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Reviewed by:
  • The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin
  • Amy C. Graves
Donald K. McKim , ed. The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. Cambridge Companions to Religion. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xvii + 352 pp. index. chron. bibl. $24.95. ISBN 0–521–01672–X.

In the spirit of the highly successful Cambridge Companion series, this volume, edited by Donald McKim, provides a stimulating introduction to the life, work, and legacy of the reformer John Calvin.

The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (hereafter CCJC) contains four unequal parts. Part 1, "Calvin's Life and Context," contains two substantial articles on "Calvin's Life" (Alexandre Ganoczy) and "Calvin's Geneva" (William Naphy). The juxtaposition of career trajectory and geography is a suggestive one. The account of John Calvin's life conveys a sense of the reformer's developing mission, while the portrayal of the city where he based his Reformation portrays Geneva's internal struggle and strategic importance to the Reformation during Calvin's tenure there. It is worth citing a minor harmonization issue that emerges here, if only to encourage the hurried reader to employ each part of the CCJC. Although Ganoczy avoids footnotes altogether, the reader can and should turn to the comprehensive bibliography for further reading. However, even the bibliography omits some works; to cite one example, the recent controversial Calvin biography by Denis Crouzet does not appear there, but is mentioned in the narrative resource guide by Karin Maag and Paul Fields that rounds out the CCJC. Naphy cites his own research almost exclusively, squandering an opportunity to signal trends in the social, political, and cultural history of Geneva, including the editorial projects of Genevan archive documents that both stem from and nourish these research interests. Globally speaking, the volume shows a tendency to favor Anglophone sources and approaches, but the attentive reader will note the conscientious effort by McKim and his contributors to indicate major contributions by French, Swiss, and German scholars.

Part 2, which approaches "Calvin's Work," contains nine articles that each focus on a topic: writings (Wulfert De Greef), exegesis (John L. Thompson), theology (I. John Hesselink), ethics (Guenther H. Haas), preaching (Dawn DeVries), piety (Joel R. Beeke), social-ethical issues (Jeannine E. Olsen), political issues (William R. Stevenson, Jr.), and controversies (Richard C. Gamble). De Greef's contribution on Calvin's writings competently tackles a Herculean task, touching lightly on major themes that will be addressed in depth in the following articles. His pages on the evolution of the Institutes illustrate a fruitful trend in [End Page 200] recent research, and deftly combine knowledge about the history of the book, cultural history, religion, and textual studies. Thompson's contribution on Calvin's exegesis is the tour de force of this volume: it provides a masterful initiation to the differences in Calvin's practice and theory of biblical interpretation. Not only is the article accurately pitched to the specialist and novice alike: the author, unlike some of the other contributors who allow themselves to be tempted by the devil of exhaustivity, limits his corpus to display the textual workings of Calvin's exegesis to full effect. (As an aside, I will correct the spelling of Simon Grynaeus, not "Gyrnaeus"). Thompson and Hesselink also make a gesture that is all too rare in this collection: they offer a useful comparison between Calvin and his reformer contemporaries and hint at the reception of Calvin's ideas. Hesselink underscores the particularities of Calvin's theology in an article that makes for trustworthy reference material. Haas uses Calvin's view of creation as the point of departure for Calvin's ethics and offers a nuanced discussion of the theologian's view of the law and the Decalogue. For the record, one can also look to Calvin's commentary on the De Clementia for clues to the influence of antiquity on Calvin's ethics. The solid contributions by DeVries and Beeke explore the theological dimensions of preaching and piety; however, their expert assessment of the status of current research into the concrete implementation (and congregational reception) of Calvin's ideals would have been most welcome. Through the study of Calvin's educational, charitable, church, and administrative institutions...


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pp. 200-201
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Archived 2009
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