The occasion of John Calvin's 500th birthday has spawned several books on the much discussed, less understood pillar of the Protestant Reformation. Interest in the Genevan pastor and theologian has surged of late, yet even many of his devoted followers are more familiar with caricatures than history. Westminster Seminary California president and professor of church history W. Robert Godfrey seeks to counter this problem with a new popular-level biography, John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor. He was interviewed by CT editor at large Collin Hansen.
Why did you organize your biography around the themes of "pilgrim" and "pastor"?
Many approach Calvin first of all as a theologian, and he certainly was a great theologian. But his theology emerged out of his own spiritual journey and struggles. In the first part of the book I focus on that spiritual pilgrimage of Calvin, because his experience and his reading of the Bible are critical to understanding his vision of Christianity. In the second part of the book, I follow his pastoral career because he regarded his calling as primarily that of pastor. His work as theologian and biblical commentator really served his work as pastor. Organizing the book as I did also allowed me to try to integrate Calvin's life with his thought more than most books do. We have biographies of Calvin that contain little theology and we have introductions to his theology that have little of his life. I have tried to provide an introduction to both and to show how interrelated they are.
To what do you attribute the disparity between how most people remember Calvin and how historians view him?
Most people do not know Calvin's life or work. He has become a symbol or perhaps an epithet for what is narrow, ...