Book Review ~
The Expository Genius of John Calvin (A Long Line of Godly Men Series Book 1) by Steven J. Lawson. Reformation Trust. 133 pages. 2007.
On a recent trip to Europe we stopped in Geneva for the afternoon and visited St. Peter’s Cathedral (Cathedrale St-Pierre) in the heart of Geneva’s Old Town, where John Calvin served for 25 years. Over the next two days in Paris I read this book, including a wonderful afternoon spent on a bench along the Seine River.
This book was the first in a series that examines the varied ministries of noted men from church history. Lawson states that Calvin “was a driving force so significant that his influence shaped the church and Western culture beyond that of any other theologian or pastor.”
Lawson writes that apart from the biblical authors themselves, Calvin stands today as the most influential minister of the Word of God the world has ever seen. He states that by overwhelming consent, he remains the greatest biblical commentator of all time.
Lawson begins the book with a brief biography of Calvin, whose father, a financial administrator for the Catholic bishop of the Noyon diocese, raised his son to enter the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. When his father died, the 21-year-old Calvin moved back to Paris to pursue his first love, the study of literature, especially the classics. He later returned to Bourges, where he completed his legal studies and received his doctor of laws degree. It was while he was studying at Bourges that Calvin came in direct contact with the biblical truths of the Reformation.
Calvin went to Basel, Switzerland (1534-1536), and began writing his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin’s Institutes would become the defining masterpiece of Protestant theology, according to Lawson the single most important book to be written during the Reformation.
Calvin was first appointed professor of sacred Scripture in Geneva, then, four months later, pastor of Saint Pierre Cathedral. Calvin and Farel immediately began working to reform the church in Geneva. Their attempts to fence the Lord’s Table by excommunication resulted in their banishment from the city in 1538.
Calvin went into exile to Strasbourg where he pastored a congregation of some five hundred French-speaking refugees in Strasbourg. He also taught the New Testament in the local theological institute, wrote his first commentary (on Romans), and published the second edition of the Institutes.
During these years in Strasbourg, Calvin also found a wife, Idelette Stordeur, a member of his congregation. An Anabaptist widow, she had a son and a daughter from her first marriage. They married in 1540, when Calvin was 31. Idelette would die of tuberculosis in 1549.
Meanwhile, the City Council of Geneva found itself in much struggle, and called for Calvin to return as the city’s pastor. Calvin re-entered the city on September 13, 1541, never to relocate again. In Geneva, he made his mark as the Reformed church leader and the Reformation’s brightest light.
Upon his return, Calvin hit the town preaching, reassuming his pulpit ministry precisely where he had left off three years earlier-in the very next verse of his earlier exposition.
The rest of the book has Lawson reviewing the distinctives of Calvin’s preaching. They are:
- Biblical authority
- Divine Presence
- Pulpit priority
- Sequential Exposition
- Diligent Mind
- Devoted heart
- Relentless will
- Direct beginning
- Extemporaneous delivery
- Scriptural context
- Stated theme
- Specific text
- Exegetical precision
- Literal interpretation
- Persuasive reasoning
- Reasonable deductions
- Familiar words
- Vivid expressions
- Provocative questions.
- Simple Restatements
- Limited quotations
- Unspoken outline
- Seamless transitions
- Focused intensity
- Pastoral exhortation
- Personal examination
- Loving rebuke
- Polemic confrontation
- Succinct summation
- Pressing appeal
- Climatic prayer
The book concludes with two appendices:
Appendix A: John Calvin’s Verse Distribution for Sermon Series
Appendix B: John Calvin’s Unspoken Outline of Job 21:13-15 Organized by T. H. L. Parker
I have read several of the books in this series of short biographies (Luther, Owen, Whitefield, Spurgeon), and plan to read books on Tyndale, Knox, Watts and Edwards. I enjoyed this look at Calvin’s expository preaching, which will be most appreciated by those who preach the Word.
BOOKS AND OTHER RESOURCES:
- Withering and the Word: John Calvin at 500. Kevin DeYoung writes “Whatever lasting impact John Calvin has had on the church of Jesus Christ, and on the whole world for that matter, is owing to his commitment to understanding and explaining the word of God.”
- The Greatness of John Calvin. Burk Parsons writes that John Calvin was among the greatest men of all time, stating that his greatness, as B. B. Warfield recognized, was not in his service to himself but in his surrender to God.
