In this revised edition of his definitive biography, Parker explores Calvin's achievements against the backdrop of the turbulent times in which he lived. Clear explanations of the reformer's theology, critical analyses of his major works, and insights into his preaching bring to life the quiet "timid scholar" whose ideas took Europe by storm. 224 pages, softcover from Westminster/John Knox.
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Review 1 for John Calvin: A Biography
Calvin: The Man
Date:November 23, 2012
I am familiar with Parker's scholarship through his work on Calvin's commentaries, and particularly in his slender volume, Calvin: An Introduction to his Thought, which summarizes and interprets the Institutes. His formidable Calvin research shows in this biography that is, warmly sympathetic to its subject, and is painstaking in its historical detail. That said; do not fear this as a book heavy and dry. It reads smoothly as a novel, with plots and subplots ever revealing aspects of the man at the centre of the story.
Running through the text includes a ` "story" within the story' of how the Institutes were conceived and edited at various stages, and ultimately settled upon in a final form. Calvin's literary output is chronicled against the struggles he faced as a churchman and a reformer. Both his friends and foes are given a place in the book to enrich the drama, so to speak.
The emergence of Calvin as a man is what struck me most. Not Calvin the pastor, nor even Calvin the theologian, but Calvin the man. Certainly the Genevan reformer was a man head and shoulders above many of his contemporaries as an academic. Also vigorous in his indefatigable energy and discipline as a servant of the church was Calvin. However, it is the man of God plain and simple that shines through. His humanity is genuine in Parker's portrayal: A man with a passion, no less. The writer explodes the myths surrounding the so-called tyrant of Geneva. Parker also rightly and correctly instructs his readers about the mechanics of sixteenth century civil rule and the magistrate's role in punishing heresy.
Though many volumes on the life of Calvin abound, one would do well to be acquainted with this text. Particularly illuminating are the two appendices in which parker examines a case for redating Calvin's life, and in interpreting Calvin's "conversion" as chronicled by the reformer in his preface to his commentary to the Psalms. There is a mini commentary on the conversion narrative that is both challenging and illuminating.
My concerns about Parker are limited to one matter. He appears to read Calvin through Barthian lenses in expositing some of the Frenchman's theological convictions. I saw this clearly in Parker's treatment of Calvin's doctrine of Scripture. Yet even here, the writer evidences careful insight into various nuances of Calvin's views.