For the past several years Evangelical Press has been putting out a truly wonderful little series of books they call “Bitesize Biographies” which offer brief and helpful introductions to some of the great heroes of the faith. Jason Zuidema has added to this collection with his short survey of the life and work of the great Reformer William Farel.
One of the things that I’ve appreciated about this series in general, and perhaps about this little volume in particular, is how well it navigates the waters between the danger of hagiography on the one hand and deconstruction on the other. Most have probably only heard of Farel in connection with his famous encounter which led Calvin to come to Geneva. As the popular story goes, the fiery Farel challenged the scholar Calvin with threats of God’s judgment if Calvin did not give up his journey to Strasbourg to aid in the reform of Geneva.
But there is much more to Farel than one anecdote. Zuidema traces his early life and upbringing in France and shows how the idolatry and superstition of his childhood drove him to embrace the Reformation with a zeal and conviction that would be characteristic of his ministry. Farel was a flawed man in many respects (and Zuidema does not shy away from exposing his faults – whether his quick temper or imprudent marriage late in life that left his friends shocked), but he was clearly a significant figure in the establishment of the Reformed churches of Switzerland and France. This book grabbed my attention from the beginning and left me with a better understanding not only of Farel, but also of his own age. Studying the biographies of these Reformers can often bring refreshing revelations of just how difficult and tenuous the work of Reformation often was. Students of church history and struggling Christians alike will be encouraged and educated by this helpful little biography.