"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.