John Calvin’s Rhetorical Doctrine of Sin

Author: Compier, Don
This is the first book in more than sixty years to offer a scholarly account of Calvin’s perspectives on human fault. Through a careful reading of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the author argues that Calvin writes with the specific political purpose of defending persecuted Protestants in France. The study demonstrates that his humanist education prepared Calvin for practical argumentation on behalf of social change. Calvin is depicted as an engaged political actor, thoroughly attuned to the practical requirements of his age. His theology then becomes an important precedent for a thoroughly contextual understanding of Christian doctrinal reflection.


“Don Compier’s book on Calvin is a worthy contribution to a growing body of theological texts that attempt to situate Calvin’s theological concerns within the messy historical particulars of the political and social landscape of sixteenth-century Europe. The book’s unique contribution to contemporary Calvin studies is its analysis of Calvin’s doctrine of sin from the angle of his rhetorical sensibilities….What is new is Compier’s case that Calvin’s talk about sin actually contributed to the fashioning of Calvinist social agents with a ‘revolutionary’ ideology….The book will be most helpful for students and scholars of Calvin interested in his rhetorical strategies, his political thought, or his doctrine of sin.” – Anglican Theological Review

“The present work offers strong support for recent efforts to place Calvin’s work in the context of his own times, and to spell out how thoroughly rhetoric shapes the nature and purpose of his theology. Interestingly enough, by breaking through anachronistic readings of Calvin which are colored by later developments in the Reformed tradition, Compier has made the Reformer more relevant to contemporary theological concerns. At a time when the vital importance of context has been stressed by many, Compier’s historicist reading of Calvin offers him as an important precedent… Compier certainly makes an important contribution to Calvin scholarship, which should prove suggestive for further studies of the practical import of his doctrinal reflections. And this work should also be read by contemporary theologians. It may do much to help us refashion our discipline as a context dependent, practical, actively relevant, and passionately engaged enterprise.” – Serene Jones

“Among the recent historical theologians who reconsider Calvin’s religious thought in the light of his humanistic training, Compier stands out for his sensitivity to Calvin’s overtly political and polemical interest…. an interesting and compelling evaluation, unexpectedly positive, of the motivations that underlie Calvin’s religious polemic…. Compier is able to uncover, beneath Calvin’s unsavory and un-ecumenical rhetoric, a distinctly humane and relevant call for social action.” – Christopher Ocker

“…the monograph soon turned out to be unfolding a very important but often disregarded side of Calvin’s works amongst theological scholars of the great Reformer’s rhetoric…. lodging a protest that so many students of Calvin overlook, the fact that Calvin was essentially a political theologian, using persuasive rhetoric as a principal tool…. The value of the monograph will be found in any success it may have as a catalyst for students of Calvin to make a new examination of the great Reformer as a political, rhetorical and ultimately persuasive theologian.” – Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Foreword; Preface by Paul J. Hauben
1. Calvin as a Rhetorical Theologian
2. The Political Purpose of the Institutes of the Christian Religion
3. “No Excuse”: Sin, Knowledge, and Moral Action
4. “A Wicked Spoliation”: Calvin’s Attack on the Papacy
Conclusion; Bibliography; Indices