Book Review: John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God


John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God

John Piper

I have read a good bit about John Calvin over the years.  Just as it is difficult for some folks to understand that the band Metallica has a song other than “Enter Sandman”, it is difficult for many folks to understand that Calvin had a whole lot to say about a whole lot of stuff other than predestination.  Calvin is one of only a few sources that I consult every time I preach a sermon; I have found his commentaries to be infinitely helpful.

John Piper, that “Christian Hedonist” advocate, has written a short biography on the the heart and history of John Calvin.  I have a love/hate relationship with short biographies.  I love how they can provide a terrific outline on a historical figure and educate on the most important points.  I hate how they leave you wanting more and overlook some of the more interesting nuances of a person’s life.  Piper begins his biography on Calvin with God, saying that Calvin would approve of such a beginning to his life story.  Piper discusses the hugeness of God and how the church today should remember that getting God wrong at the basic level is to get everything else wrong down the road.

From there, Piper sets out to demonstrate how Calvin came to pursue the majesty and the glory of God.  This is accomplished using two elements.  One is a traditional biographical narrative, such as his birthplace, education, and key events in his life, such as fleeing France and spending the night in Geneva, a night that would turn into a lifetime.  The second is a brief look at the theological principles that drove Calvin into a deeper sense of God’s majesty.  Piper especially emphasizes the points of joy (not surprising if you have read Desiring God) and the exposition of Scripture.  Using an Appendix, Piper discusses some of the faults of Calvin and highlights the famous execution of Servetus as an example. 

This little book is actually found in the larger volume called “The Legacy of Sovereign Joy” where Piper does the same thing with Augustine and Luther.  If you are interested in three of the biggest names in church history, then it might be worth your money to buy the Sovereign Joy book instead of this little Calvin biography.  But, if you are just interested in a good, solid, brief history of Calvin, this is the book for you.  It is perfect for a Kindle purchase and you can read through it in a day.    

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