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John M Kight
5 Stars Out Of 5
Still one of the BEST biographies on John Calvin
January 23, 2016
John M Kight
T. H. L. Parker is a widely respected authority on the life, ministry, and thought of John Calvin. Parker is the author of numerous books related to Calvin, including, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought, Calvins Preaching, Calvins Old Testament Commentaries, Calvins New Testament Commentaries, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God: Studies in the Theology of John Calvin, and Portrait of Calvin. Parkers career has in many ways been Calvin-saturated, and the present volume displays this reality extremely well.
John Calvin: A Biography beautifully chaperons the reader from the early years of Calvins childhood and youth, all the way unto his anonymous burial in a common cemetery. The roadmap that is traveled between the dates that would have been on Calvins tombstone, had he been buried with one, is both exciting and encouraging, and Parker masterfully illustrates the story as would a close friend or family member. The book itself is extremely well-written and easy to digest. Although some historical knowledge about the context is assumed by the author, and, therefore, will lack the needed explanation for some.
The reader will be hard-pressed if tasked the duty of deciding which sections of the book are to be considered most helpful, as Parker does an excellent job throughout. The book is both well documented and thoroughly researched. My only complaint is the utilization of endnotes rather than footnotes. Nevertheless, I think most readers prone to pick up a biography on John Calvin will appreciate the interwoven discussion about the development of the Christianae Religionis Institutiomore commonly known as, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Parker also has an outstanding and informative retelling of the trial and death of Servetusanother event most readers will be eager to engage with concerning John Calvin. Furthermore, Parker has also included two very important appendices dealing with the dating for various events in Calvins life and Calvins conversion story.
John Calvin: A Biography by T. H. L. Parker is an authoritative, accurate, and informative representation of one of the most influential individuals of all time. Parker has displayed his knowledge of all-things Calvin well, and the book reads more like a memoir from a close friend than an interested biographer. While there remains to this day some several hundred biographies about the man John Calvin, few will come as close to the man himself than this. If you are looking for a concise engagement into the life, ministry, and thought of John Calvin, John Calvin: A Biography by T. H. L. Parker should be your first stop. It comes highly recommended!
I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
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.