarks laid during the Reformation than the people of God could do without God's law, which also went AWOL until Hilkiah the priest found a copy of it (2 Kings 22:8ff.). Once rediscovered, the book of the law was used to restructure all of life in terms of God's authoritative law-word (2 Kings 23:24). Why? Because comprehensive claims restructure all of life around the Lord who asserts them. The recovery of Viret, because it is a recovery of the comprehensive application of Scripture, is in no small way parallel to Hilkiah's discovery of the book of the law. The impact derives, not from the person of Hilkiah, or of Viret, but because of the substance and scope of the claims inherent in what these two men unleashed.

In Pierre Viret, we have a clear historical context in which the faith for all of life entered the Reformation. Its return, in the work of R. J. Rushdoony and others seeking to assert the crown rights of Christ the King, is no innovation or new heresy.

It is nothing less than the faith once delivered to the saints.

Topics: Reformed Thought, Theology, R. J. Rushdoony

Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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