Perhaps no other Reformer has been more misunderstood and demonized than John Calvin, the great French theologian. Calvin more or less put Geneva’s young budding Protestant community on the map as he rubbed shoulders with or mentored the likes of Philipp Melanchthon, Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, and Theodore Beza. These are all stalwart fathers of the Reformation.
My appreciation for Calvin cannot be stated enough because no other Reformer has shaped my understanding of theology more! Though there are areas that I would disagree with Calvin on, I have found much to commend. Sadly, few outside of the Reformed movement seem to appreciate his life and ministry. Perhaps, as folks take the time to study his life, ministry, and theology this will change.
Thus, I cannot recommend Randall C. Zachman’s book, John Calvin as Teacher, Pastor, and Theologian enough! For anyone who is interested in the life of Calvin, regardless of whether you consider yourself a “Calvinist” or not, this book will provide a quality survey of his writings and Calvin’s thoughts on a variety of issues. Zackhman’s understanding of the depth of Calvin’s mind is impressive. Calvin was an intellectual genius and such a commanding exegete that I find it extremely fascinating when scholars have such a solid understanding of his theology because it requires such a strong commitment. Quite frankly, Calvin wrote commentaries on just about every book of the Bible, his infamous Institutes, many letters and preached several thousand sermons!
Zachman’s work is most fascinating for one simple reason: he spends a great deal of time articulating Calvin’s ultimate objective, which was to spend his life “teaching every single man, woman, and child how to read Scripture for themselves” (p. 7). Zachman provides much evidence to support his thesis based upon the writings and life of Calvin. Secondly, John Calvin is presented as much more “pastoral” than in many other biographies that I’ve read. Scholars often approach Calvin as strictly an intellectual and overlook his pastoral heart, which continually came out in his ministry. Unfortunately, the public is often left with the feeling that Calvin had no emotions, or at least lacked love, compassion, and mercy! This is an entirely incorrect way of understanding Calvin’s life and ministry!
Finally, Zackman helps the reader understand Calvin’s role as a “spiritual father” to the young budding Reformed Protestant movement. Calvin more or less saw his role as that of an equipper. He considered his audience to be those who were training for evangelical ministry, a group of men who had formally been Roman Catholics who had rejected the Roman extremes (e.g. Papal authority, indulgences, etc.) and who had embraced Justification by Faith. Calvin’s concern was to raise up solid ministers of the Gospel!
I strongly recommend that people pick up a copy of Zackman’s work. It is fascinating, exciting, informational, and exceptional on every front. For those interested in the man’s ministry, this would be a great start. One does not have to be a “Calvinist” in order to enjoy this book and anyone who is interested in discipleship and the role that one can play in making strong disciples would do well to study this work.