Book Review: The Expository Genius of John Calvin. By Dr. Steven Lawson
Reviewed by Pastor David Thommen
When we think or talk of John Calvin it may be safe to assume that we often think of the theologian of the Reformation that wrote the Institutes, which continues to be a mainstay of Reformed theology. It is not often, however, that we think of John Calvin the preacher. I am not saying that we donâ€™t know of Calvinâ€™s preaching, but it is not often we look at Calvinâ€™s method of preaching. This is exactly what Dr. Steven Lawson has given us a look at in his new book The Expository Genius of John Calvin.
The first chapter of this marvelous little book deals with an overview of the life of John Calvin. Lawson gives a brief synopsis of Calvinâ€™s life from birth to death. In the course of this synopsis he marks the high spots of the life of John Calvin such as his conversion, his arrival, dismissal, and re-entry into Geneva, and his continued faithfulness to the Scriptures in the midst of adversity over the Lordâ€™s Table with the Libertines. Calvinâ€™s life was marked by one of continued influence in the life of people. And his life continues to make and impact and have influence on the lives of people, especially those who desire to be faithful teachers of the Word of God.
Lawson has broken down the preaching style of Calvin into seven broad categories. These categories include: 1) Approaching the Pulpit. 2) Preparing the Preacher. 3) Launching the Sermon. 4) Expounding the Text. 5) Crafting the Delivery. 6) Applying the Truth. 7) Concluding the Exposition. These seven categories form the chapters of the book following chapter 1 that gives the brief overview of Calvinâ€™s life. Within the chapters, Lawson articulates with brevity and yet clarity thirty-one distinctives of Calvinâ€™s preaching.
It is, within this book, a virtual trove of insight into the expositional preaching of John Calvin. Lawson has done his homework with regards to Calvin. Which, to me, comes as no surprise. Lawson is a consummate scholar who does his due diligence to accurately portray Calvin, as he does with anything he sets his hands to. Just as an aside here, I commend anything by Steve Lawson. He is a biblical expositor extraordinaire and the same diligence and manifold grace of God seen in his preaching transfers to his written material as well.
The value of this book is that we have the opportunity to study the preaching style of one which none of us have had the privilege of sitting under. We have the opportunity to sit under the preaching and study the preaching style of great preachers of our own day, such as John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul, but in the Expository Genius of John Calvin, Lawson truly gives us a lucid insight into, as the book title states, the expository genius of John Calvin.
The book covers the sermons of Calvin from introduction to conclusion. How he prepared to preach the truth of Godâ€™s Word and how he applied the truth of Godâ€™s Word to the lives of his hearers.
One of the greatest instructions and insights into Calvinâ€™s preaching has to do with his application of the text. We may be tempted to think that due to Calvinâ€™s great theological mind that he just expounded great biblical doctrines, but had little application. This is not the case. Listen to what Lawson quotes Calvin himself as stating. â€œListeners, he said, should cultivate a â€˜willingness to obey God completely and with no reserve.â€™ The Reformer added, â€˜We have not come to the preaching merely to hear what we do not know, but to be incited to do our duty.â€™ For this reason, Calvin believed it was incumbent upon him, as a preacher, to make careful application. He saw it his pulpit responsibility to connect the Word to those allotted to his chargeâ€ (p. 104). How instructive for preachers to know that you can both have a great theological mind and yet bring that greatness of God down to a point in the life of the hearers with precision in order that they may be incited to live as God would have them to live.
In short, I would commend this book for any student of the preaching of Godâ€™s Word as it gives insight to the preaching of one of the great men of church history. This is the first in a series of forth coming books on other preachers, men such as Luther and Whitefield. I look forward to more of these in order that we may learn from the great heroes of faithful preaching who have gone before.
A copy of this book can be purchased at monergismbooks.com