Depending on the perspective of the individual Christian, John Calvin may either be one of the greatest theologians or the worst charlatans who ever lived. For those who feel Calvin’s teachings accurately interpreted the Bible, he is a great teacher and one who rediscovered doctrines of grace that had lay largely dormant for centuries. For those who feel Calvin’s teachings are a gross misrepresentation of God’s sovereignty and human freedom, Calvin is a deceiver and one who has led countless Christians away from biblical truths.
I am among those who count Calvin as a great theologian and one who was used by God to restore to the church the wonders of the doctrines of grace. Yet for a man whose theology has so impacted my own, I know surprisingly little about the man. This is, at least in part, owing to the fact that less is known about Calvin than about many other great figures in church history. A man who was often private and secretive, much of his life, and his early years in particular (including his conversion), are known only by conjecture based on comments he made in his books.
John Calvin: His Life & Influence is a brief biography of Calvin that was first delivered by Robert Reymond at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as a series of four hour-long lectures. These speeches, targeted at a general audience attending Wednesday evening programs, were drawn from lecture material for a course on “Calvin’s Institutes” taught by Reymond at Knox Theological Seminary. “I wrote the four lectures, taking my original audience on a journey through Calvin’s intellectual and spiritual development, first from his youth, then through young manhood, then to the brilliant, energetic young Reformer that he became during his first Geneva period. In connection with this last period I addressed head-on Calvin’s part in the most significant blight on Protestant Geneva’s reputation, namely, the burning of Michael Servetus.”
Through four chapters and approximately four hours of reading, Reymond leads the reader through a brief survey of Calvin’s life and most important teachings. He does this in the hope that “this remarkable Frenchman’s life and ministry will challenge Protestant Christians today to take more interest in their historical heritage and to read for themselves “the opus magnum of Christian theology” and the most influential systematic theology ever written, namely, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.”
Though necessarily short, this book serves as a useful and compelling introduction to Calvin. It focuses primarily on his life, but also expends some effort in summarizing his teachings. Following the biography are three useful appendices, the first discussing “opposing Calvin biographers,” the second discussing Calvin’s influence on western history, and the third listing other recommended biographies and resources.
All-in-all, this is a good little book and one that would be at home in any church or personal library. It is a great place to begin in understanding the life and influence of a man who continues to impact the church almost five hundred years after his birth.