John Calvin on the Christian Life

There are some figures in history that seem to transcend their time period in history. Down through the centuries the collective conscious of such figures tend to lean towards folklore often times rather than the facts of their historical significance. This phenomenon is also the case for many figures in church history as well. One such figure in church history is John Calvin, the pastor and reformer from Geneva in the 16th century. His shadow extends well beyond his own time, and his theology holds much weight among modern pastors and church leaders today. Yet, there are many misconceptions about John Calvin, his theology, and his pastoral ministry. This is what Michael Horton discusses in his book Calvin on the Christian Life in the Theologians on the Christian Life series published by Crossway (2014).

Horton divides the book into four parts: (1) living before God, (2) living in God, (3) living in the body, and (4) living in the world. Each of these are important aspects of the Christian life, the most important of which is our standing before God. Horton spends the majority of the book discussing the believers relationship to God. Until a person rightly understands their relationship to God in the person in work of Christ, the remainder of the material discussed is trivial. In the last two sections of the book, Horton discusses the believers standing before others. The first of which is how a believer relates to other members of the body of Christ. This includes participation in the sacraments, and the weekly communion of believers in a local congregation. The Last section discusses the believer standing before the world. This includes how a believer relates to the state, and Also the dignity of vocational calling. Lastly, this includes sharing the hope of the gospel with a world that desperately needs its message. Horton does discuss Calvins theology as it pertains to the Institutes of the Christian Religion and the doctrine of predestination, he spends the majority of the book showing how Calvin exemplified the Christian life in a pastoral setting. This aspect of the book is much appreciated, as it humanizes John Calvin which is a side that is not often seen today. Calvin is revered for his theological ideas and disliked for misunderstandings of his theological ideas. Calvin on the Christian Life helps to portray Calvin in his own contemporary setting.

John Calvin is one of the most controversial figures in the Christian subculture, mostly due to a misunderstanding of his theology of predestination. Many attribute to him the five points of Calvinism that were written however after his lifetime. Some believers take that doctrinal system a few steps to far into what is known as hyper-Calvinism, the belief that God has predetermined salvation in a such a way that there is no need to share the gospel. This is a gross misunderstanding and misapplication of Calvin‘s theology. While Calvin did believe overwhelmingly in predestination, he was also very evangelistic in his ministry. He firmly believed in engaging the world in an effort to share the gospel with unbelievers. He was very pastoral in nature, caring for the souls under his care. He is also a controversial figure politically in that he was very active in the political realm of Geneva during his lifetime. Yet, this must not distract from the good the Calvin brought to Christendom and the world.

I would highly recommend Calvin on the Christian Life as it is an excellent overview of the theology and practical applications ministry from one of the greatest pastor-theologians in church history. Many believers only value Calvin for his attribution of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is a major work of theological importance. However, his pastoral heart is of much greater significance, in that he models what it means to love and shepherd the people of God under his Word. Each of the books in the Theologians on the Christian Life is an asset to not only pastors and ministers but also to every believer who desires to grow in their appreciation and love for the body of Christ.


Editor’s Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.