New Series of Books on Calvin

There is a new series of books being published called the Calvin 500 series. It is in honor of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. The publisher is P&R. The first volume to come out is this very fine volume. The author list is a Who’s Who of Calvin scholars: William Barker, Scott Oliphint, Robert Reymond, Douglas Kelly, Scott Clark, Joseph Pipa Jr., Michael Horton, Peter Lillback, Derek Thomas, Robert Peterson, Richard Gaffin Jr., Joel Beeke, David Jones, William Edgar, David Calhoun, Robert Godfrey, Joseph Hall, David Hall, Cornelis Venema, Richard Gamble, and Zachary Kail. Readers should know who everyone on this list is. I certainly know who everyone on the list is, except Zachary Kail, who I find is a TA in ST at RPTS in Pittsburgh (I love abbrev’s). In fact, the only major Calvin scholar I can think of who did not contribute is Richard Muller, and we have a fairly comprehensive access to his take on Calvin anyway. This is an extremely important book for Calvin scholarship, and certainly the most important to come out in recent years. It is an analysis of the Institutes. Almost every section of the Institutes is covered in some detail (the book itself is an impressive 506 pages).

I want to whet people’s appetite for this book, so I will concentrate on just one article, by Richard Gaffin, just because I think his article will probably be the most controversial. He talks of justification and union with Christ in Calvin’s Institutes, and it is an analysis of Inst. 3.11-18. He starts with a detailed analysis of how Calvin’s treatment of the subject changed from the 1536 edition to the 1559 edition. Justification went from being part of another chapter in the 1536 edition, to being a substantial portion of the 1559 edition, being more than four times the length.  

Gaffin goes on to describe Calvin’s unio-duplex gratia schema, referencing Garcia’s book as he does so (Gaffin only deals by implication with Godfrey and Horton’s interpretation of Calvin: Gaffin clearly sides with Garcia). Calvin’s ordo salutis consists of union with Christ being the most basic, most architectonic way of understanding salvation. Union with Christ has a double benefit (sometimes Calvin says “double” benefit, emphasizing their inseperability; and sometimes he says “first grace” and “second grace,” accenting their distinction, along with justification’s priority): justification and sanctification. To prove that the order does not matter (in my opinion, this tells rather heavily against any idea that justification happens before definitive sanctification; they happen simultaneously. Therefore sanctification is started at the same instant that justification is granted), Calvin treats sanctification first, no doubt in polemic against Rome’s insistence that free justification produces antinomianism and licentious living.

My focus on this one article should not in any way be taken as a slight against any of the other fine articles. I only focus on Gaffin, because it is more controversial. I will say this: if you are looking for one secondary source to help you understand Calvin, this should be it. You should read Calvin first, of course. However, this book places Calvin in his historical and literary context, takes full advantage of the recent gains in Calvin scholarship, provides a wonderfully focused and organized bibliography (the last article by Gamble/Kail), and is focused on one work of Calvin, not on everything he wrote (which would make for a somewhat haphazard production).