Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

John Calvin's Rhetorical Doctrine of Sin

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

John Calvin's Rhetorical Doctrine of Sin

Article excerpt

John Calvin's Rhetorical Doctrine of Sin. By Don H. Compier. Texts and Studies in Religion, Volume 86. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. x + 154 pp. $99.95 (cloth). Don Compier's book on Calvin is a worthy contribution to a growing body of theological texts that attempt to situate Calvin's theological concerns within the messy historical particulars of the political and social landscape of sixteenth-century Europe. The book's unique contribution to contemporary Calvin studies is its analysis of Calvin's doctrine of sin from the angle of his rhetorical sensibilities.

Chapter 1 summarizes the importance of rhetoric in Calvin's education in the arts and legal studies. Compier argues that rhetorical considerations will lead us to see Calvin and his texts differently. We will no longer read him as trafficking in timeless doctrinal ideas but instead as engaging in strategies of persuasion for the sake of the Reforming cause. In chapter 2, Compier describes the thoroughly political character of Calvin's theological rhetoric. The John Calvin presented here is "a campaigner and skillful propagandist" (p. i).

Only then does the book move to a consideration of Calvin's sin discourse. Chapter 3 argues that his Augustinian conception of sin's power was not incompatible with an optimism about human agents sponsoring change in social, political, and ecclesiastical structures. Chapter 4 then argues that only with Calvin's criticism of the sins of the papacy in Book IV of the Institutes do we begin to understand his doctrine of sin. In short, Compier sugBests taking Book IV as the interpretive center of gravity for what Calvin has to say about sin.

Compier's book actually executes two related claims: first, that Calvin's theology was political; second, that the "politics" in question was more progressive than conservative. …

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