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William Bouwsma, the celebrated intellectual historian, published his John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait, in 1987.1 That probing analysis did not seek so much to write a complete biography of John Calvin as to understand him and the modern world that, in Bouwsma’s estimation, had ignored Calvin.2 As an intellectual historian, Bouwsma turned to the evidence from Calvin’s own writings, and found him to be suspended between the labyrinth and the abyss.3 Bouwsma believed that getting to the intellectual character of Calvin would provide a better portrait, and grant the modern world a view of a figure who had left an indelible mark on the mind of the modern Christian world. The depth and breadth of response within the small group of professional Calvin scholars to Bouwsma’s book suggested that, at the very least, he had touched a nerve – and that nerve was not within Calvin, but within those who could broadly be called Calvinists.
In 1995, David C. Steinmetz, one of the two deans of Calvin studies in America along with Robert M. Kingdon, published a slim volume entitled Calvin in Context. For Calvin studies, that volume became part of the necessary tools of the trade. Steinmetz brilliantly set forth the argument for the history of exegesis method for which he became famous. In so doing, he argued that attempting to understand Calvin apart from those who went before him, his theological and exegetical context, caused a variety of errors.1
John Calvin in Context offers a comprehensive overview of Calvin's world. Including essays from social, cultural, feminist, and intellectual historians, each specially commissioned for this volume, the book considers the various early modern contexts in which Calvin worked and wrote. It captures his concerns for Northern humanism, his deep involvement in the politics of Geneva, his relationships with contemporaries, and the polemic necessities of responding to developments in Rome and other Protestant sects, notably Lutheran and Anabaptist. The volume also explores Calvin's tasks as a pastor and doctor of the church, who was constantly explicating the text of scripture and applying it to the context of sixteenth-century Geneva, as well as the reception of his role in the Reformation and beyond. Demonstrating the complexity of the world in which Calvin lived, John Calvin in Context serves as an essential research tool for scholars and students of early modern Europe.