Book Review: John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor by W. Robert Godfrey

  • CalvinPaperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway; 1 edition (April 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433501325
  • WTSBooks
  • Crossway

Many thanks to Crossway for the opportunity to review John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor by W. Robert Godfrey.

John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor is written by a church historian and Calvin scholar.  It flows well. It’s not dry and dull.  And it’s supported by a number of primary sources.  The book is divided into two sections, as its title suggest, Calvin the Pilgrim and Pastor.  Calvin the Pilgrim is somewhat shorter than Calvin the Pastor.  Calvin the Pastor focuses more on the theology and pastoral care of John Calvin, especially as seen in his voluminous correspondence.

Godfrey begins with “The Importance of Calvin,” pointing out that once a person learns about Calvin, that person either admires or loathes Calvin.  There’s no neutrality–yet the impact of Calvin on Western thought and civilization cannot be denied.  For someone who has read a number of books on Calvin’s life and thought, though a short work (208 pages), it proved both insightful and informative, especially in its first section, “Calvin as Pilgrim.”  In the second section, Godfrely really does get to the heart of God’s theology and what drives Calvin.  It’s here also that the reader finds that Calvin is hardly the innovator of some of the doctrinal positions which have vexed so many of his critics.  I will be remiss if I didn’t mention that excerpts from Calvin’s voluminous correspondence to various individuals and churches is something of a treat.  It is here that we get to see the pastor care and personal touch of Calvin.  Regarding the execution of Michael Servetus by burning at the stake, Godfrey writes, “Through the centuries since this execution Calvin has been frequently portrayed as severe, judgmental, intolerant, and violent.  He has been represented as a great persecutor.  In fact, Calvin’s attitude toward punishing heretics was quite typical in the sixteenth century.  However barbaric such views may seem today, the vast majority of Europeans would have agreed with Calvin in his day.”  It must be noted that Calvin never sought fame and money.  In fact, commenting on the death and burial of Moses, Calvin writes, “It is good that famous men should be buried in unmarked graves.”  On Saturday, May 27, 1564, Calvin died peacefully and quietly at age fifty-four, all worn-out.  The next day, Sunday, he was buried in an unmarked grave at a secret location somewhere in Geneva.

As a great admirer of John Calvin, as pastor and theologian, I welcome this work by W. Robert Godfrey and cannot commend it too highly.  It’s worth the read.

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6 Responses to Book Review: John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor by W. Robert Godfrey

  1. Jon Hughes says:


    I don’t doubt that Calvin had many admirable qualities, but the real 16th Century heroes were those who *did* speak out against the barbaric treatment of ‘heretics’. Sebastian Castellio is one for starters:

    • TC Robinson says:

      Jon, according to the author, it was the Europe they lived in. We both know this, though inhumane and certainly did not reflect Christ.

      At any rate, more than four hundred years later, it is Luther and Calvin that have bequeathed to us.

      • Jon Hughes says:


        I find the justification for the above somewhat disturbing, especially considering the brave souls at the time who opposed Calvin’s treatment of ‘heretics’. As you know, the victors tell the tale. Luther and Calvin were certainly giants; others have their books burned. But the likes of Sebastian Castellio will have their day in court on the Great Day, for which I thank God.

  2. TC Robinson says:

    Jon, I’m in agreement, but for some reason history has taken a different path. What can we attribute this to?

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