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John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion": A Biography

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John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" is a defining book of the Reformation and a pillar of Protestant theology. First published in Latin in 1536 and in Calvin's native French in 1541, the "Institutes" argues for the majesty of God and for justification by faith alone. The book decisively shaped Calvinism as a major religious and intellectual force in Europe John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" is a defining book of the Reformation and a pillar of Protestant theology. First published in Latin in 1536 and in Calvin's native French in 1541, the "Institutes" argues for the majesty of God and for justification by faith alone. The book decisively shaped Calvinism as a major religious and intellectual force in Europe and throughout the world. Here, Bruce Gordon provides an essential biography of Calvin's influential and enduring theological masterpiece, tracing the diverse ways it has been read and interpreted from Calvin's time to today. Gordon explores the origins and character of the "Institutes," looking closely at its theological and historical roots, and explaining how it evolved through numerous editions to become a complete summary of Reformation doctrine. He shows how the development of the book reflected the evolving thought of Calvin, who instilled in the work a restlessness that reflected his understanding of the Christian life as a journey to God. Following Calvin's death in 1564, the "Institutes" continued to be reprinted, reedited, and reworked through the centuries. Gordon describes how it has been used in radically different ways, such as in South Africa, where it was invoked both to defend and attack the horror of apartheid. He examines its vexed relationship with the historical Calvin--a figure both revered and despised--and charts its robust and contentious reception history, taking readers from the Puritans and Voltaire to YouTube, the novels of Marilynne Robinson, and to China and Africa, where the "Institutes" continues to find new audiences today.


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John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" is a defining book of the Reformation and a pillar of Protestant theology. First published in Latin in 1536 and in Calvin's native French in 1541, the "Institutes" argues for the majesty of God and for justification by faith alone. The book decisively shaped Calvinism as a major religious and intellectual force in Europe John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" is a defining book of the Reformation and a pillar of Protestant theology. First published in Latin in 1536 and in Calvin's native French in 1541, the "Institutes" argues for the majesty of God and for justification by faith alone. The book decisively shaped Calvinism as a major religious and intellectual force in Europe and throughout the world. Here, Bruce Gordon provides an essential biography of Calvin's influential and enduring theological masterpiece, tracing the diverse ways it has been read and interpreted from Calvin's time to today. Gordon explores the origins and character of the "Institutes," looking closely at its theological and historical roots, and explaining how it evolved through numerous editions to become a complete summary of Reformation doctrine. He shows how the development of the book reflected the evolving thought of Calvin, who instilled in the work a restlessness that reflected his understanding of the Christian life as a journey to God. Following Calvin's death in 1564, the "Institutes" continued to be reprinted, reedited, and reworked through the centuries. Gordon describes how it has been used in radically different ways, such as in South Africa, where it was invoked both to defend and attack the horror of apartheid. He examines its vexed relationship with the historical Calvin--a figure both revered and despised--and charts its robust and contentious reception history, taking readers from the Puritans and Voltaire to YouTube, the novels of Marilynne Robinson, and to China and Africa, where the "Institutes" continues to find new audiences today.

30 review for John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion": A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt Tyler

    I enjoyed Gordon's biography on the Institutes more than I enjoyed his biography on Calvin himself. Both books are clearly well researched, but I found his biography on Calvin thorough but uninspiring especially when compared to the joy of reading Calvin himself. He kept me much more interested in this book, but each chapter left me wanting more. I suppose that's a good thing (better to be left desiring more than to be glad the chapter is over!) but in this case it had more to do with the fact t I enjoyed Gordon's biography on the Institutes more than I enjoyed his biography on Calvin himself. Both books are clearly well researched, but I found his biography on Calvin thorough but uninspiring especially when compared to the joy of reading Calvin himself. He kept me much more interested in this book, but each chapter left me wanting more. I suppose that's a good thing (better to be left desiring more than to be glad the chapter is over!) but in this case it had more to do with the fact that I felt I was lacking important information. I assume this has more to do with my own limits since I am not a historian. More informed and perceptive readers were probably much more in tune with Gordon's claims and conclusions. Partly as a result I felt I was unable to judge the validity of Gordon's claims. However, I suppose that if Gordon provided grater context and more detail I might have found it boring. I'm glad I read the book, but I wish I was smarter and better read so as to enjoy it more fully!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ian Clary

    Really great book, thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matt Pitts

