Book review: Calvin for Armchair Theologians

by Christopher Elwood

★★★★

This is another book in the Armchair Theologians series provided to me by Logos Bible Software for review. I found this one just a little more dry than other books in the series–more of a “just the facts, ma’am” presentation–but it did warm up nearer the end. For someone looking for a quick intro to Calvin, his life and very basic theology, this is a handy little book.

In some ways, Calvin gets a bum rap. Followers through the years have taken his tangential findings on election and turned them into full-blown predestination theology, a way of thinking that many Christians find utterly repulsive. Calvin also was a product of his times, so his hard-line stance against what he considered heretical ideas was not out of place for his era. His actions, such as burning opponents at the stake, today might raise a few eyebrows but Christianity has evolved. His insistence that curiosity which leads to questioning church doctrine garners a special place in hell doesn’t jibe with today’s inquisitive liberal scholars.

But Calvin didn’t consider himself a theologian; he felt that theology was “faith seeking understanding.” Is God really the cause of pain and suffering, as Calvin’s detractors often concluded from his doctrine? No. Have faith, Calvin would say. Somehow, from God’s point of view–which is far above ours–all things work out for good. Besides … we, as poor sinners born in iniquity and corruption, transgress against God’s holy commandments without end, yet God in his grace has chosen us. Well, some of us. The rest are predestined for hell.

Calvin was a dedicated Christian; of that, I’m convinced. He honestly felt his understanding of God was not harsh, but soothing. His legacy has become so complex, his ideas battered around so much, that we have lost sight of the God-fearing man he was. So, pick this little book up and get to know him better.

Westminster John Knox Press, © 2002, x pages

ISBN: 978-0-664-22303-8

Reviewed on Logos Bible Software

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