In light of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday, a host of all things Calvin is hitting the bookstores, blogs, and even other media. Here’s another new compilation on Calvin, edited by Burk Parsons – John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009). Nineteen pastors/teachers contributed, from Joel Beeke to Sinclair Ferguson to Thabiti Anyabwile to Phillip Johnson to Derek Thomas to Jerry Bridges.
The chapters include topics such as Calvin’s humility, life, and devotion; his role as churchman, reformer, writer, preacher; Calvin’s teaching on redemption, election, reprobation, union with Christ, justification, and so forth. A great many topics are covered.
I’m not going to actually quote the book a bunch here. I simply want to flag the book for those interested. In my opinion, the book is a great one to give to those Christians who 1) are leery of Calvin, 2) have heard of Calvin but never read anything about him, or 3) know a little of Calvin’s teaching and want to learn more. This book is probably too much an introduction to Calvin and his thought for it to be overly useful to those of us who have read the Institutes or parts of his Commentaries.
One small quibble I have with the book is that some contributors didn’t really seem to get “into” Calvin’s thought. For one example, Jerry Bridges wrote about holiness, and he only quoted from a tiny section of the Institutes (sometimes known as “The Little Golden Book”) but left out some other huge Calvin emphases that came to mind. Joel Beeke’s chapter, “The Communion of Men With God” followed Bridges; it certainly “breathed” Calvin. These two chapters sort of display the diversity of contributors. Another chapter that didn’t “breathe” Calvin was John MacArthur’s chapter, “Man’s Radical Corruption,” (a.k.a. Total Depravity) which he said was one of Calvin’s “most important legacies” along with a few other points (p 138). True enough, but this is sort of a reduction of all of Calvin’s thought down to several “points.” In summary, some chapters are solid reading, others are somewhat superficial.
I realize an author and a book can only do so much. And I realize the benefits of having Christians of all traditions say that Calvin is good and helpful. Again, this is a good introductory level book for Calvin’s thought and life in simple language, but you may not need or want it if you’ve already read some things on Calvin.
For those of you who want more than a broad introduction, see this Beeke book or this one by Godfrey – both of which are also introductions to Calvin. These are two men (among others I know) who have read and studied the Calvin “autographa” for years, and who are Calvinistic from head to toe. These two books (among others) may just serve a better purpose than the one I’m reviewing here.
Finally, if you want a scholarly book on Calvin, check out Richard Muller’s, The Unaccommodated Calvin. I’m guessing most of our readers who have been “reading us” awhile are probably able to dig into the Institutes themselves. Start there, and patiently read.