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John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology Hardcover – 2008
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Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion
All of these are valid and are a legacy to admire. But there is more to John Calvin that those descriptions. In John Calvin A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology the contributors give us a much bigger picture of the man and his ministry.
I probably learned most from the first part of the book that deals with John Calvin the man. Here we read of his youth, his education, his family and friends, his conversion and his call and his growth in grace. The book also gives us a look into Calvin’s ministry as a Pastor, counsellor, community leader, mentor and friend,
This book lets us see the man. His life as a child, a father and a husband. He was very much like all of us with the same challenges and aspirations. We also get a look at Pastor John Calvin. This was the eye opener for me. John Calvin was not just an educator, theologian and apologist, all of which are part of the pastorate. Calvin was man who had a heart for Jesus Christ. It seems everything he set out to do was to either know more of Jesus or make Jesus known.
It was enlightening to see Calvin in this way. It laid the groundwork for much of the latter part of the book dealing with Calvin the theologian. I do admit there were some aspects of his life that were repeated but I guess with multiple contributors you will get that.
Calvin had a love for his family, friends, congregation and community. Calvin did not seem to set himself out to be a famous author, build a platform or pastor a mega church. Calvin’s heart was to minister to the heart and soul of people. Whether in his sermons, his politics, his personal correspondence and dealings with his opponents, Calvin wanted more of Christ to be evident and not himself.
This is not a book to make Calvin look like a saint. There is no glossing over the sins and struggles of Calvin. And to his credit even Calvin saw his sins and sought to repent of them as often as necessary.
The latter half of the book laid out some basic beliefs and teachings of John Calvin. Contrary to what some would have us believe Calvin was not all about TULIPS’s and just 5 points. Calvin’s theology was much broader than that. The truth I saw was that Calvin’s theology was not just an academic exercise but the tool that shaped his life and ministry. What we learn from this book is that for Calvin theology and doctrine were completely biblical, purposeful and practical.
Anything Calvin taught had to have its basis on Scripture. He was not out to present something new, but to proclaim something eternal and true. His teaching had to point to the Trinitarian God. There was no effort to promote himself, his ministry or his ideals. It was all to point to the redeeming work of our God. And finally, it had to be life shaping. Calvin wanted first for his heart to be shaped by the Spirit and the Word and then to be able to help his family, friends, congregation and anyone else he encountered meet the risen Christ and be shaped by His word.
This book is aptly titled and I would encourage anyone wanting to know more about the real John Calvin to take a look.
This is critical for those who want to read Calvin. He is often depicted as a cold, stoic and heartless man. That's partly due to the system of theology that bears his name , and more correctly by those who follow his system of theology. But after this book, hopefully your opinions will change. If you've read my new years resolutions you'll know I'm tired of defending the five points of Calvinism, and that is exactly why I enjoyed this book. The preface by Iain Murray blew me away. He's worth quoting at length:
We believe that divine revelation has come to us in words and in propositions, and for these we must contend. But truth is only rightly believed to the extent that it is embodied in life. (page xiv)
Too often, in our time, beliefs associated with the name Calvin, have been identified with the lecture hall and the academy. We have found it easier to be "teachers" and "defenders" of the truth than to be evangelists who are willing to die that men might be converted. We regard "Calvinism" as co-terminus with Christianity and think that all gospel preaching can be fitted into the five points. (page xv)
His preface is a sharp critique at the way Reformed theology has gone in current times and it hit me like a tonne of bricks. To paraphrase Ghandi (and perhaps a lot of people out there) I like your Calvin, but I do not like your Calvinists. Murrays preface alone is worth the price of the book. Burk echoes Murray saying that we need to "Bible Calvinists" and not just "System Calvinists".
The book consists of 19 short chapters written by some of the great names in reformed theology today. They give a short history of Calvin's life, Pastoral heart and Theology. Each chapter reads like a self contained unit. You could start anywhere in the book, but its probably best to read it right the way through.
What becomes abundantly clear, as you read through the book, is that John Calvin is nothing like the caricatures. He may have been a quiet and reserved man, but never a cold hard stoic. For him the starting point of his theology was not justification by faith, but rather Union with Christ. How different our theological arguments would be if we all started from this point and worked outwards? What has always impressed me with John Calvin was not just his academic abilities, but his pastoral heart. For Calvin, nothing gave him more comfort than to meditate on the providence of God. "The Bitterest afflications in life are sweet when Christians know they come from God, serve his purposes and ultimately contribute to their good" He lived out what he taught. Lawson handles the question of Calvin's style of preaching and rightly so since he did a great job in "The expository genius of John Calvin".
Of course the question of Calvinism and Arminianism has to come up in a book like this. If you've read my previous post "The Road Ahead" you'll know my stance on this. John MacArthur handled the "Radical Depravity" Chapter. I'm not a fan of MacArthur, I've always found him a little too dogmatic. This chapter was no exception. Lets be clear here, Arminianism and Pelagianism are quite different things. Calvinism believes that God irresistably draws the elect, while Arminianism says that God draws people to a point where they can say "yes or no". The problem with MacArthurs approach in the chapter is that is what Murray wrote to counter in his preface. For all MacArthurs talk about Grace, he seems to conduct himself without a lot of it.
I enjoyed the treatment of Calvins more controversial doctrine of election and reprobation which followed MacArthurs chapter. Many who learn about election and reprobation for the first time decry the doctrines as unjust and incompatible with a loving God. Justice is not the category we should invoke in these discussions, as Phillips points out Justice would result in condemnation as all have sinned and falled short of the Glory of God. Calvin was humbled by this doctrine. The fact that the creator of the universe chose him to be a part of his family, for no other reason than his love for him, would prove very humbling for Calvin.
Books like this are difficult to sum up. Thats the problem with reviewing a series of essays. While they have a common subject they are as diverse as the authors themselves. I enjoyed the content, but am repeatedly annoyed by some of the sideswipes taken against those who disagree with Calvinism. I've come to see disagreement as a healthy expression of an honest struggle with a doctrine. Any disagreements should, as the reformers said, take us back to the sources. Of course we need debate, and discussion. If we all agreed on everything life would be pretty boring.
This book would serve as a good introduction to Calvins works. I would reccomend a brief study of the issues leading up to and surrounding the reformation. You'd be a lot better equipped to understand Calvin. This year if Calvin were still alive, he would be 500 years old (a youngster compared to Metheusala). What better time to get aquainted with a theological giant than now?