Book Review: Calvin On Prayer

Calvin On Prayer, by John Calvin

It has been a strange phenomenon of my reading that I have found Calvin as a writer far more appealing than I have found his followers, and certainly far more interesting.  Reading Calvin has not, alas, changed my opinion on Calvinism [1], but it has given me at least some interesting insight concerning Calvin’s own thinking and behavior, and has given me at least some degree of interest in how it was that Calvin was so honest about his background as a Hellenistic Christian writer who even viewed the aprocryphal book of Baruch as scripture while those who followed after him showed themselves rather ignorant both about the Greek philosophy that intrigued Calvin as well as the distinction between Calvin’s own way of thinking and the biblical one, a distinction which is definitely in evidence here.  We may see Calvin as a rather severe thinker inspired by the darker side of Augustine’s own thought, and we may see Calvinists in later generations, especially our own, as being deeply influenced by the severe fear religion that Calvin instilled in his audience and which remains the guiding popular understanding of Calvin’s religious thinking, without any of the humane philosophy that Calvin (if not his followers) were well-versed in.

This short treatise on prayer is less than 30 pages and is missing several of its sections (for reasons I do not know), and is divided into five parts and a bit more than 50 sections of paragraph length or (generally) longer.  This book was taken from Calvin’s much longer Institutes of the Christian Religion (which I am in the process of reading), and begins with an overview of prayer (1).  Afterwards Calvin discusses some man-made (and some biblical) rules to be observed in prayer (2), although he also helpfully notes that some people in the Bible (like Samson and Jotham in the time of the Judges) made prayers that were effective even if they did not correspond to Calvin’s rules.  After this Calvin writes at length about how our prayers need to be made through Jesus Christ (3) and then he comments on different types of prayer that can be made, preferring private prayers but acknowledging the legitimacy of public prayer and prayer through singing in services (4) and concludes with an exegesis of the Lord’s Prayer as providing an example for believers to follow when it comes to their own prayers to God (5).

All in all, this is a thoughtful if not a perfect guide to prayer.  Calvin shows at least some of the harshness that tends to encourage in the reader a certain fearful attitude concerning offending God and gives enough rules concerning prayers as to make his own commentary a talmudic commentary on the subject of prayer that has likely been emulated by many of his followers in the generations and centuries since him.  That said, this book is instructive in that Calvin is at least knowledgeable and sensitive enough about the Bible’s writing on prayers to comment on God’s flexibility when it comes to hearing and responding to prayers, and his interest in philosophy as well as scripture makes him at least more cultured and more sophisticated when it comes to the subject of prayer than one would expect from the founder of the Calvinist tradition.  There are, of course, some ways that the guide could have been improved, not least by looking at the example of Jesus’ own prayers (especially the lengthy prayer recorded on the Gospel of John), but this would have made the discussion even longer, and I think most people can agree that the shorter one has to read from Calvin, generally the better.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Calvin On Prayer

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Institutes Of The Christian Religion | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Blood Of The Cross | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Just Do Something | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Essentials Of Prayer | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: Book Review: How To Pray | Edge Induced Cohesion

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