Last year marked John Calvin’s 500th birthday, and I observed on the inter-net that there were many scholarly men who celebrated that anniversary by reading The Institutes of the Christian Religion and discussing this massive piece of work using study questions over the course of 2009. What a perfect way to celebrate Calvin’s defense of Biblical Christian theology….by making it live again in the hearts of a new generation!
But last year, I was treading water far out at sea, trying to read 100 books, and to train for and run a marathon.
As I was nearly always going down for the last time in that endeavor, the idea of joining those scholarly men was out of the question. Tempting… enticing… but beyond my reach.
I did want to read Calvin, and I do want to understand what he had to say. But, having bitten off more than I could chew last year, I’ve learned enough not to repeat precisely that mistake again. So I will not even pretend that I could read both volumes in one year. I have a pile of other books I to read, and I don’t want to rush through this one. I will also not pretend that I am scholarly. I’m taking advantage of every resource I can find to help me understand Calvin better.
I began reading Volume One on January 1, 2010. I’m literally crawling through the book and have only covered a quarter of the first volume.
My interest in this book is not to argue about the finer points of Calvinism. Other people can do that. My interest is in understanding how Calvin clearly set forth the gospel in an effort to correct the errors of the Church, and to see how and why his teachings remain relevant so many years later.
I have kids in my home who are preparing themselves for university and for life. It seems to me that, by reading the works of men of faith like Calvin and Luther and others who have written a necessary defense Biblical Christianity in the face of persecution, we can all blow away some of the muddled confusions that keeps Christians from knowing how to respond to messy doctrine. With all the confused teachings in the North American church today, it’s a good idea for us to send our kids out ready to think clearly and recognize nonsense when it presents itself. If their thinking is clear and un-muddled, then they are freed up to lead in obedience.
And it’s scripture we read FIRST. Then we read men who have explained scripture well. Having scripture explained well is a tremendous blessing, and for me, so far, Calvin has been enormously helpful when I am thinking of how to choose wording in the most simple way for evangelism. Calvin takes principles and teachings I have read again and again, and he turns them over so that I am able to see a new facet and gain an understanding I had missed before.
Calvin said himself, of the Institutes “My mind was to teach certain rudiments whereby they that are touched by some zeal of religion might be instructed to true godliness.” So, instruction in true godliness is just what we need.
I am learning so much as I read through his teachings. I would love to hear from anyone else who’s reading this first volume too.
I am going to work from the notes I have taken and write one blog post weekly, each Monday, working first from the Introduction and prefatory letter to King Francis, and moving straight through to the end. It may take the rest of my natural life, but that’s OK with me.
So here is an invitation.
Next Monday I will begin with that prefatory material, and the following week will be Book One, the first three chapters.
So if anyone’s interested in joining in, I would love to have friends along with me.