Today’s post is a really exciting one for me. We are talking about Calvin with my friend and brother in Christ, R. Andrew Myers.
Andrew has been studying Calvin for many years now, along with the Puritans and the Reformed tradition. Here are some of his credentials:
Husband to Jessica, and Father to 5 precious children
Editor of the Matthew Poole Project (2006-2012); and author of an essay on “The Puritan Legacy Considered” (2009) published by MPP;
Transcriber and research assistant on the Westminster Assembly Project (2009);
Current student at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary;
Blogger at Virginia is for Huguenots , a blog focusing on church history and devotional matters from a Puritan, Covenanter and Huguenot perspective;
Contributor to the website Reformed Books Online;
Administrator of the Matthew Henry Commentary Challenge group on Facebook; and pages dedicated to William Gouge, John Trapp, Matthew Poole, John Brown of Haddington;and
Lover of church history and avid reader.
Given the above, I wanted to ask Andrew a question that I have been wondering about myself for some time:
What books by Calvin should a Calvinist be reading?
He gave his reply to several questions in that vein below. The pictures inserted in this post are from his personal collection. Hover over the titles for links to many of these works.
Thank you Andrew for sharing your wisdom and expertise!!!
1. Where should somebody start with Calvin’s theological works?
First, it should be noted that “The Reformer of Geneva wrote more in a space of thirty years than one person can adequately study and digest in an entire lifetime” (Willem van’t Spijker). That said, early in my own life as a Reformed believer I obtained a copy of Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. It is extracted from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, and it is full of experimental piety. This I still recommend to those who are just beginning to study the writings of John Calvin. Next, the Institutes itself.
2. What’s the best edition of the Institutes?
- Thomas Norton (1561)
- John Allen (1813)
- Henry Beveridge (1845)
- Ford Lewis Battles (1960)
Additionally, in English, there is a Battles edition of the 1536 (Latin) Institutes ; an edition by Elsie Anne McKee of the 1541 (French) Institutes (2009); Robert White’s translation of the 1541 (French) Institutes (2014). (The 1541 edition represents Calvin’s own translation of the 1539 Latin Institutes into French. There were additional Latin editions of the Institutes published in 1543, 1545 and 1550.)
I own the following editions: Allen, Beveridge, Battles (1536 and 1559), McKee, White and a 20th century French set of the 1541 edition. Some are not as keen on Battles’ translations as they are little ‘freer’ with the text than, say, Beveridge. I know that Richard Muller, whose opinion I greatly respect, prefers Allen’s translation over any other. In terms of expense, accessibility and faithfulness in translation, I would encourage today’s reader to obtain a copy of either Beveridge or Battles, and I honestly don’t have a strong opinion as to which. I do think the 1559 edition is the first one that a student of Calvin should get as opposed to earlier editions. It is the most comprehensive, and reflects Calvin’s most mature judgment.
To add a thought or two about how to go about reading Calvin’s Institutes, I would suggest taking it slowly. There are reading plans to read through the book in a year. There is an epitome of the work by Caspar Olevianus in the prefatory material that should not be skipped over. And there are guides to reading the Institutes such as J. Mark Beach’s Piety’s Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin’s Institutes with Study Questions, which are quite helpful. Also, Donald McKim has edited an abridged version of the Institutes (2000). All in all, the Institutes is a book to be studied with a Bible close at hand, prayerfully, and contemplatively.
3. Which biographies would you recommend?
2) Herman Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (2009);
3) Alister McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (1993);
4) T.H.L. Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (1975);
5) William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (1989);
6) Thomas Cary Johnson, John Calvin and the Genevan Reformation: A Sketch (1900);
7) W. Robert Godfrey, John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor (2009);
8) Philip Vollmer, John Calvin: Man of the Millennium (500th Anniversary of Calvin’s birth edition, 2009) (original 1909 title: John Calvin: Theologian, Preacher, Educator, Statesman).
What’s the next most important book or set of books after the institutes? Then number 3? Why those?
Calvin has a lot of sermons in translation. Which three are the most important to have on the shelf?
Calvin has a lot of “memorabilia” out there. Anything cool that you have that you’d like to share?
I have studied Calvin since 1991, and over the years have come across many interesting bits of memorabilia, including postage stamps which commemorate Calvin; as well as medals and medallions; a puzzle based on his portrait; a Calvin bobble head at Calvin College (I passed on that and purchased a Calvin mug instead); and a John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes t-shirt that someone wore at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. But it is from Geneva that I have obtained Calvinus beer, as well as a Calvin wine glass and Calvinus poster from the International Museum of the Reformation.