The Betrayal by Douglas Bond is a half-biography, half-novel treatment of reformer John Calvin. If you want a transition from reading solely Christian fiction into meatier biographies of Christian heroes, this novel would be a perfect fit.
Follow Calvin’s life through the eyes of his fictional servant, Jean-Louis, who was born six months before Calvin and grew up in the same village as Calvin; then attended him as a servant throughout Calvin’s days as a scholar, reformer, and until his death. Jean-Louis acts as antagonist, protagonist, and narrator depending on the point of the story.
Jean-Louis’ family dies from the plague sweeping his French village when he was a young man (about 17, if I remember correctly). J-L stumbles upon a rich man recently dead of the plague, steals his purse and rich cap and coat, and somewhat unbelievably hitches a ride on the underside of a carriage in which Calvin is riding all the way to Paris. J-L then finds himself a job as Calvin’s servant in school. He never quits being Calvin’s servant, a quite handy point for a narrator of Calvin’s life.
J-L, however, has from his boyhood been envious of Calvin’s brilliant genius and slightly wealthier status, which (genius) set Calvin apart even as a boy. Thus, after some events in J-L’s life, J-L decides to become an enemy of God. This fit perfectly with the French king’s point of view at the time, who sided with the intellectual “doctors of Sorbonne” and the Roman Catholic church and began a horrible persecution of those of the “new doctrine” throughout France. This included any who were translating the Bible into the “vulgar” tongue, or poets writing hymns in French.
Betrayal overviews (through debates and lectures at Calvin’s school of divinity) the abuses, incredible wickedness, and ignorance of the Roman church. It highlights Calvin’s conversion from simply disagreeing with the abuses of the Roman church to actively throwing in his lot with the persecuted reformers.
Meanwhile, J-L throws in his lot with the persecutors, eventually turning in Calvin and some of his beloved friends and co-workers in the Reformation cause. But just as the King’s men come to arrest Calvin, Jean-Louis, by God’s hand, amazingly decides to rescue Calvin, and is the major reason Calvin escapes Paris alive.
From then on, J-L tortures himself with the tensions of hearing Calvin’s amazing preaching almost daily (as they travel from city to city, finally staying in Geneva, Switzerland for several years); yet thinking that such doctrines cannot apply to himself, a betrayer of the church. Because of being unconverted throughout the book, he also lives in fear that the King’s men will consider him one of the Huguenots (for helping Calvin escape), and thus die a horrific martyr’s death for a belief he never held in a grace that he never received!
- This method of giving biographical info in novel form is a brilliant way to give Christians a hunger to further learn about these amazing reformers who were the seed of our church today. It is a historical fiction novel, yet it is meatier than being simply a novel. Many who might not read Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or other of his commentaries or biographies about him will read this novel.
- I learned a lot about Calvin and his times, including the dangers that many true Christians faced.
- My affections for Christ were raised. I was so impressed with the resolution of early Christians to face the pain of terrible martyrdoms for Christ and His Word.
- I learned theology as well.
- Calvin was represented well and fairly, with some documentation in the appendix. Several of his writings or sermons are quoted. Not too much or too little time was spent on the issue of the death of blasphemer Michael Servetus, which Calvin has been wrongly maligned for. There are marginally few pages that directly address predestination or election, and free will, and they are a helpful, somewhat lengthy quote of a discussion with a pupil and a sermon later on. I can imagine Arminians decrying this book before they’ve even read it, sure that it will be chock full of Calvinism. But I did not find it so, and I knew what to look for.
- Because of its novel format, the book takes a while getting into Calvin’s thoughts and the meat of his life. It doesn’t discuss much of his later years of his Geneva life (after his return), which maybe I’m glad of. As a character, you get to know Jean-Louis’ inner thoughts more than Calvin’s; but since most of J-L’s time is spent narrating Calvin’s life and words (the biographical format), you don’t really feel like you got a good feel for J-L’s inner character. But this is immensely picky. The novel was really well done.
- A few of the “gripping” parts are unbelievable.
Seth attempted to come up with a way to more objectively rate books. 🙂 Well, rating is certainly subjective and others might not agree.
0 The book was notable for lacking this category repeatedly.
1 The book dipped into this category at times.
2 The book consistently demonstrated this category.
- Biblical: Did the author honor Scriptural truth or a Christian worldview even if unwittingly? 2 points
- Creative: Did the author grip the imagination by inventing characters, situations, or other aspects of reality? 1 point–I felt he did the best he could with such subject matter though!
- Style: Did the theme, vocabulary, and composition represent an enduring standard? 2 points
- Credible: Were the characters, plot turns, and relationships believable? 1 point. They have to be since much of it is based on fact. However, a few of the parts concerning Jean-Louis may not have been so much so.
- Affections: Was some truth presented powerfully to the affections? 2 points: There were many. I’ll share the lessons I learned and quotes next week!
- Total: This book gets an 8 out of 10 on my gotta-read scale.