Many would argue that a true understanding of contemporary Christian thought is impossible without a basic understanding of John Calvin’s contributions. Now, just in time for the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, William Stacy Johnson, a leading theologian, offers this clear and fundamental study of Calvin’s insights as a primer for those with little or no knowledge of his work. Calvin is more than just a figure from history. His life and work—both infused with his passion for the reform of the church—had a continuing impact through the centuries, not only on the church but on society in general. Enhanced with questions for discussion and a handy glossary, this volume is sure to be an invaluable resource for those who seek an accessible way into a deeper understanding of Calvin’s role in the development of today’s Christian faith.
About the Author
William Stacy Johnson is Arthur M. Adams Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Johnson has presented a Calvin for the 21st Century, for the Arminian, for the Calvinist, for the Christian. He has presented a very subtle argument for a continued reformation today, grounded in the same which supported Calvin.
In his 129 pages, Johnson is able to take the seclude Calvin, buried in 450 years of tradition, myth, folklore, and followers, and bring him to life, often times in examining today’s social problems. He pulls no punches with Calvin, stating his disagreement with him on at least one issue, double predestination. Further, he allows Calvin to remain in the 16th century but forces him to encounter our world, or perhaps, our world encounter John Calvin.
He starts like he should, with Calvin’s early life and the impact his father had on him. He spends little time on Calvin’s exile and troubles with the Genevan authorities. He does, finally, shed a different light upon Calvin’s association with the murder of Servetus, placing it in a historical context that I did not expect, and indeed, helping to shed, in part, the myth around it. He does not shy away, however, from controversy with Calvin’s political realm and the fights with the Anabaptists. Further, Johnson details Calvin’s disagreements with Luther and Zwingli.
The book is divided into 12 chapters. Each chapter, after the first, is centered on a different aspect of Calvin’s doctrine. There are times he allows Calvin to speak for himself, but generally Johnson summarizes and includes references to the Institutes. Further, he allows Calvin’s interpreters, such as Barth, to shine light on the reforming notion of the Reformation. He closes in two ways. In the first section, entitled Always Reforming, he brings Calvin’s doctrine, of that section, into a modern perspective, refusing to leave the Reformation a dead movement of dead theologians teaching a frigid movement. He then concludes with several study questions meant to draw the reader into meditation not only on Calvin by on ‘always reforming.’
If there is one introductory book on Calvin, or perhaps you need a different perspective on Calvin, get this one. It is Johnson’s portrait of Calvin that has given me pause to reconsider him.