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The Expository Genius of John Calvin [Hardcover]

By Steven J. Lawson (Author)
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Item description for The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson...

"The aim of this book is to raise the bar for a new generation of expositors." -Steven J. Lawson Looking to the past for outstanding Bible-based, Christ-centered, and life-changing preaching, Dr. Steven J. Lawson focuses on sixteenth-century Geneva, Switzerland. It was there that John Calvin ministered for decades as a faithful shepherd to a flock of believers. Here is an intimate portrait of Calvin the preacher-the core beliefs that determined his preaching style, the steps he took to prepare to preach, and the techniques he used in handling the Word of God, interpreting it, and applying it to his congregation. In the pulpit ministry of the great Reformer, Dr. Lawson finds inspiration and guidance for today's church and calls on modern pastors to follow the Reformer's example of strong expository preaching.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Reformation Trust Publishing
Pages   160
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.78" Width: 5.53" Height: 0.67"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 2007
Publisher   Ligonier Ministries
Series  Long Line Of Godly Men Profile  
ISBN  1567690858  
ISBN13  9781567690859  

Availability  0 units.

More About Steven J. Lawson

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! DR. STEVEN J. LAWSON is founder and president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip and energize a new generation of Bible expositors. The focus of Dr. Lawson's ministry is the verse-by-verse exposition of God's Word. He is the author of more than twenty books, the most recent being "The Daring Mission of William Tyndale, The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses," and "The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther." Dr. Lawson is a Teaching Fellow with Ligonier Ministries, Professor of Preaching at The Master's Seminary, Professor in residence for Truth Remains, and Executive Editor for "Expositor" magazine. He is also on the board of The Master's College and Seminary, and Ligonier Ministries. Steve and his wife Anne have three sons and a daughter.

Steven J. Lawson currently resides in Mobile, in the state of Alabama. Steven J. Lawson was born in 1951.

Steven J. Lawson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Biography
  2. Holman Old Testament Commentary
  3. Long Line of Godly Men Profiles

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Clergy > Preaching

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Books > Church & Ministry > Church Life > Church History

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Expository Genius of John Calvin?

Dynamite comes in small packages  Nov 21, 2008
Anyone that writes another biography about the 16th Century reformer better have a good reason to do so. I've lost count at how many of them are out there. So when I got a copy of Lawsons latests book I was a little unsure of what to expect. Its a short book weighing in at 139 pages so anyone expecting a full history of Calvin's life will be dissappointed. It focuses exclusively on style of preaching known as "Expository" preaching, something Calvin did extremely well. Having read a few of Calvins sermons I can vouch for that. Clearly the man had a gift. Lawson is best know for his book "Foundations of Grace" which traces a long line of Godly men who have defended the doctrines of Grace.

It would be easy to underestimate the effect Calvin had on Christianity. He's the next big figure in the reformation after to Martin Luther, at least in terms of influence. Some would say he was a lot less biased than Luther who tended to read Justification by faith into every part of scripture, and saw the Pharisees as a precusor to the Roman Catholic Church. Many today, including myself, still follow the system of theology Calvin laid out known as Calvinism. As Spurgeon said, its not called Calvinism to pay hommage to the man, but rather it is the Gospel full stop. Many seminaries still use his "Institutes of the Christian Religion" as a textbook, and many more still read his commentaries and sermons. It's amazing to think his books are still read 500 years after his death.

The book contains 32 headings that made John Calvins preaching distinct. But you could break the book down into three sections. Preparation, Content and Delivery. How did Calvin prepare beforehand? What made up the content of his sermons, and how did he deliver them? Lawson concludes the brief account of Calvins life by saying "The church is always looking for better methods to reach the world. But God is looking for men who will devote themselves to His Biblically mandated method for advancing his kingdom, namely, preaching- and not just any kind of preaching, but expository preaching." (page 18) I know there are some out there who will disagree with this but this must be the mandate of every pastor. The Church is the last place on Earth where people can hear the Gospel truth. When we stop preaching the Gospel its like we cease to be a church.

"[The Preachers] pulpit ministry is governed by what he believes scripture to be..." (page 23). Calvin had an extremely high view of scripture. He recognised that scripture alone is to have the final say in matters of faith. Calvin also believed that all of scripture was literally God breathed. At times perhaps too much as Lawson quotes him saying that it had nothing to do with Men, hinting at a form of docestism. Calvin There was much I didn't know about Calvin that this book highlighted for me. For instance as prepared as he was to preach he never took any notes with him to the pulpit. He had a brilliant mind, and an ability to systematize his thoughts with great precision. This is clear when you read his sermons. But that isn't the full picture. Calvin also relied heavily on the "inward efficacy of the Holy spirit" during his preaching. He was quick to realise that a brilliant mind and sound doctrine meant nothing if the Holy Spirit does not work on the hearts of those listening. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.

