EP Books (Bitesize Biography), 126 pages, £6.99
Star rating : 4
If the name of William Farel is known at all, it is usually in connection with John Calvin. He is often remembered as the man who changed Calvin’s mind, turning him to his future work in Geneva.
The suggestion is sometimes made that Farel, the older reformer, needed the younger Calvin to continue and develop the great work of reformation before retiring into the background. Nothing could be further from the truth and it is to challenge this common view of William Farel that this book has been written.
The author passionately argues for a reassessment of the man and his work, showing clearly that there was much more to Farel than merely being Calvin’s shadow.
The biography traces the birth and early years of Farel in Gap, France, covering his dramatic conversion and lifelong missionary passion to reach out to the French-speaking world with the gospel.
He travelled widely through central Europe, taking in many key cities and towns. He was tireless in his work for reformation, yet ever mindful of his own deliverance from ignorance and superstition. If ever a man could answer the oft-cited charge that Calvinists are not motivated by mission, then Farel would be the man.
In addition to preaching and missionary work, Farel was also an astute theologian. He was an able organiser and great encourager, and was well-connected with all the key reformers of his day, including, of course, his good friend Calvin.
Besides addressing Farel’s strengths, this biography is balanced and acknowledges its subject’s weaknesses. His impulsive, passionate nature sometimes created friction and could be destructive. In some ways he is reminiscent of the apostle Peter or an Old Testament prophet. Indeed, God has his place for all sorts of people. One thing is for certain, Farel was a man peculiarly used of God in turbulent and uncertain times; with him around, life was never dull.
He lived a long and fulfilled life, finally dying after completing his last preaching tour at the age of 75. Following the tradition of the Bitesize Biography series, this book is easy to read and fills an important gap in Reformation literature.
It is essential reading for all interested in French Reformation history and an inspiring biography for anyone to enjoy.