Book Review

Founders Journal 75 · Winter 2009 · p. 33

Book Review

Parsons, Burk, ed. John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008), 257pp. $19.00.

Reviewed by Tim Brister

In the providence of God, we are living in a time when the resurgence of Calvinism is celebrating the 500th year of John Calvin’s birth. Unlike generations past, Calvinism is cool, even to the point that The New York Times is writing reports on the leaders of this new generation of Calvinists. Molly Worthen, author of the New York Times‘ article, made a striking conclusion about the Calvinism of this generation:

“[The] New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents” [“What Would Jesus Smack Down?” by Molly Worthen The New York Times (January 6, 2009)].

Worthington’s “fact” cannot be sustained by the historical record and it is certainly not true of Calvin himself because the sixteenth-century reformer knew nothing of any doctrine that promotes pride rather than humility. The book, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology demonstrates this by peeling back the layers of modern-day half-truths and caricatures to show the true nature of the man and his message. The editor, Burk Parsons, explains that “the purpose of this volume [is] that the people of God might more fully trust, invoke, praise, and love the Lord” (xix).

More than merely focusing on Calvin, this book, as Calvin would undoubtedly desire, aims to give a deeper and truer knowledge of Calvin’s God. If it is agreeable that “a true Calvinist is one who strives to think as Calvin thought and live as Calvin lived–insofar as Calvin thought and lived as our Lord Jesus Christ” (6), then it is incumbent upon all Calvinists, especially those brought up in this recent resurgence, to read this book. Divided into two sections, the excellent list of nineteen contributors provides both breadth and depth into both Calvin’s life and thought in a way that both the layman and scholar can richly benefit. But more importantly, the tenor of the chapters exhibit the humility of Calvin and cast his writings under the majesty of the God whose fear was always in his heart.

Calvin’s life-long prayer was, “I offer my heart to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely” (32), and this book provides a panoramic picture–whether as disciple of Christ, churchman, preacher, Reformer, theologian, or statesman–of how that prayer produced a man who was “mastered by God” (7). Of all the books that are available today in honor of Calvin, perhaps none gives a better glimpse into the man who gazed at God through the lens of His Word. Given the popular misperception that Calvinists are not committed to evangelism, missions, or church planting, however, it would have been helpful had more emphasis been given to Calvin’s impact in leading Geneva to become the greatest missionary sending city during the Reformation.

To glean from the teachings of Calvin, is to have as a tutor a man intimately acquainted with the greatest knowledge in the world–the knowledge of God Himself.

Should we follow the example of Calvin, we would have as a friend a man whose devotion was a touchstone for humility. A closer look into the life of Calvin would garner a deeper love for God and His Word, which to no one’s surprise, reveals the enduring impact of the contribution he made, and continues to make, 500 years after his birth.

More Recent and Upcoming Titles on Calvin and Calvinism

A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes by Anthony Lane (Baker Academic, June 2009).

John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor by W. Robert Godfrey (Crossway, April 2009).

John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life by Hermon J. Selderhuis (IVP Academic, March 2009).

The Soul of Life: The Piety of John Calvin by Joel Beeke (Reformation Heritage Books, 2009).

The Piety of John Calvin: A Collection of His Spiritual Prose, Poems and Hymns by Ford Lewis Battles (P&R Publishing, May 2009).

John Calvin and His Passion for the Glory of God by John Piper (Crossway, 2008).

A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback (P&R Publishing, 2008).

The Legacy of John Calvin: His Influence on the Modern World by David W. Hall (P&R Publishing, 2008)

The Writings of John Calvin: An Introductory Guide by Wulfert de Greef (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, expanded edition).