The Expository Genius of John Calvin; A Review

In books on March 27, 2008 at 6:59 am

The Expository Genius of John Calvin
by Dr. Steven J. Lawson
Reformation Trust, 2007


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.


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