Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Expository Genius of John Calvin. by Steven Lawson - Book Review

John Calvin is probably most well known for his commentaries and affection for the doctrines of grace (aka: Calvinism). But what most people may not know about is Calvin’s devotion to preaching. In this book Dr. Steven Lawson sets out to explore not only that Calvin was in fact a faithful Bible expositor, but that he was a dedicated and committed Pastor and Preacher.

The book is broken down into 8 chapters, which begins with a brief summary of Calvin’s life. Here, Lawson does an excellent job of drawing the key attributes of Calvin’s background that allowed him to be such an extraordinary expositor of Scripture. For example, Lawson notes the influence that Calvin’s legal studies and understanding of ancient writings (particularly making note of his doctoral dissertation) which facilitated his ability to breakdown language and grasp the intentions of a given author (p. 7).

The subsequent chapters highlight several characteristics of Calvin’s approach to preaching. The author invites the reader to observe Calvin’s high regard for the pulpit, how he launched a sermon, how he expounded the text, all the way into Calvin’s preaching style. One of the interesting aspects of Calvin preaching style, the author notes, was at the commencement of a sermon, where, unlike today, he didn’t begin with an anecdote or a reference to the tumultuous times. Rather Calvin began each sermon where he left off, at the last passage of Scripture.

Lawson devotes chapter 7 to Calvin’s pastoral posture when applying his message. On page 104 he states, “Calvin did not fire over the heads of his people while answering the aberrations of other theologians. He did not misuse the pulpit to rebut his numerous critics. Instead, Calvin remained intent on nurturing the spiritual development of his people. He preached primarily to edify and encourage the congregation God had entrusted to him. In short, he preached for changed lives.

Lawson ends the book with a plea for preachers with the same dedication and fervor as Calvin. He gives the final word to Spurgeon who saw the lack of devoted preachers; I’ll offer a small taste here of the quote Lawson used by The Prince of Preachers, “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His churches.

Overall I enjoyed many things about this book. For one, it was written very simply, perhaps at an 8th grade level; although does expect the reader to be familiar with basic Christian vocabulary.. Also, it allowed me to become more familiar with Calvin “the man,” which, incidentally, sets the reader up for a greater appreciation of the subsequent aspects of Calvin’s life.

I’m not a preacher by vocation, though I have had the opportunity to preach in the past. And I can say that I benefited highly from reading this. There are many insights that the author had into Calvin’s mind and his approach to preaching that every Pastor/Preacher can benefit from. Learning the benefits of expository preaching is important for the Pastor and sheep alike. For the Pastor, it will allow him to avoid the more prevalent topical issues and get right down to each book, verse by verse; avoiding preaching what they want to preach rather than declaring the whole counsel of God (Act 20:27). For the sheep (laymen), it allows them to learn how to read the Bible for personal study; avoiding roulette-type Bible learning. Though it’s primarily the preachers roll to cut the solid meat of the Word into smaller pieces for the flock to be able to chew, swallow, and digest, it is the duty of every believer to be an expositor of their own.

This book gets the highest recommendation from me. I found it thoroughly interesting, highly relevant, and perfect in its timing. Dr. Lawson has set out to “raise the bar for a new generation of expositors.” Only time will tell, but I firmly believe he will achieve this task.

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