    Bruce Gordon authored a much celebrated biography of Calvin published in 2009, the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, which made him a natural choice to contribute the volume of Calvin’s Institutes in the Lives of Great Religious Books series published by Princeton Press. Let’s start with the fact that the books in the series are beautifully produced and that the idea of writing books about the lives of great books is a brilliant one. These books are written and produced for booklovers, and th Bruce Gordon authored a much celebrated biography of Calvin published in 2009, the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, which made him a natural choice to contribute the volume of Calvin’s Institutes in the Lives of Great Religious Books series published by Princeton Press. Let’s start with the fact that the books in the series are beautifully produced and that the idea of writing books about the lives of great books is a brilliant one. These books are written and produced for booklovers, and that makes this booklover happy. Gordon’s contribution to this series is a fine one. Though no one could exhaust the impact the of the Institutes, he is to be credited for traversing not only the debate between Barth and Brunner or the reception of the Institutes in Dutch Calvinism, but also its complicated history in South Africa and China as well as its popularity among young Calvinists in North America thanks to the influence of men like John Piper and Tim Keller. His interests are nothing if not wide-ranging. Gordon does not appear to be as sympathetic toward Calvin as I anticipated. He comes across as more sympathetic toward those who see Calvin and therefore his work as problematic. He mentions double predestination and Michael Servetus so often that the reader begins to feel that those are not only the most common objections raised against Calvin and his work but that they also loom large for the writer (though the appendix on Calvin and Servetus paints Calvin in a more sympathetic light than the rest of the book). On the whole, this is an interesting read and a worthy contribution to an excellent series. This reader wishes, however, that the writer was more sympathetic toward the author of his subject.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Clint Lum

    One of the more enjoyable books I've read in some time. Gordon's prose is engaging and his handle of Calvin and his legacy is learned. I recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest interest in theology, history, Calvin, Christianity, or the West for that matter. To offer a bit of critique: Gordon's (along with others' for that matter) of various terms such as, "Reformed," "evangelical," "Calvinism," "liberal" etc., are unclear at times and makes it difficult for the reader to know exactl One of the more enjoyable books I've read in some time. Gordon's prose is engaging and his handle of Calvin and his legacy is learned. I recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest interest in theology, history, Calvin, Christianity, or the West for that matter. To offer a bit of critique: Gordon's (along with others' for that matter) of various terms such as, "Reformed," "evangelical," "Calvinism," "liberal" etc., are unclear at times and makes it difficult for the reader to know exactly who the party in question is (a title, or a system of thought). Further, and this is owing to the scope and genre of the book, Gordon never offer his take on Calvin aright. One can make guesses here and there by reading between the lines, but alas it remains a mystery.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mark Seeley

    For fans of Calvin, this is a wonderful book. For those who vilify him, it is still a good book. Bruce Gordon's prose is a delight and his sweep of history is broad and deep. I thought Gordon over did it mentioning the Servetus case -- but it is a black mark on Calvin's record and character. Check out the index and Servetus has one of the longest listing of references. Nevertheless, I particularly appreciated the chapter on Allan Boesak and apartheid. And the references to 20th century literary For fans of Calvin, this is a wonderful book. For those who vilify him, it is still a good book. Bruce Gordon's prose is a delight and his sweep of history is broad and deep. I thought Gordon over did it mentioning the Servetus case -- but it is a black mark on Calvin's record and character. Check out the index and Servetus has one of the longest listing of references. Nevertheless, I particularly appreciated the chapter on Allan Boesak and apartheid. And the references to 20th century literary figures such as John Updike who understood Reformed theology and Marilynn Robinson who has adopted Calvin's metaphysical outlook.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Will

    This book is more about the reception of the Institutes than about it's contents. My favorite chapters include those on the Institutes among Barth and Brunner, and their reception and use among South African churches to combat apartheid. This book is more about the reception of the Institutes than about it's contents. My favorite chapters include those on the Institutes among Barth and Brunner, and their reception and use among South African churches to combat apartheid.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Paul

    A must for those who wants to understand the historical context of the Institutes.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Exactly what it claims to be: a brief biography of a book, tracing its origin, life, and influence through history right down to the present with John Updike and Marilynne Robinson. Unfortunately what I was looking for was explanation of Calvin's thought, but this was not the place. The author, though (along with Robinson) has made me want to take a shot at reading Calvin himself. Exactly what it claims to be: a brief biography of a book, tracing its origin, life, and influence through history right down to the present with John Updike and Marilynne Robinson. Unfortunately what I was looking for was explanation of Calvin's thought, but this was not the place. The author, though (along with Robinson) has made me want to take a shot at reading Calvin himself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    A top notch work on the influence of Calvin's Institutes. Gordon chronicles the development of the Institutes to the 1559 edition. He then takes us on a tour of various regions of the globe where the Institutes have had no small influence. He references theologians as diverse as Barth, Brunner, Piper and Keller. I was particularly struck by his chapters on South Africa and China. This is a must read for those who follow Calvin. A top notch work on the influence of Calvin's Institutes. Gordon chronicles the development of the Institutes to the 1559 edition. He then takes us on a tour of various regions of the globe where the Institutes have had no small influence. He references theologians as diverse as Barth, Brunner, Piper and Keller. I was particularly struck by his chapters on South Africa and China. This is a must read for those who follow Calvin.

  10. 4 out of 5

    BHodges

    3 1/2. This book really takes off toward the end when Gordon talks about Calvin in the context of African apartheid.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

  12. 5 out of 5

    T

  13. 4 out of 5

    vittore paleni

  14. 5 out of 5

    Thang Tran

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ben Crosby

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Light

  17. 4 out of 5

    Justin Alspach

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marty

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ben Simmons

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Adams

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katrina

  23. 5 out of 5

    David

  24. 5 out of 5

    J.T.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  26. 5 out of 5

    Clay Burgess

  27. 4 out of 5

    David Williams

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jared Willett

  29. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  30. 5 out of 5

    E

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