Calvin did not preach to rebut critics or other theologians but was primarily concerned with his congregations spiritual health. Although he he pulled no punches when it came to the Roman Catholic Church and its practices he spent much more time pastorally caring for his flock. When he preached he used the common idioms and expressions of the day to connect with his listeners. Calvin also saw himself as the first listener, and the toughest man in his audience to convince. His calls to personal examination were first directed at himself and then to the congregation. "We must therefore, examine our lives not against one of Gods precepts but against the whole law. Can anyone of us truly say that we are blameless?" (page 108). He called people to "search their lives carefully in light of the truth he had proclaimed" (page 109)

At times i was confronted with a portrait of a man who appeared to be super human. It reminded me of William Wallace who was said to be 7 feet tall...and could shoot bolts of lightning out his backside. He preached ten times every fortnight, and someimes three times on Sundays. He preached even when he was severely ill and had to be lead up to the pulpit in a stretcher. He preached in the face of opposition which at times boiled over to physical confrontation in the Church. He lectured students, and cared pastorally for his church. He faced political oppression, exile and harrassment. His wife died and he never remarried. He also suffered the death of some of his children. Yet in all this he never stopped preaching and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. He was not perfect. He lacked warmth in his personality, and was found not to be a great orator. He was also described as stoic and trite, lacking in humour. Yet Inspite of all opposition and limitations he remains one of the most influential figures in history. Indeed when after returning from exile he returned to his church and continued to preach, picking up from where he left off. No really, from the very next verse! That tells you a lot his character.

On the back cover Lawson writes that this book intends to raise the bar for future expository preachers. For those interested in preaching, Lawson has given us a goldmine. In our day preaching is seen as irelevant, or unneccessary. But Calvin didn't believe he needed to make the Bible relevant, he believed it was relevant (page 104). Man still suffers from the same condition of his forefather Adam. Man is still a sinner in need of saviour. Post modern man is no different from Pre-modern man in that respect. We may have more books to read, but many christians today are biblically illiterate. My hope is that God continues to raise men and women who are committed to proclaiming his word to people all over the world. My only criticism of this book is that it was a little too brief. The notes at the end of each chapter showed that Lawson had interacted with an enormous amount of primary and secondary literature surrounding Calvin. I would have liked a more indepth look at the events in Calvins life and ministry. The narrow focus of the book obviously lead to its brevity. But I was left feeling that there was a lot of untapped potential. But that said I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It makes a compelling case for the primacy of preaching and the need to get the Gospel right in word and deed. I highly reccomend it.

Decent Rhetorical Primer, Very Biased Biography  Sep 8, 2008
As a recently ordained minister, I have been making it a point to study the lives and methods of great preachers of the past, seeking to learn their strengths, weaknesses and how their lives were shaped by both. Although I was not familiar with Dr. Steven Lawson, the title of his book "The Expository Genius of John Calvin" intrigued me and I greatly anticipated reading it for myself.

As a primer on ministerial rhetoric, the book mostly succeeds. We get some very helpful hints on preparing and delivering the expository sermon. Unfortunately, however, the book's positive points are often overshadowed by the author's rose-colored exaltation of Calvin himself.

It is certainly appropriate to honor our forefathers in the Faith. But like many Calvinistic apologists, Dr. Lawson comes dangerously close to deifying the man. For example, Chapter Three opens with a quote from B.B. Warfield which asserts that "No man had a profounder sense of God than he; no man ever more unreservedly surrendered himself to the Divine direction." Similarly, the closing chapter is headed by a quote from Charles Spurgeon which states that "Among all those who have been born of women, their has not risen a greater than John Calvin; no age before him ever produced his equal, and no age afterwards has seen his rival." So by these statements are we to assume that Calvin was on par with the Apostle Paul, with Peter, James and John, or even the Lord Jesus Himself? I am sorry, but this smacks of idolatry.

Calvin was certainly a brilliant man who has contributed immeasurably to the history of the Christian faith. Yet he was also a deeply flawed man who was unfortunately influenced by the excesses and abuses characteristic of the day in which he lived. While Dr. Lawson rightfully commends Calvin for providing refuge for persecuted Protestants, he conveniently never mentions the name of Michael Servetus, who was not so fortunate as to escape Calvin's own wrath. The Servetus incident is a black mark on Calvin's legacy that no amount of flowery biographies will ever be able to erase.

