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The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin Paperback – June 1, 2009
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"Anything Doug Bond writes is, almost now by definition, a fascinating read. But to have his skills attached to the life of John Calvin is a double treat." --Joel Belz, founder, WORLD magazine
"If you enjoy reading the fictional works of C. S. Lewis, you will love this book." --Burk Parsons, editor, Tabletalk magazine
"An exciting read, almost effortlessly and implicitly undoing caricatures about Calvin along the way . . . Calvin and his times brought to life in a page-turner!" --Joel R. Beeke, president, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
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The Betrayal is a historical novel which follows the life of the French theologian and pastor, Jean Cauvin -- whom we have come to know as John Calvin. The story is told from the perspective of a fictional character who, though a lifelong rival, has a life intertwined with Calvin's right up until his death. Though the character and some of the dialogue are fictional, the events chronicled are historical events, and Calvin's words in the novel are taken straight from his letters, books, and sermons. The author even references Calvin's writings in an appendix titled "For Further Reading", so that we can be sure that the conversations that take place in the book are representative of what Calvin actually believed and taught at various stages of his ministry.
Without going into too much detail about the plot (I don't want to ruin it for you!), I can tell you that this is a gripping story that never feels bogged down in details. I was engaged from very beginning, and my attention was held to the final page! John Calvin and the other historical figures are portrayed accurately as great but flawed men who were used mightily by God to advance the cause of the pure doctrines of Jesus Christ in the face of resistance from every side.
Having read several biographies and writings of John Calvin, as well as books on church history, there was nothing in this novel that was totally "new" to me. However, doctrines and dates that had previously been confined to the realm of intellectual knowledge came to life in a way that was totally new, something I didn't really expect from a novel. It was a pleasant surprise!
To those who have read Calvin before: I believe this book will have the same effect on you. To those who are turned off by history books and biographies: This book will serve as a great introduction to a man and a time period that you should know about. Do I personally prefer it to a well-written traditionaly biography? No, but I still give it a very high recommendation.
The story is actually told in the first person by Jean-Louise - a fictional boyhood acquaintance of Calvin's who winds up becoming his attendendant/servant. What I really like about this character is how he changes over the course of the book. I felt like I could very much relate to the man - who was a dispicable creature whose life was essentially changed simply from spending a lot of time with Calvin. Perhaps that was a point Bond was trying to make - that spending time with Calvin has life changing consequences. I know that I certainly can say that simply from reading the man's (Calvin) many works over the course of the last 7 years.
Though the book is an entertaining story - it is a good introduction into the life of Calvin and I highly recommend it for those just getting interested in Calvinism or Calvin himself. There is a lot of factual history there and what was reality verses what was fiction is easily discernable.
I don't by any means consider myself an expert on Calvin but I have spent the past few years in his writings and I believe I could recommend it to the seasoned Calvin expert simply because it is an interesting story about a great figure in history that puts him in quite a favorable light compared to the ways he has been villianized by those who have hated him down through the centuries. Knowing in detail what the man has written about in his commentaries and "Institutess" I would say that the John Calvin portrayed in this story seems to line up with what he has written way better than the dim light his protractors have put him in.
The author’s writing is brilliant in every aspect, the word choice and tone; the story reflecting the “iron self-disciplined” character; and the atmosphere of painful reality of the 16th century Paris’ burnings of those who dared to question clergymen. This historical fiction is “set in the times and places when and where John Calvin lived and worked. Though it is fiction, the reader may accept Calvin’s words in dialogues, sermons, discussions, and debates with confidence.”
Young Calvin displays brilliance from early school years. He is the envy of his schoolmates. His knowledge is far above his age, and what seems ahead his time. It comes across as from another world. From early on, he isn’t afraid to speak up or ask what isn’t supposed to be questioned.
The chronicler’s envy of Calvin’s brilliance makes him develop uncanny ability to be invisible and follow Calvin’s each move until arrival in Paris, where he becomes visible, simply by approaching Calvin and asking him for “honor of attending upon him.”
In Paris, while Calvin studies for priesthood at Sorbonne, two events occur: Calvin hears of Martin Luther and chronicler overhears about spies of the Sorbonne commissioned by priests and doctors. Two men with two different goals lead to the Betrayal, which has an unexpected twist.