Book review: Calvin’s Teaching on Job by Derek Thomas

tsslogo.jpgBook review:
Calvin’s Teaching on Job by Derek Thomas

After recently completing N.T. Wright’s new book, Evil and the Justice of God, I came away with the sense that evil is at God’s ankles like a small poodle biting and pestering. While I learned some things, the conclusion that we should simply learn to forgive more (while being true) was also a bit unsatisfying. For one who believes in the total sovereignty of God, this picture of evil was incomplete.

But the question, ‘Why do the most godly suffer?,’ is a question every Christian comes face-to-face with and to which every pastor must give an answer. I’m finding that the answer to this question is found within another big problem – how do we interpret the book of Job?

So when Derek Thomas’ book, Calvin’s Teaching on Job: Proclaiming the Incomprehensible God, arrived in the mail, I was eager to dive deep. And Thomas did not disappoint. With incredible depth, Thomas leads the reader systematically through Calvin’s thoughts as he wrestled with the book of Job. Here you will find both encouragement to tackle the book of Job expositionally and also real-life answers to the most perplexing questions in the Christian life. It’s a book that I will come back to time and time again when my own soul and the souls of friends ask the question ‘Why?’

Maybe the most helpful point I learned was exegetical. Calvin teaches us to use Elihu to interpret the Jobian dialogues (see Job 32:1-37:24). “While Calvin is consistently critical of the advice of Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar, he is generally supportive of the contribution of Elihu” (226). Elihu best understood the sovereignty of God, the nature of justice, the separation between God and man and that God’s justice and power go alongside His goodness.

By favoring the advice and input of Elihu, Calvin takes from the dialogues several helpful principles: Trials are appointed by God’s providence to educate us, they are used by God to humble us, they bring our hidden sins to the surface, and they bring us to repentance. “Afflictions also drive us to desire more of God’s help, provoking us to return to him, by drawing us to him, taming us, and teaching us to pray.” Certainly, “the distribution of trials is not whimsical or arbitrary” (228).

The bottom line is that God is incomprehensible. His providence is beyond our understanding. We cannot see the big picture, but we can rest in a sovereign God who does!

“When bad things happen to the righteous, the Lord is involved in the deepest possible way. Far from removing God from such crises in the interest of rescuing him from the charge of sin’s authorship, Calvin regularly takes God further and further into the difficulty. He meets the ensuing theological and pastoral difficulties by resorting to God’s incomprehensibility” (375).

Although it was a doctoral dissertation, the book reads very well. The old English spelling of Calvin’s sermons on Job may be annoying but you will pick up on it as you read (to “… shewe vs hee is the iudge of the world we must learne to stande in awe of him”). Thomas is critical of Calvin when necessary. The book itself is over 60-percent footnotes (surely setting some record). The masses of footnotes are mostly direct references from Calvin, providing him an extensive first-hand voice while keeping the book clean and concise.

For 14 months between 1554 and 1555 John Calvin preached through the book of Job, leaving a wealth of expositional insights and pastoral applications for future expositors. Dr. Thomas has assembled these insights in a systematic format that will benefit the student seeking a guide to Calvin’s thought, the pastor seeking a guide to counseling, and for the preacher seeking an exegetical guide to interpret the book of Job. An excellent addition to the library of a Humble Calvinist.

Title: Calvin’s Teaching on Job: Proclaiming the Incomprehensible God
Author: Derek Thomas
Boards: hardcover
Pages: 416
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Christian Focus Publications, Mentor
Year: 2004
Price USD: $25.99/$18.99 from CBD
ISBNs: 1857929225, 9781857929225

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Click here to access previous posts in the Humble Calvinism index.

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One thought on “Book review: Calvin’s Teaching on Job by Derek Thomas

  1. Tony, my wife came across this today (no, she doesn’t spend her time googling for her husband’s name, honest!). I’m grateful to you for your kind words. You may be interested to learn that Don Carson has reveiwed Wright’s work that you mention and a reference to it can be found on our reformation21 blog site (http://www.reformation21.org/Reformation_21_Blog/57/).

    Derek

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