Book Review: Calvin on the Christian Life, by Michael Horton

At times I (Michael) have wondered if John Calvin would be a Calvinist. Unlike Luther, Calvin did not necessarily form a denomination of Christianity that would be named after him, so from what I understand, much of what has become known as Calvinism is distilling his teaching down into simple acronyms. Being a part of YWAM, I somewhat understand the urge. As I approached Calvin on the Christian Life by Michael Horton, I found the author demonstrating Calvin was not much of a “Calvinist” (at least not in the way we think of Calvinists today). This isn’t Horton’s goal with his work, but the book has a tendency to highlight Calvin’s thoughts on the Christian life in a way that feels like an apologetic of Calvin’s ideas and teachings.

I should say that even with great interest, it has taken me almost a year to finish this book. Part of that is because of the other books I was required to read during that time, but it was also because to grasp all that was being written, I really needed to be in a place of complete focus on the text. This is not a fluffy biography but a very good attempt to distill the deep teachings and writings of an amazing theologian, compiling his many works into one book that people like myself (too lazy to read all of Calvin’s works on my own) can use to grow from Calvin’s insights on different themes. While Horton succeeds in this compilation, at times I found myself lost as to why one topic followed the other and how he was building off what had come before.

The great take away for me was how much Calvin faced gnostic thinking in his day. The dangers of such gnostic thinking still face us today. The worst of these dangers is a dualistic view of our existence that would see some parts of us as spiritual, and other parts as common and lesser by association. Calvin attempted to be holistic in his theology and ideology. The cross is central to his holistic approach, because it is in this world-altering event that Jesus does battle in the heavenlies by being physically nailed to a cross. As my current role in ministry serves primarily material realities, the cross encourages me in how integrated the material and spiritual realities were in the work Christ did on Good Friday. I do not need to spiritualize what might seem common in what I do each day, because I am not a divided being, but one who seeks to glorify God in all that I am and do. This is the challenge I am left with as I move on from this excellent work.


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