Jul 29, 2011

Recommended Reading: John Calvin

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

1. Calvini Opera by John Calvin

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.

2. Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) by John Calvin

Calvin’s Institutes went through several editions before reaching its final form in 1559. The final edition is a Christian classic.

3. Commentaries (22 volumes) by John Calvin

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.

4. Tracts and Letters (7 volumes) by John Calvin

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.

1. The Young Calvin by John Calvin

2. Calvin by Bruce Gordon

3. John Calvin: A Biography by T.H.L. Parker

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

5. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor by W. Robert Godfrey

6. Calvin: A Brief Guide to His Life and Thought by Willem Van’t Spijker

7. A Life of John Calvin by Alister E. McGrath

8. Calvin: A Biography by Bernard Cottret

Works on the Theology of John Calvin

1. Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought. by Francois Wendel

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.

2. The Theology of John Calvin. by Charles Partee

Partee’s work should be consulted in addition to Wendel, but I am not yet convinced it has supplanted Wendel.

3. Interpreting John Calvin. by Ford Lewis Battles

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.

4. The Unaccommodated Calvin. by Richard A. Muller

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.

1. John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology by Burk Parsons

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

3. The Nature and Function of Faith in the Theology of John Calvin by Victor Shepherd

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

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

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

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

This article is part of the Recommended Reading collection.