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Calvin for Armchair Theologians [Paperback]

Christopher Elwood
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2002 Armchair Theologians

In this concise introduction to Calvin's life and thought, Christopher Elwood offers an insightful and accessible overview of Calvin's key teachings within his historical context. The trials and travails Calvin encountered as he ministered and taught in Geneva are discussed, with special attention given to theological controversies associated with the Trinity and predestination. Elwood indicates the ways that Calvinism developed and its influence in today's world. Illustrations are interspersed throughout the text and humorously illuminate key points providing an engaging introduction to this important theologian.

Written by experts but designed for the novice, the Armchair series provides accurate, concise, and witty overviews of some of the most profound moments and theologians in Christian history. These books are essential supplements for first-time encounters with primary texts, lucid refreshers for scholars and clergy, and enjoyable reads for the theologically curious.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 198 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1 edition (1 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664223036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664223038
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 12.6 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 847,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Christopher Elwood is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Body Broken: The Calvinist Doctrine of the Eucharist and the Symbolization of Power in Sixteenth-Century France.

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On July 10, 1509, Gerard Calvin and Jeanne Le Franc had a baby boy, their second. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calvin made easy 20 May 2006
If, like me, you've never quite been able to get your head around Calvin then this book is for you. It clearly and understandably outlines his theology in a good amount of detail, as well as looking at his personal background and the legacy left by his thought. Christopher Elwood's language is clear but never condescending, and Ron Hill's illustrations inject welcome humour. An excellent introduction to a key Christian thinker.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Calvin for Dummies? 2 July 2006
The style is Calvin for Dummies but I guess such a title might breach Dummies' copywrite. This book is well written at a popular level and has delightful cartoons. The history, thought and theology of the great French reformer of Geneva are sympathetically related. Calvin is absolved of some of the many slanders by his detractors, though not that of having a very vehement forceful character. It would also have helped to have been informed that Calvin was not even a citizen of Geneva for most of his stay there let alone its demagogue. The inheritors of Calvin are fairly described though there are some glaring omissions like Cromwell, Covenanters and the Kuyperian tradition. The is one little niggle, a commitment to inclusive language, so using third person feminine pronouns where the masculine is usual. But I wholeheartedly recommend this as an introduction to Calvin.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Basic overview of Calvin's life and thought. 18 April 2003
By zonaras - Published on Amazon.com
CALVIN FOR ARMCHAIR THEOLOGIANS is a very unbiased look at Calvin's ideas. They are presented in a favorable light, but it does not appear as if the author agrees fully with Calvin's teaching. Servetus, an anti-Trinitarian, was burned at the stake in Geneva under Calvin's auspices, and the author mentions Servetus' ideas as being "ahead of his time"--in that the orthodox Christian concept of the Trinity is outdated and is not considered today to be as "universal" as the "one God, we are One" mantra of today.
Considering the nature of theology--pretty dry and abstract without much humor or human element, Ron Hill does a great job elucidating his subject with cartoon-strip illustrations to drive home certain points. This loosens up the subject matter of God's wrath, predestination of the Elect, and the need for an innocent Man to suffer and die quite a bit. The fist part of the book is the history of Calvin's life and career. The second part is about Calvin's teachings and perceptions of God as interpreted from the Bible. The last part tries to figure out where John Calvin stands in history--was he as bad as liberal Protestants say? Did he contribute to future religious intolerance and bigotry? Did Calvin provide sort of a spiritual force behind the rise of mercantillism and modern capitalism? Was he influential in the outlook of America's Founding Fathers? Calvin upheld the doctrine of man's absoloute moral degeneration; it would be a grave mistake for any one individual or body of people to have too much power in a government unchecked. Therefore, it would be better to have a system of government that provides checks and balances to keep one group from getting too much power. In all, this is a fun, quick and easy read if you are not horrified at hardcore Christian theology, including the controversial doctrine of Predestination.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Handy and Easily Accessible Guide 16 Dec 2005
By JAD - Published on Amazon.com
"Who was John Calvin?" the author begins, "A humorless killjoy...?" too often that is how the great Reformer is viewed. And as a result, all too few people try to get to know him. Christopher Elwood writes this book in order to dispel some of the misconceptions. It is also a handy and easily accessible guide to the man who, along with Martin Luther, was at the forefront of the Reformation.

Dr. Elwood - who is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Louisville Seminary - gives us a guidebook to the John Calvin the man and his message. Elwood traces Calvin's youth and education in the simplest of terms, and along the way, gives a broad overview of the other Protestant movement in Calvin's day.

Thereafter, the book shows the way that God led Calvin to Geneva, to a friendship with Guillaime Farel and the effect of that association upon the faith life of the city. Giving plenty of information in a clear narrative, Elwood help the reader see the inner workings of the renewal of the Church as guided by Calvin.

We are shown the leadership structure of the church and its' basis in Scripture. Then, Elwood provides us with a summary of the main topics in Calvin's great work "Institutes of the Christian Religion". I found the book particularly helpful, here, as Elwood showed that Calvin's approach toward theology stemmed from the view of Anselm: Theology is faith seeking understanding. So, Calvin's approach is to begin with belief; since it is the groundwork of a trusting relationship with God. Then, building upon that belief, we seek to know more and more about God and His will for humankind, including our own lives. If this sounds self-evident, it is because Calvin's view has become the prevalent view in the Presbyterian Church.

One of the best features of the book is the chapter called "Calvin's Children". It looks at those movements and ideas between the time of Calvin and our own time, which may or may not claim Calvin as their forebear. The book is generously illustrated with drawings that catch the spirit of the text, conveying information in a way that is lively and often humorous. It is part of "The Armchair Series" published by Westminster - John Knox Press that has grown to include titles about Augustine, Wesley, Luther, Aquinas and The Reformation.

If you find this review helpful you might want to read some of my other reviews, including those on subjects ranging from biography to architecture, as well as religion and fiction.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Calvin Rising 24 Nov 2007
By China Mike - Published on Amazon.com
This is book is especially designed for those for those who have heard many things about Calvin, but never read anything by him. The book begins with Calvin's formative years as a humanist and an advocate of the Reformation. With the move to Basel and then later Geneva, Calvin began his career as a theological writer. Much controversy has been given to Calvin's teachings regarding predestination, and TULIP as if this was the heart and soul of his teachings. It was interesting to discover that Calvin spilled much ink about the pre-eminence of the Creator God, the person and work of Christ, and the importance of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

Another point of appreciation of Elwood's book is what was done with Calvin's teachings after his death regarding its influence in not just theology, and church hierarchy, but also in both government and society.

This book was concise and well pressented. It presents just enough information to whet one's appetite for further reading for one of western civilization's greatest theologians.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calvinism Light 18 Mar 2006
By George R Dekle - Published on Amazon.com
This is my second, but not my last, book in the "Armchair Theologian" series. The series, which has different authors but a common illustrator, seeks to render theology accessible to the layperson. It does so with plain language, a touch of good-natured humor, and sympathy for the theologian who is the subject of the book.

A biographer can approach his subject with sympathy or antipathy. Too much of either destroys objectivity, but a little sympathy enhances objectivity whereas a little antipathy tends to diminish it. So far, through books on St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, the "Armchair Theologian" series has struck just the right amount of sympathy to enhance objectivity.

"Calvin" is not as light-hearted as "Aquinas," but Calvinism isn't the most light-hearted theology. Elwood argues that Calvin himself wasn't as gloomy as some of his later disciples became, but he still wasn't the kind of a guy you'd expect to be the life of the party. Nevertheless, the man had a profound influence on the growth of Christian theology. Read the book to see how.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting for me, as one taught HS in a Reformed Theology School 8 May 2010
By Drifty - Published on Amazon.com
Calvin for Armchair Theologians (ISBN-13: 9780664223038): Christopher Elwood, 2002, 182 pages.

I was educated in high school in a denominational school that followed the Westminster Confession of Faith. And so, I entered this book with a fair prior exposure to thoughts derived from John Calvin's branch of the reformation. This book put a more human side to John Calvin, which I appreciated, and expanded my knowledge significantly. In the back quarter of the book, the author compares Calvin's work to those that followed him. The discussion reminded me of Karl Marx's famous saying, made after he saw what his followers had made from his teachings: Marx famously said, "if that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist" (McLellan, David. "Karl Marx: his Life and Thought," Harper & Row, 1973 ISBN 9780060128296, page 443.).

Similarly, if author Christopher Elwood is correct, Calvin might well say something to the effect `I am not a five-point TULIP Calvinist!'

From this book (Elwood), pages 157 and 158, "This [the 5-point TULIP teaching] was an affirmation of the Calvinism that had already become standard fare in the Reformed schools of the period. But it was a bit more than a simple reaffirmation of what Calvin had taught. For the first time, a Calvinist church body declared that Christ died only for the elect (limited atonement). Depending on how you interpret Calvin, he either did not teach this or he left the matter unclear (perhaps because the Bible doesn't state the matter clearly)."

The above is what I mean when I say, "if author Christopher Elwood is correct, Calvin might well say something to the effect `I am not a five-point TULIP Calvinist!'"

Calvin for Armchair Theologians (ISBN-13: 9780664223038): Christopher Elwood, 2002, 182 pages.
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