Because I haven’t enough to read

I need a recommendation. Specifically, a decent biography of John Calvin. By “decent biography,” I mean something that is neither a hagiography nor a celebration of Reformation doctrine, which rules out anything, so far as I can tell, by Reformed scholars. This year is the 500th anniversary of the old boy’s birth. I figure I ought to get to know him better, especially now that he is safely dead, and can neither send me to the gallows nor make me crawl through the streets of Geneva begging his pardon. A review of Alister McGrath’s book makes it look promising. Any suggestions?


  1. Jim Ratajski

    Hi Tony,

    Yesterday I took my youngest son to a birthday party. Instead of hanging around, I went to a Bargain Books nearby.

    I found “The Spirit of Revival” it is among other things a modernization of a writing by Johnathan Edwards. It is resonating with me.

    Its not a history of Calvin, but you could say the Fruit of it (The Great Awakening)

    If you are interested in it let me know. I can pick up another one (discounted to $5). Free to you – as you are one of my heroes…

  2. Jonny

    I’ve a lot of respect for McGrath’s scholarship– pretty fair and nonjudgmental from what I’ve read.

  3. Opinionated

    Hi Tony-
    I love Alister McGrath, and even bought the 3-volume set of “A Scientific Theology”, but found it far too academic- more textbook than theology- though perhaps you wouldn’t. I enjoyed “The Legacy of Sovereign Joy” by John Piper, though it’s a likely the opposite of the McGrath book – a very slim volume on Augustine, Luther AND Calvin. It’s more focused on God’s grace in their lives (and how God can use deeply flawed men to further His kingdom), and perhaps your “reformed scholar” rejection might eliminate this also. But – and I should have put this first- there’s an awesome indy Christian bookstore in Pa. called Hearts & Minds.
    The best thing about the place is that the owner actually reads all the books, so if you tell him exactly what you want, I’m sure he will be able to rattle off 3 Calvin biographies off the top of his head, and ship you one. (Byron Borger – email and phone are on the website.) Good luck with it!

  4. Thomas Drew

    Greetings, Tony,

    A few years ago I read Willim J. Bouwsma, John Calvin, A Sixteenth Century Portrait (Oxford University Press, 1988) and thought it was a good, readable, scholarly account.

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