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Moehn, Wilhelmus H. Th.
"God calls us to his service". The Relation between God and his Audience in Calvin's Sermon on Acts.
Genève: Librairie Droz 2001. 279 S. 4 = Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 345. ISBN 2-600-00483-1.
Anthony N. S. Lane
This volume is a shortened English translation of the author's 1996 Utrecht Ph.D. thesis: "God roept ons tot Zijn dienst. Een homiletisch onderzoek naar de verhouding tussen God en de hoorder in Calvijns preken over Handelingen 4:1-6:7." There is a modest element of updating in that the bibliography includes a number of items from the years 1996 to 2000. The translation is generally very readable, though there are a small number of occasions when it is clear, sometimes amusingly, that it has not been done by a native English speaker. The use of the word charity for the word charité, meaning Christian brotherly love (115-18), is unfortunate as in contemporary English its meaning has become restricted to charitable giving. The adjective Reformatory is used occasionally where presumably Reformation or Reformed is meant.
The first chapter sets out the goals and methods of the research. The theme of the study is the relation between God and the audience of the sermon, in line with Calvin's statement that almost the whole of our wisdom ... consists of two parts, the knowledge of God and of ourselves (Inst. 1:1:1). That this is a significant theme is shown by the frequency of the words Dieu and nous in the Acts sermons. In order to allow an in-depth study the research is based upon Calvin's thirteen sermons on Acts 4:1-6:9. These sermons were first published in 1994, Moehn himself being one of the editors.
In the second chapter the theme of God and the audience is analysed for each of the thirteen sermons, with a helpful summary at the end of most sermons. The third chapter considers the Genevan audience and, in particular, the way in which Calvin related his preaching to his hearers in their family, congregational and social contexts. In chapter four the polemical dimension of the sermons is considered. This involves not just anti-papal polemics but also polemics against Nicodemites, Libertines and Anabaptists. The fifth chapter expounds Calvin's theory of homiletics, based primarily on the Acts sermons but drawing also upon other sermons from the same period (on Jeremiah, Lamentations and Micah) as well as other sources like the Institutio. The final chapter, on Calvin as a Sixteenth-Century Preacher, sets him in his context and touches briefly on the question of his relevance today. The important point is made that against Calvin's rather negative portrayal of his congregation other more positive assessments must be borne in mind, and that Calvin's image of the Genevans is an image, not the image (237-38).
As the author notes, in order to discuss the audience of Calvin's sermons it is important to know about the historical context. A good example of this is the conflict between clergy and people over permissible baptismal names (208-209). To this end he has made use of sources like the Registres de la Compagnie des Pasteurs de Genève, the Annales Calviniana (which draw upon contemporary documents) and Les sources du droit du canton de Genève, as well as recent studies by Kingdon, Naphy and others. Unfortunately he was not able also to make use of the Registres du Consistoire de Genève, which could have provided further relevant material. The first volume of these, covering 1542-44, was not published until 1996 (the date of the original Dutch thesis) and the relevant years for the Acts sermons (1549-51) have yet to appear. Should the author publish further on this topic, making use of the Consistory records should be a priority.
This is a carefully researched investigation into a relatively neglected aspect of Calvin (his sermons in general and the Acts sermons in particular) and sheds new light on Calvin the preacher and his interactions with the Genevans. If there is one area where it could be improved it would be by the better provision of summaries or conclusions at the end of each chapter and of the book as a whole, drawing together what can otherwise at times appear like a mass of information.
The standard of production is very good, as one expects from a volume published by Droz. I noticed very few typographical errors. My only (minor) complaint concerns the contents pages at the back. Each chapter is divided into a number of sections and sometimes these are further divided into sub-sections and even sub-sub-sections (e. g. 126.96.36.199). In the text, sections headings (in block capitals) are clearly distinguished from sub-section headings. On the contents pages, however, section, sub-section and sub-sub-section headings are listed in the identical format, which makes it hard to see the structure of each chapter.