Review: Pillars of Theology: Calvin

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Product Description
Abingdon Pillars of Theology is a series for the college and seminary classroom designed to help students grasp the basic and necessary facts, influence, and significance of major theologians. Written by noted scholars, these books outline the context, methodology, organizing principles, primary contributions, and key writings of people who have shaped theology as we know it today. John Calvin (1509-1564) continues to be read and discussed because he illumines our human experience. Although inseparable from his context, Calvin’s theology speaks for itself, thus identifying ways Calvin remains a living voice for those who struggle with the  meaning of Christian faith.

  • Paperback: 85 pages
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press (August 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0687659132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0687659135
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.3 inches

John Calvin’s short life (1509-1564) has impacted, will impact, more people than those who live double the years. In the Pillars of Theology series, Abingdon Press presents examinations of lives and works written by those few who have forever shaped Christianity.

I am wholly unfamiliar with John Calvin, beyond the passing interaction with some of his followers, and brief quotes here and there, but I found it easy to interact with this book. The author, in a very concise manner, is able to introduce even the novice in Calvin to some of the theologian’s depth by providing quotes from him and about him.

Stroup does not shy away from the controversies in Calvin, either due to interpretation made by those far removed from him, or from the time and place with Calvin wrote. He examines the theologian’s life, detailing the highlights of his read from a preacher to what we can only understand now, as a prince among men buried in an unmarked grave in a city foreign to his birth. We can almost fill Calvin’s alien life, and his struggle to remain wholly independent of the city’s politics, yet remain a pastor of the people.

George Stroup handles Calvin’s 16th century theology without attempting to place it in the confines of the 21st century context. He understands how Calvin looks to our post-modern eyes, and tries to nullify our arguments before we make them. He accepts Calvin’s weaknesses without defending him and brings his experiences which shaped his theology to life.

This book should not be used as an ending point for the study of either the man or the system of theology attributed to him, but should serve as an excellent resource for those just beginning their studies in Calvinism, or those who seek a third party, but sympathetic view of the man and his doctrine.

Stroup treats Calvin’s doctrine according to what is found in the Institutes, essentially in the same order as found in the works by Calvin’s hand. He quickly explores the avenues and contexts which would lead the theologian to those doctrinal decisions, pulling down the mythological veil which surrounds the enigma of Calvin and showing the roots and foundations of his doctrine.

Finally, the author even allows time to show Calvin’s weak points in his doctrine (infant baptism).

I would highly recommend this book for those who are seeking a step up an entry level work on John Calvin.

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21 Replies to “Review: Pillars of Theology: Calvin”

  1. Joel,
    Nice intro. I have my share of Calvin books, both his in print, and many about him. As I have shared, every Western (at least) theolog must pass thru this historical man of God!  I have just read a small book (207 pages) since here, it is: John Calvin, Pilgrim and Pastor, by W. Robert Godfrey (Crossway). Of course this is Calvin friendly, but I found it very good myself.
    Fr. R.
    PS..It is a fact that most of Calvin’s Sermons and many of his writings, are still only in Latin.

  2. Joel,
    I feel a blessed man myself, having both my mentors somewhat…having two John’s – both Calvin and Wesley. They both go back with me for years! I love them both strangely. But Calvin (with Augustine, and Tertullian) are my first tutors!  I strain almost everything thru this paradigm. Both, the sovereignty of God, with the creation and responsibility of man!  Perhaps before you take on Calvin, you might want to read the Confessions of St. Augustine? Augustine was no doubt something of Calvin’s mentor. And as I wrote you, I see Wesley as at least a partial so called “Calvinist”. And I am not the only one in bibical theology to see this here!  Though, “my” position is my own somewhat.
    Finally, if you really want to read and seek to understand Calvin? Sometime, you simply must read the Frenchman, Bernard Cottret’s biography: Calvin (English translation, 2000, Eerdmans). It is full of solid historical work!
    Always yours,
    Fr. R.

  3. Joel,
    I have a profound book by, again Richard Muller called: Christ And The Decree. Subtile is, Christology And Predestination In Reformed Theology From Calvin To Perkins.  This is what is called, Protestant Orthodoxy. The parts on Calvin are good (to my mind). I will perhaps share some of it on e-mail with you. If you would like? (The Calvin parts)

    I know what you mean on the second thought, why do some men respond and some men do not? To the gospel, and as you note for or after years? I have always wondered why I survived some of the combat situations I saw as a Royal Marine? We had some deep movements in Gulf War 1, much more than the Americans. I should have died?  Can only be the providence and will of God!
    Fr. R.

  4. Joel,
    I know you have a lot on your plate at present. Yes, prevenient grace.. but this is grace which operates on the human will antecedent to its turning to God. Thank God for it!  But then there is that grace which is what we call “effectual”, the call of God wherein we are fully quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Here we as believers are passive (in ourselves) until then. (Rom. 9:11…the out-working of this is also seen in Rom.8:29-30.) Yes, lot’s of mystery here!
    As to Calvin and the Church, you would have to read some more I think. He was very visible Church oriented. But, High Church? Not in our sense. Let me quote: “Calvin, for his part, used “the church,” in the singular, to designate the community of the faithful united to Jesus Christ.” (Bernard Cottret) Here is also the footnote; This incontestable attachment of Calvin’s to the unitary concept of the church is to be ascribed to his insistence on the catholicity, in the sense of the universality, of the Western tradition. According to Calvin, the problem was still to reform the church and not to establish it all over again. As Jacques Courvoisier wrote, “It was not a question for him [Calvin] of restarting or re-creating this church, as the Anabaptists believed necessary, since at its historical origin there were apostles and Pentecost. This was not in question, because there is no more a re-baptism than there is a re-Pentecost…..Striving that the church, one in essence in Christ, might also be one on earth in reality, Calvin was never more ‘catholic’ than when he acted as a ‘reformer.’ ”

    Please, keep on reading Calvin in the future? He is worth the effort!  But certainly not infallible.
    Fr. R.

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