William Stacy Johnson Westminster John Knox Press 2009-05-14

Johnson offers a lively introduction to the life and teachings of John Calvin for those who know little about the Geneva Reformer. As Arthur M. Adams associate professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Johnson owes much of his theological heritage to Calvin. He seeks to mine the rich lessons in Calvin and to interpret them for a new generation (p. viii). His goal is not to propagate a rigid, systematized version of Calvin’s theology but to reawaken the spirit of the Reformer for today’s Christians by concluding each chapter with a section entitled “Always Reforming.” A glossary and a short list of suggested readings are included.

Johnson begins by recounting Calvin’s extraordinary, sometimes tumultuous life. The following chapters (2–11) summarize and apply key elements of his theology: “Calvin’s Vision of God”; “Grace Alone, Christ Alone, Faith Alone”; “Wellspring of Reform: Scripture Alone”; “Chosen and Called: Election and Predestination”; “The Workings of Sin and Salvation”; “Participation in God’s Ways: The Power of the Spirit”; “What Does God Require of Us? Law and Gospel”; “The Church: Meaning, Ministry, and Mission”; “Connecting to God: Worship and Sacraments”; and “Politics, Economy, and Society.” The doctrines follow an order similar to The Institutes of the Christian Religion. The concluding chapter 12, “Reformed and Always Reforming,” recapitulates the previous studies and urges continuous revision.

Johnson selects relevant aspects of Calvin’s thought, summarizes them briefly, and relates them to readers. Johnson disagrees with Calvin’s double predestination, conveying instead that election should remind individuals that their lives can make a difference to God, and that God’s people are blessed in order to be a blessing to others.

With such a “digestible” book it is inevitable that Johnson would diminish or omit certain concepts for the sake of space. His synopsis of the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints,” for example, is reduced to “once saved, always saved” (p. 60)—hardly fair to Calvin’s careful thought on this topic. Elsewhere the author states his belief that there are errors in the Bible, and he states that Calvin willingly admitted as much (pp. 35–36, 122)—a view contested by many. The book targets a moderate Presbyterian audience, and conservative readers may question some of the author’s own views.

This book is an informed, practical work that reaffirms the place of the Geneva Reformer for today and the decades to come.

About the Contributors

J. Scott Horrell

Scott Horrell, Th.D, until recently was Senior Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and continues as adjunct professor at DTS (including the DMin Brazil program), the Seminário Teológico Centroamericano (DET/PhD SETECA) in Guatemala, the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (Amman), and the Centro de Desenvolvimento de Liderança in Maputo, Mozambique. Most of his ministry years have been outside the US and centered on theological education and pastoral training especially in basic doctrines of the faith. While teaching at several schools in Brazil he was coordinator of graduate studies at the Baptist Theological Seminary in São Paulo, and co-founder/editor of Vox Scripturae, at that time the largest Protestant journal in Latin America. He has written and contributed to various books and written multiple articles in Portuguese and English, notably From the Ground Up: Biblical Foundations for the 21st Century Church (Kregel 2004), Exploring Christian Theology, Vol 1, eds. N. Holsteen and M. Svigel (Bethany, 2014), and A Trindade, a Igreja, e a Realidade Social (2021). His current writing centers on the doctrine of the Trinity, the supernatural world, and human personhood.  


His wife Ruth, children, and eight grandchildren currently reside in Dallas and Houston.