Review of The Reformed Faith of John Calvin
(Review published in the English Churchman)
The Reformed Faith of John Calvin: The Institutes in
David J. Engelsma
Publishing Association, 2009
Hardback, 472 pp.
The author explains the
goal of his book in his Preface:
The Reformed Faith of John Calvin
as the subtitle expresses, a summary of Calvin’s own
teaching in his
of all the doctrines of the Christian faith. The reader of
this book will know the
and the faith – the Reformed faith – that
Calvin taught and defended in this classic work (p. xiii).
I have known of the writings of Prof.
Engelsma for a long time. But I came to appreciate more and
more his books, and have become much more familiar with his
good theology, only a few years ago. This was thanks to my
dear friend, Rev. Angus Stewart, who gave me some books from
Free Publishing Association. This was like piles of
gold arriving here in Brazil, a land still in need of sound
Reformed doctrine. This new book is a masterpiece and very
helpful, both to people new in the Reformed faith as well to
Although the author says that "it is not
my intention to give a full description of the life of John
Calvin. My purpose with this book is not the
of Calvin, but the
of Calvin" (p. 1), Chapter 1, "The Man and His Life: A
Sketch," contains great material about the man John Calvin.
I had already read many books and articles about the life of
John Calvin, but I still found this chapter very instructive
and very well written. After all, David Engelsma is a gifted
writer, a quality that is not an exception among the
ministers of Protestant Reformed Churches (Herman Hoeksema,
Homer Hoeksema, Herman Hanko, Ronald Hanko, Robert Decker,
Barry Gritters, Steve Houck, Angus Stewart and many others).
Before entering into the
itself, Prof. Engelsma deals with "The Nature of the
(Chapter 2), "The History of the Publishing of the
(Chapter 3) and "The Style and Structure of the
(Chapter 4). These are helpful chapters too, with plenty of
good information that may not be widely known. Highly
recommended! Chapter 5 deals with "The Prefatory Address" of
Writes Engelsma, "The prefatory address is unanimously and
widely regarded as a masterpiece of such literature" (p.
1) Book One of the
("The Knowledge of God the Creator") is the subject of
Chapters 6 to 8.
2) Book Two of the Institutes
("The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, First
Disclosed to the Fathers under the Law, and Then to Us in
the Gospel") is the subject of the Chapters 9 and 10.
3) Book Three of the Institutes
("The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ: What
Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow") is
the subject of the Chapters 11 to 16. The best, and possibly
the most important, chapter in this section is Chapter 15,
"Predestination." Prof. Engelsma is very accurate in the
first lines of this chapter:
Although not the central dogma in
Calvin’s theology (the one dogma out of which all of
Calvin’s teachings flow, and around which all of his
teachings circle, and upon which all of his teachings
depend), as has been proposed, predestination is fundamental
in the theology of John Calvin. Calvin states this
importance of election when he calls it "the foundation of
our salvation" (p. 266).
What makes this chapter so important is
that it is a good antidote to the modern moderate Calvinism,
so prevalent today, even here in Brazil.
Chapter 16, "The Final Resurrection:
Calvin’s Eschatology," although brief (pp. 290-297), is very
good and contains a helpful explanation of the resurrection
of Christ and our resurrection.
Even though Calvin did not write a
commentary on Revelation, his thorough treatment of the
doctrine of the resurrection of the body with the
accompanying refutation of related errors gives us a
complete overview of Calvin’s eschatology. His doctrine of
the last things includes the intermediate state of elect and
reprobate; the rejection of millennialism, which always
plays with the thousand years of Revelation 20 as a
description of a carnal kingdom of Christ in the world; the
resurrection of both believers and unbelievers in one
general resurrection; and an eternal destiny both of the
righteous and of the wicked. The foundation of Calvin’s
eschatology is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (p.
4) Book Four of the
("The External Means or Aids by Which God Invites Us Into
the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein") is the subject
of the Chapters 17 and 18.
I found only one problem in the whole
book: its endnotes.
Footnotes are (presumably) written to be
read and I do read almost all of them. I should say that I
highly prefer footnotes to endnotes, unless the chapter or
book is very short. Notes should be on the bottom of the
page and not punted into the last few pages of the book.
I would say without hesitation that
Reformed Faith of John Calvin
is the best book ever written about
Read it. Devour it.