Jul 29, 2011

John Calvin: Recommended Reading

6 Min Read

John Calvin (1509–1564) was one of the leading figures among the second generation of Protestant Reformers. His writings were widely distributed throughout Europe and were instrumental in the spread of the Reformation. Books about Calvin and his thought continue to roll of the presses to this very day. The following is a list of some of the best works by and about John Calvin. 

Works by John Calvin

John Calvin — Calvini Opera The complete works of Calvin in the original Latin are available in a number of places. The works are presently available online free at Calvin Seminary’s Library.

John Calvin — Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) 
Calvin’s Institutes went through several editions before reaching its final form in 1559. The final edition is a Christian classic.

John Calvin — Commentaries (22 volumes). John Calvin was a master exegete, and his commentaries are among the few written in his day that are still consulted by contemporary writers. A gold mine for students of Scripture.

John Calvin — Tracts and Letters (7 volumes). The tracts and letters of John Calvin are an essential source for students of his theology. These volumes include Calvin’s debate with Cardinal Sadoleto, his side of the Eucharistic debate with the Lutherans, and his response to the Council of Trent, among other things. His letters provide a unique insight into his life and work as a reformer.

Biographies of John Calvin

All of the biographies below are worth reading, but each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Gordon’s biography is the most recent critical biography of Calvin, and it is outstanding in many ways, but the author’s theological biases do come through at times. Parker’s biography has stood the test of time. The biographies by Godfrey and Selderhuis are probably the most readable.

Alexandre Ganoczy — The Young Calvin

Bruce Gordon — Calvin

T.H.L. Parker — John Calvin: A Biography

Herman J. Selderhuis — John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life

W. Robert Godfrey — John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor

Willem Van’t Spijker — Calvin: A Brief Guide to His Life and Thought

Alister E. McGrath — A Life of John Calvin

Bernard Cottret — Calvin: A Biography

Works on the Theology of John Calvin


Francois Wendel — Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought. Wendel’s work on Calvin is a great place to start for those seeking a thorough but readable introduction to all aspects of Calvin’s theology.

Charles Partee — The Theology of John Calvin. Partee’s work should be consulted in addition to Wendel, but I am not yet convinced it has supplanted Wendel.

Ford Lewis Battles — Interpreting John Calvin. This work is an edited collection of a number of articles by Battles, who himself was one of the world’s foremost Calvin scholars and translators.

Richard A. Muller — The Unaccommodated Calvin. The truly intrepid reader will want to read Muller’s work, which does a brilliant job of placing Calvin in his historical context.

Calvin's Theology

There are hundreds of books dealing with one aspect of Calvin’s theology or another. The following are simply a few that I have found particularly helpful whether I agreed completely with their analysis or not.

Burk Parsons — John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology

Cornelis P. Venema — Accepted and Renewed in Christ: The Twofold Grace of God and the Interpretation of Calvin’s Theology

Victor Shepherd — The Nature and Function of Faith in the Theology of John Calvin

Philip Walker Butin — Revelation, Redemption, and Response: Calvin’s Trinitarian Understanding of the Divine-Human Relationship

Anthony N.S. Lane — John Calvin: Student of the Church Fathers

Edward A. Dowey, Jr. — The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology

B.A. Gerrish — Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin