Just in time for Christmas! I’ve been waiting to say that ever since I read how much Calvin hated this holiday :). Maybe hate is a strong word but he certainly wasn’t the fan Luther was. Consider the following excerpt from Calvin’s 1551 Christmas Day sermon:
Now, I see here today more people that I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel. Did you think you would be honoring God? Consider what sort of obedience to God your coming displays. In your mind, you are celebrating a holiday for God, or turning today into one but so much for that. In truth, as you have often been admonished, it is good to set aside one day out of the year in which we are reminded of all the good that has occurred because of Christ’s birth in the world, and in which we hear the story of his birth retold, which will be done Sunday. But if you think that Jesus Christ was born today, you are as crazed as wild beasts. For when you elevate one day alone for the purpose of worshiping God, you have just turned it into an idol. True, you insist that you have done so for the honor of God, but it is more for the honor of the devil.
Let us consider what our Lord has to say on the matter. Was it not Saul’s intention to worship God when he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, along with the best spoils and cattle? He says as much: ‘I want to worship God.’ Saul’s tongue was full of devotion and good intention. but what was the response he received? ‘You soothsayer! You heretic! You apostate! You claim to be honoring God, but God rejects you and disavows all that you have done.’ Consequently, the same is true of our actions. For no day is superior to another. It matters not whether we recall our Lord’s nativity on a Wednesday, Thursday, or some other day. But when we insist on establishing a service of worship based on our whim, we blaspheme God, and create an idol, though we have done it all in the name of God. And when you worship God in the idleness of a holiday spirit, that is a heavy sin to bear, and one which attracts others about it, until we reach the height of iniquity. Therefore, let us pay attention to what Micah is saying here, that God must not only strip away things that are bad in themselves, but must also eliminate anything that might foster superstition. Once we have understood that, we will no longer find it strange that Noel is not being observed today, but that on Sunday we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and recite the story of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. But all those who barely know Jesus Christ, or that we must be subject to him, and that God removes all those impediments that prevent us from coming to him, these folk, I say, will at best grit their teeth. They came here in anticipation of celebrating a wrong intention, but will leave with it wholly unfulfilled.
—From Calvin’s sermon preached on Christmas day 1551 in John Calvin, Sermons on the Book of Micah, trans. Benjamin Wirt Farley (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003), 302–04
Even though the above quote isn’t from the new book from Crossway, “John Calvin: For a New Reformation,” it’s timely topic gives us a glimpse of this polarizing figure whose life and works have become so recognizably relevant to the church today. Now, to be honest, as relevant as Calvin may be, it was the other names on this volume that first drew my attention. I mean to see the late R.C. Sproul’s name right on top as author of the afterward almost made me cry. Editors Derek Thomas and John Tweeddale explain in the preface,
“In this book, leading Reformed pastors and scholars reflect on the significance of the ministry and teaching of John Calvin for the church today (9).”
The pastors and teachers–Stephen Nichols, Robert Godfrey, Steven Lawson, Burk Parsons, Joel Beeke, and Keith Mathison, just to name a few–who author this book weren’t just what drew me to it, they prove to be its greatest strength. You know what it’s like listening in to a bunch of friends and family members all sharing about the same loved one and starting to feel like you know that person so much better just from hearing others’ anecdotes? This book is like that. Only all the friends and family members are actually scholars on the subject. But their genuine love and respect for the man shine through on every page.
What sets this biography apart from others is the format. Each chapter is written by a different author bringing a fresh perspective, a new voice and angle on Calvin’s life, works, and teachings. That said, it also might be it’s greatest weakness, which honestly doesn’t detract much from the quality of this work. Because you have so many authors contributing, sometimes they repeat facets of Calvins life and influence. There is often a sense of being reintroduced to the subject matter each time you start a new chapter. But this is a small price to say for the diversity and depth of perspective.
The last time I dove deep into a biography of this magnitude was with Ian Murray’s “Jonathan Edwards” and I have to say, the multi-author format made this tome far more digestible than would seem possible at first glance of its 600 pages. My rating for this gem is definitely “Share It.” And if you’re feeling particularly mischievous, wrap it up as Christmas present when you do so. Calvin would just love that.
Even though I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher I am not obligated in any way to submit a favorable review.