Boulton, Matthew Myer, Life in God: John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology.

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Part One

Boulton’s tome consists of three major divisions the first of which is titled Storming the Sanctuary and is itself comprised of three chapters: 1) The City a Desert; 2) Calvin’s Geneva; and 3) Summa Pietatis. Boulton wishes here to demonstrate that a … fresh readings of Calvin may help chart a more explicitly formational approach to Protestant doctrine today (p. 6). Boulton believes, and argues convincingly, that Calvin himself sought the same thing- i.e., … Calvin’s fundamental concern is to reject what he calls ‘double Christianity’ (p. 16). by which he means that double standard so common in Medieval and Modern Christianity which insists that there are levels of devotion and that some persons can be more faithful than others by virtue of a special office. Calvin insisted that all Christians are called to living faithfulness. Since that’s the case, B. goes on to argue, Calvin’s work aimed at making devotion a reality for all believers. Or to put it more directly Calvin envisions … a dispositional defection from the world while remaining ensconced within it (p. 26). Next B. moves to an investigation of Geneva and the attempt of Calvin to … make Geneva a vanguard, psalm-soaked city, an audible sign of God’s incoming, transformative grace (p. 38). Calvin’s vision for Geneva was one in which piety reigned supreme. So argues B. in the third chapter of section one. To achieve his goal Calvin set out to educate the city in piety and doctrine (and in both because one without the other isn’t even a possibility in Calvin’s mind). It’s at this juncture that B. comes to discuss Calvin’s most well known book- the ‘Institutes’ of 1559 (essentially ignoring all the previous editions including the fantastically important 1541 French edition). The ‘Institutes’ is

… meant to function as a doctrinal complement and framework for his scriptural commentaries, a ‘sum of religion in all its parts’ arranged such that, ‘if anyone rightly grasps it, it will not be difficult for him to determine what he ought especially to seek in Scripture, and to what end he ought to relate its contents (p. 52). B. is surely correct in that assessment of the purpose of the Institutes. Others have observed the same. B. does one and all a great service by describing in meticulous detail what Calvin meant by each of the carefully chosen words in the (Latin) title of the Institutes, eventually settling for the English equivalent ‘Training in Christian Piety’. Boulton’s first part can’t really be argued against. He clearly knows the material and he obviously has a good mastery of it. He reiterates what’s well known and he adds some interesting tidbits, especially on Calvin and Geneva, that make the volume (to this point) a real pleasure to read. In Part Two he reads the Institutes and guides us through the maze. That section is next in our series.

Jim West Quartz Hill School of Theology

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