Calvin in Context

Calvin in Context

Calvin in Context

Calvin in Context

Synopsis

* An accessible and authoritative general introduction to Calvin's thought Steinmetz engages a wide range of primary sources and places Calvin in the context of the theological and exegetical traditions that influenced him.

Excerpt

This book began with a request from the editors of Interpretation to write an essay on John Calvin's exposition of the prophet Isaiah. Although I taught a regularly scheduled seminar on Calvin, I had never written about him and was at the time deeply involved in Luther studies. Nevertheless, I welcomed the invitation to write on Calvin as a pleasant diversion from Luther research. After all, I reasoned, we sometimes see old issues in a clearer light if we take a vacation from them and occupy our minds with something new. So I plunged into Calvin studies like a tourist on an unexpected holiday, secure in the knowledge that, however far I wandered from familiar sights and sounds, I could in the end return safely home.

But Calvin studies began to exercise their own fascination for me and I turned back to them with increasing frequency. What especially engaged my imagination was Calvin's biblical exegesis. It is now common for Calvin scholars to assert that Calvin cannot be understood from the Institutes alone. All of his writings--his letters, treatises, and commentaries as well as successive editions of his Institutes--contribute to a right understanding of the man and his thought, and none can be omitted without real loss.

The commentaries in particular are important, not only because the sixteenth century witnessed an unprecedented explosion of biblical studies, but also because they provide an opportunity for comparative study that is difficult to achieve in any other way. After all, not every striking insight in Calvin's writings is original with him and not every opinion he expresses is a hard-won and deeply felt conviction. Like any Christian theologian of the sixteenth century, Calvin spends a good deal of his time repeating theological and exegetical commonplaces, none of which are seriously disputed by his theological critics. To be sure, Calvin phrases traditional ideas elegantly, briefly, and clearly--at times one might even say, luminously. But an elegantly phrased commonplace is still a commonplace. By reading what Calvin and his contemporaries read, by comparing one commentator with another, we are better able to distinguish Calvin's original insights from the ordinary traditions he repeats.

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