Tuesday, October 6, 2020

"John Calvin" by Derek Thomas and John Tweeddale

When it comes to the life and teachings of John Calvin, of course there is no shortage of books. This means that all readers inevitably have choices to make: which ones will you read? Compounding the reader’s choice is the reality that edited books with multiple contributors can often be hit or miss. More often than not the reader has a few chapters or contributors that interest them while the rest inevitably end up being neglected.

Ultimately though, the quality of the book inevitably hinges upon the passion and expertise of the contributors. The quality of the book mainly hinges upon something besides the contributors that is less appreciated by readers, however, which is the arrangement of topics. I am pleased to say that Thomas and Tweeddale have done us all a great service by giving about a third of the book to the Life of Calvin (7 chapters), and then the other two thirds to the Teaching of Calvin (13 chapters). As somebody who has imbibed and appreciated the doctrine of Calvin for some time I benefited a great deal from much of Part 2 of the book (particularly Guy Waters’ chapter on the Law of God, Derek Thomas’ chapter on Knowing God through Adversity, and Ted Donnelly’s chapter on the Christian Life).

For me, however, the area where I inevitably, as a pastor, find the most nourishment and encouragement ends up being the biographical portion of books like this. I was especially captivated by Doug Kelly’s firsthand study of the minutes of the Genevan consistory and Steve Lawson’s discussion of the pulpit ministry of Calvin. These are simply my personal highlights, and I suspect different readers will have their own preferences. I really am not exaggerating to say that this book has something for everybody. Some books feel like a bit of a chore to read; they can be a lot of work and heavy lifting. This is not one of those books. It is rich but not overbearing. When it comes to a book that you can open, read, and just know you’re going to get something rich each time, this book is currently at the top of my list. I’m grateful that we have it.

FTC Disclosure: I received an electronic review copy in exchange for an agreement to provide a written review of this book.