Finally, Dr. Lawson's work makes frequent use of the same fallacious language which, again, is all too characteristic among those of his persuasion. At various points in the book, he uses terms such as "sound doctrine" and "Biblical truth" as if they are automatically synonymous with Calvinism, which they are certainly not! Similarly, he describes the modern church as being "spiritually bankrupt" and a "whitewashed tomb." While the church certainly does have its problems, such broad generalizations are both unfair and inaccurate. Although Dr. Lawson does not explicitly state why he believes this way, one assumes that it may be because they simply are not Calvinistic enough.

Overall, I do believe this book was well intended and I did gain some important insights from it. But the author's blind and rigid allegiance to Calvinism greatly hinders his ability to view these issues objectively. While there is much to learn from Calvin and other giants of the past, we must remember that they were still imperfect, fallible humans whose weaknesses can teach us as much as their strengths.
behind the man  Jul 22, 2008
this book proved a good and insightful read. It informed me as to the life lived by the man john calvin. i found it instructive for me as i desire to be used of God as well as insightful. It adds my study of The doctrine he layed out. I highly recommend it for those who are studying Calvinism and if you already have a good understanding of it, this will only add to it as it teaches you about the man and his approach to the ministries in which he partook. Well done!
A great read for all audiences, not just pastors  Mar 27, 2008

Expository Genius of John Calvin coverThis wonderful book is written as a plea to modern-day preachers and teachers to return to the practice of expository preaching of the Word of God. From Dr. Lawson:

"As we consider Calvin's life and work, we will survey the distinguishing marks of his pulpit ministry, consider the core presuppositions that undergirded his biblical preaching, and examine his personal preparation for the pulpit. Along the way, we will gain an overview of his preaching itself--his sermon introduction, interpretation, application, conclusion, and final intercession. In short, we will explore the distinguishing marks of Calvin's expository genius.

The goal here is not to take a sentimental journey--the hour is too desperate for such a triviality. Rather, the aim of this book is to raise the bar for a new generation of expositors. If you are a preacher or teacher, may you be challenged to a higher standard in your handling of the Word. If you are a supporter of one called to this ministry, may you know how best to pray."


The book is divided into two parts. The first section gives a brief biographical sketch of John Calvin and the state of the church in Europe during his lifetime. The second section provides the reader with an overview of John Calvin's preaching methods.

The biographical section, while not meant to be complete, is a great introduction for those who have not studied the life of John Calvin. It provides just enough detail to get a sense of what Calvin would have struggled with during his lifetime of opening the Word of God for himself and for others.

The second section, the majority of the book, details Calvin's habits of expository preaching. Dr. Lawson begins with John's thoughts toward what should be said and done in the pulpit and moves on to cover his study habits and how he prepared his sermons. It is interesting to note that Calvin, like many other preachers who spoke multiple times during the week, preached out of an overflow of his studies. He did not have to prepare his sermons in the typical manner because they were already formed in his mind. After pouring over the Scripture passage he was studying, preaching became, to him, simply relating that knowledge back to his audience in a manner that was easily understandable.

Dr. Lawson continues and describes how Calvin began his sermons with a brief review of the previous sermon (Calvin preached verse-by-verse each week, continuing right where he left off in the previous message) and then gave his audience an overview of the text before preaching on the text itself. The book then discusses how Calvin went about his exposition of the text and how he crafted his words towards his audience and delivered his message. John Calvin's sermons would end with an explanation of how to apply the text to their lives and, finally, a plea to his audience to take God's Word to heart and live it in their daily lives.


Dr. Lawson's work accomplished its goal, to call on preachers to return to a faithful exposition of God's Word in the pulpit, and gave a wonderful example of one man who did just that. You may ask why a layman would want to read this book if they may never stand before a congregation. My answer would be that they would gain a valuable guide in what to look for in good preaching as they seek out a church to belong to. In that light, I would recommend this book to all audiences, not just preachers and teachers of God's Word.

I end with a description of the faithfulness John Calvin had to continually preach the Word of God above all things:

"Upon his return, Calvin hit the town preaching. Reassuming his pulpit ministry precisely where he had left off three years earlier--in the very next verse of his earlier exposition--Calvin became a mainstay, preaching multiple times on Sunday and, during some weeks, each weekday. His verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture, week after week, even day after day, would make Geneva a shining beacon of truth."
Great Resource for Preachers  Mar 12, 2008
The Expository Genius of John Calvin

Steven Lawson

160 pages

Reformation Trust (2007)

Recommend: Yes

Genre: Preaching / Biography / Church History


Steven Lawson, the author of the series, A Long Line of Godly Men, will, I think, contribute much to our understanding of the wonderful truths of the Bible. Separate from this book, yet in the same series, Lawson has embarked on a five-volume series on the doctrines of grace, as they're commonly referred to. I'm midway with the first volume (Foundations of Grace) and I am in immense gratitude for this piece of work which has expanded and taken me deeper and deeper into the wonderful doctrines of the sovereignty of God in all of human affairs -- salvation included-- and the great grace we experience because of His good pleasure.

