Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion: God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.

                         

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Thursday
Jul022009

Book Review: John Calvin

Click on image to buy this book at Monergism BooksA Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology, edited by Burk Parsons.

Reading this book and reviewing it here is my way of celebrating the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. Yes, Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, so his birthday falls one week from now. I’m not sure he’d like all the attention he’s getting, but if celebrating his 500th birthday means the publication of a few good books about this historical theologian and pastor, I’m for it.

John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology examines Calvin’s life, ministry, and teachings in nineteen chapters, each written by a different well-known pastor, teacher, or theologian. Besides Burk Parsons’ preface and first chapter and Iain Murray’s foreward, there are chapters written by Jerry Bridges, Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, John MacArthur, Thabiti Anyabwile—authors whose books I’ve read and reviewed here previously; Phil Johnson, who contributes to the popular Pyromaniacs blog; and many more notable Reformedish Christian leaders.

The first eight chapters are primarily about Calvin the man. There is a chapter which contains a brief biographical sketch and chapters on the various mantles Calvin wore in his service to God: Reformer, churchman, preacher, counselor, and writer. Taken together, the picture we see is of a man of many gifts, all used in service to God. 

The seventh chapter, The Counselor to the Afflicted by W. Robert Godfrey, includes excerpts from Calvin’s extensive pastoral correspondence which show his tenderhearted care for people who were suffering. To a father who had lost his son, he wrote:

When I first received the intelligence of the death … of your son Louis, I was so utterly overpowered that for many days I was fit for nothing but to grieve; and albeit I was somehow upheld before the Lord by those aids wherewith he sustains our souls in affliction among men, however, I was almost a nonentity.

Not exactly the stone-cold ivory-towered theologian of the common Calvin caricature, is he?

The rest of the chapters—ten of them—are essays on the teaching of Calvin on doctrines that he emphasised, starting with one on the supremacy of Jesus Christ and another on the work of the Spirit. Then there are five chapters that correspond, roughly, to what are known as the five points of Calvinism: Man’s Radical Corruption; Election and Reprobation, Redemption Defined, Transforming Grace, and A Certain Inheritance. Finishing up are chapters that present Calvin’s thoughts on union with Christ, justification, the christian life, and prayer.

The last chapter, The Communion of Men with God by Joel Beeke, which looks at Calvin’s thoughts on prayer, was my favorite, I think, because it was what I needed to read right now. Calvin, Beeke writes,

considered prayer to be holy and familiar conversations with God, our heavenly Father; reverently speaking, it is family conversation, or even intimate covenantal conversation, in which the believer confides to God as a child confides in his father. Prayer is “an emotion of the heart within, which is poured out and laid open before God.” In prayer, we both communicate and commune with our Father in heaven, feeling our transparency in His presence. Like Christ in Gethsemane, we cast our “desires, sighs, anxieties, fears, hopes, and joys into the lap of God.” In other words, through prayer, a Christian puts his “worries bit by bit on God.”

The image of taking my worries “bit by bit” (Most of our worries are, in the scheme of things, small, you know.) and placing them in “the lap of God” has helped me in a present struggle with praying.

Books that are collections of essays by different authors are often repetitive because the chapters are stand-alone essays on similar subjects. While there is a little repetition in John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine and Doxology, it is kept to a minimum because each author was given a different piece of Calvin’s life or teachings to write on. The writing style does change from chapter to chapter as the authors change, something that can be seen in the variation of the numbers of footnotes for the individual essays. Jay Adam’s chapter on perseverance, for example, has only eleven footnotes, while Joel Beeke’s on prayer has 116. Yet, since there is a progression in the subjects of the chapters, this collection of essays still reads as a unified whole.

I’d say this book is intended for the ordinary Christian reader, one who might not know much about John Calvin, but is interested in learning about this Reformer who has influenced so much Christian thought and so many Christian leaders since the Reformation. It was a satisfying read and I recommend it to you. 

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Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for that review, Rebecca. It looks like a really well worth read.

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRuby

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