- Series: Theologians on the Christian Life
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Crossway; 1 edition (March 31, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 143353956X
Many thanks to Crossway for a review copy of Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life, part of their Theologians on the Christian Life series.
Anyone who has read the works of Michael Horton knows how knowledgeable he is when it comes to the 16th century reformers and their works, not least John Calvin’s. Horton’s knowledge of Calvin is masterful and this work demonstrates such. In this work, Horton interacts with several sources: (1) Calvin’s own writings–Institutes of the Christian Religion, treatises and other writings, letters, commentaries on various books of the Bible. (2) A biography by Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva, and what other reformers had to say about Calvin, for example, the older Martin Luther, who knew about Calvin, read his works, admired them, but never met him in person. (3) then other works outside of Calvin’s contemporaries, most notably Herman J. Selderhuis’s Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms.
The first two chapters are introductory chapters (chapter one, “Calvin on the Christian Life: An Introduction” and “Calvin on the Christian Life: In Context”), laying the theological foundation and context for the rest of the book, which is then divided into four parts: Part One: Living Before God. Part Two: Living in God. Part Three: Living in the Body. Part Four: Living in the World. Horton ends the book with something of Calvin’s own eschatology, which is summed up in the chapter’s title “Living Today From the Future: The Hope of Glory.”
While it’s titled Calvin on the Christian Life, what the reader find is something of Calvin’s theology and how his theology really undergirds his life. In other words, Calvin really attempted to live and model his theology (perhaps a subtitle like “How His Theology Shaped His Life” would have prepared the reader better). Next, while I appreciate Horton’s working knowledge of Calvin on various subjects and the many primary quotes provided (which I truly delighted in), there were times I couldn’t tell if it was Calvin’s thought or Horton’s (perhaps this is a shortcoming on my part).
On the burning of Michael Servetus. I have read a number of works on Calvin (some I’ve reviewed here) where the writers were either dubious or excusing of Calvin’s part in the burning of Servetus. In clear terms, Horton does not try to mitigate or make excuses for Calvin. I found this both welcoming and refreshing. “It is unworthy of the truth he proclaimed to exonerate Calvin in this affair simply as a man of his time, especially when others were appealing to the Reformer’s own writings to defend religious toleration.”
The mission-mindedness of Calvin is noteworthy. In the chapters “Christ and Caesar” (12) and “Vocation: Where Good Works Go” (13), Horton navigates that social aspect of Calvin’s thought and how such has gone on to influence much of the Western world, in matter’s of politics, the arts, etc. Along the way, Horton is careful to correct much of the caricatures of social Calvinism. I find this a welcoming portion of the book. For most of us, when we think Calvin, we think his soteriology. But there is so much more to Calvin and his works. The last chapter is a fitting end to a work whose focus is on how Calvin’s theology undergirded his very life. Calvin was quite at home with the “Already and Not Yet” of eschatology.” Horton certainly brings this out quite well.
It’s time to put an end to the caricatures of John Calvin. He is certainly not the theologian of double destination and killjoy. Neither was he a theological tyrant. Rather, Calvin was bent on a unity of the Body of Christ more than we would ever know or come to appreciate, unless we care to. And while he was complicit in the burning of Michael Servetus, there is so much more to Calvin the theologian and church reformer than that. For those interested in the life of Calvin, Horton’s work is a must read and a welcome addition.