Despite our thoughts of John Calvin (1509-1564), one cannot dismiss his impact on the church -- effects which we still feel today. While many have written on Calvin and his life, few have written solely of him and his preaching; Lawson seeks to do just that.

It is no understatement to say that preaching today is on a downgrade within the evangelical church. Lawson points out:

"Exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and technology with theatrics. Desperately does the modern-day church need to recover its way and return to a pulpit that is Bible-based, Christ-centered, and life-changing" (p. xi).

Future books in this series will delve into the ministries of such men as Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards (which is to come out in September of 2008, entitled, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards), Charles Spurgeon, and others. It is no lie that my anticipation for this series is high and I'm sure I won't be let down.

Book Structure:

The book covers everything in preaching -- from core foundations to all the practical nuts-and-bolts of the preaching development to the concluding remarks of the sermon.

Here are the chapter titles:

1. Calvin's Life and Legacy
2. Approaching the Pulpit
3. Preparing the Preacher
4. Launching the Sermon
5. Expounding the Text
6. Crafting the Delivery
7. Applying the Truth
8. Concluding the Exposition

In the chapters, Lawson breaks into very practical observations from Calvin's preaching methodology (e.g., persuasive reasoning, vivid expressions, simple restatements, loving rebuke, climactic prayer, and many more -- 32 in all).

The book as a whole is easy to read and follow. It's a small (5.25 x 7.5) and relatively short.

[From publisher: pdf file of table of contents and sample chapter]

Notable Quotes:

* "The greatest seasons of church history--those eras of widespread reformation and great awakening--have been those epochs in which God-fearing men took the inspired Word and unashamedly preached it in the power of the Holy Spirit" (xi-xii).
* "Calvin's high view of preaching was undergirded by a high view of God, a high view of Scripture, and an accurate view of man. . . . Where are such men of God today? Where are the preachers like Calvin, who will preach the Word with unwavering commitment? Where are the pastors who believe that God is uniquely with them as they mount their pulpits for the exposition of His Word? Where are the shepherds who have prioritized the preaching of the Word in public worship? Where are the expositors who will preach entire books of the Bible consecutively month after month and year after year?. . . . It is desperately essential in this hour that preachers recover a soaring vision of the supremacy of God. Life-changing, history-altering preaching will come only when pastors reclaim a high view of God's blazing holiness and are overshadowed by His absolute sovereignty. Towering thoughts of God's transcendent glory must captivate preachers' souls. May you be one who leaves the lowlands of trivial thoughts about God behind. A low view of God leads only to mediocrity. But a high view of God inspires holiness and a resolute spirit. May you ascend to the heights of the mountaintop and behold, as Calvin did, the breathtaking glory of God." (pp. 34-35, 51).
* Calvin: "We must all be pupils of the Holy Scriptures, even to the end; even those, I mean, who are appointed to proclaim the Word. If we enter the pulpit, it is on this condition, that we learn while teaching others. I am not speaking here merely that others may hear me; but I too, for my part, must be a pupil of God, and the word which goes forth from my lips must profit myself; otherwise woe is me! The most accomplished in the Scripture are fools, unless they acknowledge that they have need of God for their schoolmaster all the days of their life" (pp. 41-42).
* This is where application must begin in every sermon-- with the preacher himself. Before any expositor looks outward
to the congregation, he must first look inward. One finger points out to the people, but three point back at his own heart. No preacher can take his people where he himself is not willing to go. May God give His church in this day humble and holy shepherds who practice what they preach" (p. 116).


Some might say, "There's really no point in reading a book such as this if I don't preach." -- Nothing can be further from the true. While preachers will benefit greatly from a work such as this, I believe that ordinary folk who sit on the pews on Sunday mornings will reap great rewards from this work. We should all walk out saying, "We truly have heard the Word of God preached and proclaimed."

The pulpit, and the preacher who stands behind it, are one of the most important -- if not the most -- aspects of a church body. It is from this dynamic that God has set in place where the people of the Lord hear the Word and commit to obey. The pastor shepherds the flock, and one of the ways he does that is by leading the sheep into the marvelous truths of Scripture, in order for us be fed by it and grow in regards to salvation. Furthermore, with such insights gleaned from this book, one will be able to support and pray for one's pastor; knowing that the call is no easy task, but one which requires the preacher to bow the knee before the Lord and His Word and then, in the power of the Spirit, proclaim it to a lost and sinful world in desperate need of the truth.

All that to say that I warmly recommend this book to both preacher and congregant alike -- both will greatly benefit.


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