Book Review: The Betrayal by Bond
Douglas Bond, The Betrayal (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2009), $16.00. Paper.
In the past few years there have been a number of cookbooks which give recipes that sneak healthy food into tasty dishes. I have firsthand experience with some of these recipes and can testify that some are hits (spinach brownies) and some are misses (beet pancakes—youch!). As a husband and father I am always trying to make palatable those things that I feel are important and significant for my family to know. As most of us who love theology and history have surely realized, our passions and interests are not always the same as the passions and interests of those we love. So we try to be creative and make the goods (theology, etc…) as interesting and palatable as possible for those nearest and dearest to us.
The Betrayal (P&R) is a biographical novel about the great Reformer John Calvin written by Douglas Bond. This book is definitely not like the beet pancakes. It is, rather, a hit in that it tells the story of John Calvin in an exciting and interesting fashion that draws the reader into the story of his life.
Douglas Bond is the head of the English department at a high school in Tacoma, Washington. His writing skill is evident from the first pages of The Betrayal. This historical fiction book of the life and times of John Calvin is told from the perspective of a fictional antagonist, Jean-Louis, who has a vehement hatred of John Calvin. Jean-Louis pretends to befriend Calvin, and follows him as his servant throughout most of the book.
From Calvin’s childhood in the northern French town of Noyon-le-Sainte, all the way to his death, Bond weaves together the great Reformer’s history, theology, and character. Bond does a brilliant job working in the details of what is known of Calvin’s life. Bond adds in the back of the book a three page “Guide to Further Reading (Selected sources Calvin’s voice in the novel)” that catalogues by chapter the sources he used (381-383). I followed a few of these sources myself to fill out the context of the information discussed in the novel (i.e., Calvin’s discussion of music in chapter 36).
From the comical telling of young Calvin’s great intellect and nickname—The Accusative Case (chapter 3); to the reality of the plague that devastated Europe; to Calvin’s further training; the story is fast-paced and rather thorough.
Bond introduces us to the whole cast of historical figures; Lefevre, Olivetan, Cop, Farel, Viret, Bucer, and Knox. He takes the reader with Calvin from Pointent’s martyrdom, to Paris and the writing of the Institutes. Then to Geneva and Strasbourg and then back to Geneva about which Calvin confesses, “I would rather submit to death one hundred times than to this Genevan cross, a cross on which I would be subjected to death a thousand times daily” (348).
This novel faithfully portrays Calvin’s brilliance, and character, but more importantly, his love for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The chapters are brief and direct, written in a style that moves the story forward and keeps the reader wanting more.
I heartily recommend this book to young and old alike. Those new to Calvin as well as those well-versed in Calvin will enjoy this novel by Bond. Even those averse to or fearful of history or theology will find themselves enjoying The Betrayal, because like the spinach brownies mentioned earlier, this telling of John Calvin both good and good for you.
Reviewed by Tony Garbarino