Currently I’m preaching through a Church History series at The Harbor. One of the catalysts for the series was to provide me with a motivation to read this in-depth biography of John Calvin (1509-1564) by Professor Bruce Gordon of Yale.
John Calvin, and the subsequent theological system known as Calvinism has led many to take an impassioned stand either for or against the man and the system. Often, on both sides, the debaters are only vaguely aware of the main points of contention, often gleaning their thoughts and opinions from hearsay or passing references in sermons or books. As such, Calvin is often cast either as a demoniac on the one hand, or an infallible and nearly divine figure on the other.
Thus, as many in the world celebrated Calvin’s 500th birthday on July 10th, 2009, there were many biographies published that year. Of those biographies, many of my sources pointed to this book as a deep, rich, balanced, and fair biography. Having now read the book, I would agree with those assessments.
On a scale of 1-10, 1 being absolute hatred of Calvin, 5 being neutral, and 10 being idolatrous worship, I would say Gordon rests mostly at a 5… He’s no pushover when it comes to his assessment of Calvin and his faults. While, at the same time, he readily acknowledges the great contributions Calvin made during the reformation and theologically through church history.
For the record, I am greatly appreciative of John Calvin, his life, and deep theological insights. I also understand that, like everyone else, he was a man who fell short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and was in need of God’s sovereign grace as much as anybody else. I’m grateful for the truth that with Calvin, and all the men I’ve highlighted in the church history series, “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Cor. 4:7).”