Brief Review: Calvin, by Bruce Gordon
Bruce Gordon. 2009. Calvin. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Calvin‘s preface opens by naming its subject “the greatest Protestant reformer of the sixteenth century” (vii). The case for this pronouncement, however, is not made in what follows.
What does follow is an interesting read, focusing first on Calvin’s troubled political and working relationships, and second on his writings, often written in response to events relating to the first matter. The picture we are given of Calvin is necessarily sketchy, given the small sample of personal revelation Calvin himself left behind, but the man who emerges from this biography is at once supremely confident in his abilities, but whose reactions to criticism at the same time betray a deep insecurity; a man who kept up correspondences with theologians and politicians across the continent, but who himself hardly traveled; a man who longed for acceptance from, and authority on a level with those in political authority, but who was often at odds with, and lacked understanding of those same persons; and a man who had definite theological positions, but who was more than willing to bend those positions if it were politic to do so. The author demonstrates Calvin’s lasting influence, but in so doing shows just how little that influence mattered during the man’s lifetime, and how he was often eclipsed in importance by, and played second-fiddle to Bullinger and others; it is astonishing to think that someone who held such little influence for such a long time within the city in which he resided (Geneva) for most of his adult life, could have had such influence on matters theological as he has had after his death.
This book is worth reading especially for those interested in Calvin’s relationship with Lutherans and Lutheranism. Neither the author nor Calvin seem to have grasped the primary objections to Calvin’s positions, especially on predestination and the Lord’s Supper, from the Lutheran side; this lack of understanding comes clearly across in this account.
A note on the text of the book: there are one likely and two certain errors in the text in an approximately 20-page span about 2/3 through the book. One is a misspelled name; one is a missing period; another is a likely missing comma. These errors stand out, as the rest of the text appears to be well-edited.