Saturday, November 21, 2009

Calvin's Institutes


I just completed reading John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, which was 1521 pages in English. Whew!

I read about 6-10 pages almost each day this year, and made it through the whole thing.

It was well worth reading. Calvin was a brilliant man, a real gift to the church.  He had his blind spots but he also could see incredibly clearly in other areas. I'm thankful that I read it.

My buddy Dan Ledford and I have been keeping each other accountable for reading the whole thing, and I've profited from reading the short companion expositions of it on this site.  Dan and I have been disgusted with ourselves that we call ourselves pastors and have never read it. Well, now that's changed!

I think my biggest disappointment was Calvin's intemperate use of language.  I know that he lived in a different era, when the pen needed to be a mighty sword, but he seems to fight almost the same with his close brethren as with his biggest enemies--with sarcasm.  I believe there is a place for that (Jesus showed us this, as did Paul), but I can't help but think that he crossed some lines that I couldn't and wished that he wouldn't.  (For example, though he married the widow of an anabaptist, he can't find a good thing to say about those of us who believe in believer's baptism.)

My biggest surprise was how little of his writing was devoted to election/predestination and how much of it was devoted to prayer.  Check out the proportions in his Institutes, and you'll be surprised, too.  Good for him!  (I happen to think he's right on election, too, but I applaud his biblical balance.)

My biggest take-away was awe of someone who had mastered so much Bible and been mastered by the Bible.  Calvin has texts for everything he believes.  Not just a text, and not just a proof text. This man knew his Bible, and it thoroughly shaped his thinking.  Oh, to be a man so steeped in Bible! Calvin has a reputation of being a theologian, but he was clearly an exegete first and foremost and then a systematician.

Several conferences have been devoted to Calvin this year.  He just had his 500th birthday.  I listened to all of the talks of this one at Desiring God.  Good stuff--and not just focused on Calvin--but on His great big, awesome, glorious, magnificent, majestic, joy-giving, all wonderful God and His Son Jesus Christ. As Calvin says in the last sentence of his big book, "God Be Praised!"