John Calvin’s understanding of works-righteousness is more complex than is often recognized. While he denounces it in some instances, he affirms it in others. This study shows that Calvin affirms works-righteousness within the context where faith-righteousness is already established, and that he even teaches a form of justification by works. Calvin ascribes not only a positive role to good works in relation to divine acceptance, but also soteriological value to believers’ good works. This study demonstrates such by exploring Calvin’s theological anthropology, his understanding of divine-human activity, his teaching on the nature of good works, and his understanding of divine grace and benevolence. It also addresses current debates in Calvin scholarship by exploring topics such as union with Christ, the relation between justification and sanctification, the relation between good works and divine acceptance, the role of good works in the Christian life, and the content of good works.
This volume is a revised doctoral dissertation and consequently is discipline specific in its intended audience.
Following the acknowledgements and the table of abbreviations, E. provides an introduction. In it he describes the aims of his study and the way in which it will be presented. And that aim is to investigate a particular segment of Calvin’s theology- to wit, Calvin on the Duplex Gratia and works righteousness.
Chapter one describes the current state of the question (as one would expect from a dissertation). Moving into his own argument in chapter two, E. discusses the notions of human nature and human ability in their connection to the idea of righteousness.
Chapter three follows logically with its investigation of the concepts of good works and the acceptance (or not) of God of those efforts. Here personal righteousness and justification are the focus.
The fourth chapter helps readers, or at least aims to help readers, wrestle with the saving value of good works (whatever those may be). What have good works to do with personal holiness and communion with God and the assurance of faith, and rewards, and eventually, the fulfillment of salvation.
Chapter five is really the heart of the volume. Everything up to this point lays the groundwork for the very extensive, very careful, very helpful, and very useful discussion of the actual contents of good works. Several aspects of good works make an appearance herein: good works as the keeping of the law; good works as manifestation of love of God; good works as manifestation of the love of neighbor; and the ultimate importance of authentic affection.
Chapter six sums up the presentation and serves as a very helpful overview of the whole. There are also a bibliography and an index of persons and subjects.
There are a few problems with the volume and, you will be unsurprised to learn, they relate to the virtual ignoring of Zwingli’s contributions on the subject. First, Zwingli is mentioned several times throughout the volume but, unless I missed it (which I doubt), his very helpful suggestions on good works are never really dealt with whilst Luther and Melanchthon are often taken in as conversation partners for Calvin. The volume would have been richer and deeper if Zwingli’s important contributions had been utilized more thoroughly. To be sure, every author has to make decisions about what they want to discuss and that’s perfectly fine. As a reader, I was somewhat surprised by the dearth of engagement with Zwingli’s theology and I would be a less than honest reviewer if I failed to say so.
And second, strangely, whilst Zwingli’s name is spelled properly in the list of primary sources (Huldrych) for some inexplicable reason it is misspelled in the index (Huldryck). Huldryck? In the words of Joe Biden, ‘come on, man’.
Nonetheless, I found the book very engaging and very enjoyable (inasmuch as doctoral dissertations can be called enjoyable)(it’s not as though they are a large cheese pizza with black olives and mushrooms and that glorious sauce and cheese that festoon them). It was, if I might compare it to a food, a very nice cheese plate at a Zurich restaurant eaten whilst carrying on a nice conversation with Pierrick Hildebrand or Peter Opitz. Or to say it plainly, it was good.
I commend it to you. You’ll find it enjoyable too. Especially if Calvin is, as the kids say, your jam. Additionally, it will cleanse your intellectual palate of the cat food-esque smorgasbord of social media discussions of Calvin. And that’s a very good thing.