- Calvinism and the Christian Life. In this new 6-part teaching series from Ligonier Ministries, Pastor Ian Hamilton demonstrates that Calvinism is biblical, God-centered Christianity with important implications for our daily lives. This theology is not simply academic. It is a theology for all of life—a theology in which the grace of Jesus Christ shapes everything.
- Living with a Sense of Eternity. Sinclair Ferguson writes “Calvin sought, personally, to develop a balance of contempt for the present life with a deep gratitude for the blessings of God and a love and longing for the heavenly kingdom.
- An Important New Book on Word-Filled Women’s Ministry. Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson sit down to talk about their new edited book, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church, published by Crossway in conjunction with the Gospel Coalition.
- Covenant Seminary Faculty Contribute to new Zondervan Study Bible. Dr. Jay Sklar and Dr. Robert Yarbrough both contributed work for the new Zondervan Study Bible being released next month. Dr. Sklar wrote the study notes for the book of Numbers + an article on sacrifice. Dr. Yarbrough wrote the notes for 1-2 Timothy and Titus.
- New Jan Karon Book. The popular author returns with Come Rain or Come Shine (A Mitford Novel) on September 22.
- 20 Quotes from Rosaria Butterfield’s New Book on Sexual Identity. Thanks to Matt Smethurst for compiling these quotes from Rosaria Butterfield’s new book Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, which I will be reading soon.
- Onward. Here is a new trailer for Russell Moore’s upcoming book Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel . The book will be published on August 1.
- Talking with Catholics about the Gospel. Tim Augustyn writes with appreciation about Chris Castaldo’s new book Talking with Catholics: A Guide for Evangelicals.
- Banner of Truth: Past – Present – Future (Full Documentary). In past posts, we’ve included this 15-minute documentary in three parts. Now for the first time Banner of Truth has included the entire documentary for viewing.
Watchin’ Over Me by James Taylor
“Watchin’ Over Me” is from James Taylor’s new chart topping album Before This World, his first album of new material since 2002’s October Road. It is one of my favorite songs on the album as Taylor sings of appreciation for those who helped him during his times of drug addiction.
Watchin’ over me when I was high
Holdin’ my hand and wipin’ my eye
Watchin’ me cheat, watchin’ me lie
Oh watchin’ over me
Lookin’ back over on the damage I done
Made no kind of plan to be carryin’ on
Thought I might ought to been dead and gone
I said oh the damage done
How’m I gonna pay that debt I owe
Big red Jesus on the radio
Down on my knees after the show
I said oh the debt I owe
I learned my lesson again
Well, I learned my lesson again
Only one way to surrender
Learned my lesson again
Got to return it to sender
Leave a little light in the window
Got to remember my friend
Guess I got to say it’s a lovely day
Nice enough to know it could ever be so
Ready man, steady man, here I’m gonna go
I said, oh, the lovely day
Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. Kevin DeYoung continues his series which “aims to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon.”
Brother. NEEDTOBREATHE recently appeared on Good Morning America to perform their song “Brother” with Gavin DeGraw.
No One Like Our God. Here’s a video of an acoustic version of Matt Redman’s song from Abbey Road.
Uncomfortable. Andy Mineo’s new album Uncomfortable is scheduled to be released September 18. Definitely one of my most anticipated albums of the year.
- U2 Short Film “Song for Someone” With Woody Harrelson. Directed by Vincent Haycock, cinematography by Steve Annis and produced by Pete Vitale & Park Pictures, “Song for Someone” features Woody Harrelson as a man being released from prison after years of incarceration and features his daughter Zoe Harrelson. The piece thematically links to RECTIFY, SundanceTV’s Peabody award-winning series that follows the story of Daniel Holden and his family as they struggle to move forward after Daniel’s release from 19 years on death row.
Quotes from Musicians:
- There are more animal shelters than there are shelters for women and children who need refuge from abuse. Andy Mineo
- No, they did not take his life–he laid it down. And the chains of death could never hope to hold him, so in the night my hope lives on. Andrew Peterson
- Worship helps us let the ‘throne set the tone’ for our lives – a declaration and a reminder that Jesus is Lord, and everything is in His hands. Matt Redman
July 15, 2015 at 7:42 am
Thank you Bill. Good stuff!