An Explorer’s Guide to John Calvin

by | Aug 10, 2022 | Book Review

A Book Review

Yudha Thianto’s An Explorer’s Guide to John Calvin is a satisfying survey of John Calvin’s life and theology. It’s a well-balanced blend of biography and historical theology that’s easy to read and understand.

The author, Yudah Thianto, is professor of history of Christianity and Reformed Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary with over twenty years of teaching experience and seventeen years of experience teaching a dedicated course on John Cavin. His passion for his subject matter comes through as he carefully explains and places Calvin within his historical context.

The book is neatly divided into two parts. The first part of this entry-level introduction is about Calvin’s life, work, and influence. After an introduction and biographical overview, there is a chapter covering frequently asked questions and another on Calvin’s pastoral ministry. The second part begins by introducing readers to different original editions of Calvin’s work and then allots the four remaining chapters to the four books of the Institutes.

Thianto paints a picture of Calvin by drawing primarily upon Theodore Beza’s Life of Calvin. He covers the major events, people, and locations you would hope to find. He also gently reminds us to examine Calvin through the lens of his own context, especially as we consider the Consistory, Calvin’s at-times truculent tone, and the execution of Michael Servetus.

Thianto’s summary of the Institutes is nicely organized and informative. Together, these four chapters explain their structure and Calvin’s logic. Big ideas like Calvin’s views on justification, the law, sacraments, the church, and Roman Catholicism are clearly explained. Anyone embarking on a reading of Calvin’s work would do well to begin with these summaries. 

The book also includes some figures such as a portrait of Calvin, photographs of a few notable sights in Geneva, and title pages of early editions of the Institutes. There are also suggested readings at the end of each chapter.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I particularly appreciated the author’s Indonesian perspective. For example, it carries significant weight when he explains why Calvin has nothing to do with the evils of colonialization, though Dutch Calvinists once controlled Indonesia. 

My only complaint about the book lands on its layout. A smattering of gray callout boxes appears throughout the book. Approximately four of them are labeled “FUN FACT.” Their paucity raises the question of their necessity. Of the gray boxes without labels, some of them enclose material that would seem to fit just as well in the main text. I would suggest that one style of gray callout box would suffice.

This book would make excellent required reading for an undergraduate church history or historical theology course. It’s enjoyable to read and beneficial for understanding a key figure in church history. Pastors and laypeople without much exposure to John Calvin would also benefit from this book.


Check out this title and others in the series!


Special thanks to IVP Academic for a review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know. 


Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall