Vollmer, Philip. John Calvin-Man of the Millennium: A Family Read-Aloud Biography. San Antonio: The Vision Forum, Inc., 2008. 389 pp. $20.00. Purchase at Amazon for $15.60.
John Calvin needs no introduction to anyone. You either love him and his doctrines or you hate him and his doctrines. Even non-Christians know who John Calvin is and everyone ties one word to him–predestination. With 2009 having been the 500th anniversary of his birth, there were a plethora of books published in celebration. I reviewed two of those: John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor and Christian Biographies for Young Readers: John Calvin. Therefore, I am assuming a book on John Calvin needs no real introduction.
The book is similar to any John Calvin biography in that it traces how God worked in Calvin’s life through his early years up to the Reformation. We read of his becoming a fugitive because of his faith, his ministry in Geneva and Strasburg as well as the controversy with Servetus (for which he still pays dearly for today!). The biographical information concludes with his pastoral work, the founding of the Genevan University and his death.
What separates this biography from others is 1) this is designed to be read aloud with your family, and 2) the author takes special care to explain the many different aspects Calvin. These include John Calvin as theologian, preacher and pastor, educator, statemen, and a promoter of church union (an interesting chapter given he was a leader of the Reformation that led to the different Protestant denominations). There is a special chapter dealing with the doctrines of Calvinism–from a true historical perspective. The book concludes with Calvin’s influence on the world with separate chapters dedicated to Switzerland and Germany, Holland, England, Scotland, and America.
I love that this book is formatted as a family read-aloud. Most of the chapters are less than 10 pages long allowing a chapter to be read easily in one sitting as a family. However, once you leave the actual biography and move into what is more of a commentary (chapters 17-30), it gets a bit difficult to read aloud. The biography, chapters 1-16, comprise 106 pages of the 308 pages of text. While the “second half” is very educational (and needs to be read), it is not as conducive to reading aloud as the first half.
With that said, reading aloud to your younger children the biographical information will cultivate an interest in the history of the church. As they grow older, they will want to know “the rest of the story” that is found in the final 2/3 of the book. I greatly enjoyed the insight provided in the “Influence” chapters (26-30). It was pretty amazing to see just how much John Calvin has influenced the world.
I am stoked that Vision Forum has published these read-aloud biographies. There is a movement within many churches and home school groups where families reading aloud is becoming more and more common. John Calvin-Man of the Millennium is an excellent addition to the library for both adults and children. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading it a few more times with my children.