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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: "Life in God" by Matthew Myer Boulton

Life in God: John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology
Matthew Myer Boulton
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
2140 Oak Industrial Drive N.E.
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
Copyright: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8028-6564-9; $28.00
Reviewed for Deus Misereatur by: Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber

Re-framing Calvin– 5 of 5 stars

One trouble with claiming John Calvin for one's conceptual or ecclesial team is that often the claimant intentionally, or otherwise, co-opts the reformer to side with their own peculiarities. Usually Calvin's nuanced writing is misread or flattened out under the ideological mallet to fit a pre-planned template. Therefore, when I received Matthew Boulton's book "Life in God" from a dear friend of mine, I initially flinched, rolled my eyes, sighed deeply and almost stuffed the book permanently out of sight. But the subtitle to this 260 page paperback, made me stop and rethink my original plan; "John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology." Here was a work that was going to make the argument "that for Calvin, Christian doctrine is properly conceived and articulated ... for the sake of Christian formation, particularly the immersive, embodied, restorative training that may take place, God willing, by way of the church's disciplinary treasury" (4). I was snagged, and feeling myself being reeled in. I wasn't disappointed. What I found was a beautifully written work that drew out Calvin's design for Christian formation.

Boutlon's stated goal for the book is to present "a critical, constructive retrieval of Calvin's reforming project, always with a view to how that project may be inherited and developed by Christian communities today" (7). He does exactly this, in my estimation, in a way that is both engaging and thought-provoking. "Life in God" breaks out in three sections; the first is historical but also paradigmatic, the second examines 6 loci of Calvin's Institutes and where they fit in Christian formation, and the last examines a way forward. Each section moves the reader toward the goal, yet without being tedious.

Though Boutlon works through Calvin appreciatively, teasing out his delicate nuances nicely, the author does not fawningly approve of everything Calvin put forward. But instead of "Calvin-bashing", the author tries to think through the "why" of Calvin's shortcomings, and how to correct them. It is obvious that Boulton understands who he is examining, how he put things together, and what he was aiming for.

In "Life in God" Boulton convincingly makes the case that Calvin's approach to the spiritual disciplines, ecclesiology, sacramentology and theology was for the godly formation of disciples;
" Calvin's view, the church is a kind of gymnasium: a society of formation and development, gathering occasionally for guidance and inspiration, but then sent out into the world to exercise all week long, at home and in the fields, day in and day out ( . . . ) in short, it develops her savoir vivre, her "knowing how to live" with and in God" (228).
Therefore, I think this book would be valuable not only for theologians and seminarians, but Christian educators, pastors, catechists, the new monastics, people who are delving into spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines, church-planters, and church-renewers. I highly recommend "Life in God."

{Note: If you would like to use this review, to post it or print it, you have my approval. Please give credit where credit is due, and let me know if you use this review - MWP).

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