This past year I was having lunch with some pastors and leaders from other churches. During the course of our meal one of the leaders down the table began to rail on the evils of John Calvin. Now I had read much of Calvin’s Institutes and had referred often to his commentaries and had read biographical material of Calvin and so I was surprised to hear him say “if people really knew what Calvin did and if Calvinists really read what John Calvin wrote they wouldn’t want anything to do with him.” This of course only informed me that this man actually knew and read little (if anything at all) of the man John Calvin and his writings. But unfortunately this is not an uncommon attitude in the circles in which I grew up. Indeed, strong anti-Calvin sentiments seem to be as much a fundamental of the faith for so many “fundamentalists” and conservatives as the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.
But this prompted me to begin thinking about reading John Calvin’s Institutes from cover to cover this year.
Another prompting to read the Institutes through came later in 2011. I was reading a blog post (I do not remember which – so if you have read it and remember please let me know) where the author worried that young men and women today were getting all their theology second-hand. That we weren’t doing the hard work of reading ourselves. While I have made it a point to read authors both ancient and modern I was reminded that I had not yet fully read Calvin’s Institutes through yet. And so to avoid a “second-hand theology” that misses out on the fruitful thinking of some of the godly writings of our spiritual fathers, I began to form a plan for reading Calvin’s Institutes this year.
But there is another reason that I want to read Calvin’s Institutes. John Calvin was a man of deep faith, conviction, and biblical understanding. Bible seems to erupt from his thinking like water from a fountain. I have often found my worship of God more joyful after reading and pondering Calvin. This results from Calvin’s dedication to God’s word above all things. This doesn’t mean Calvin gets everything right (as if any of us do) but it does mean that he seeks to ground all of his thinking in the abiding word of God – and that is something worth seeing and imitating. It is this dedication to God’s word that is also so dangerous (it was for Calvin and will be for any of us). The word of God is offensive to our depraved minds and so there will always be a backlash (by Christians as well as by unbelievers) when you try to understand what God’s word says and apply it to the festering issues of our lives. But we need this healing balm and John Calvin works to give it.
If you are interested in reading John Calvin’s Institutes with me this year I suggest you get the copy by John T. McNeill (a two volume set). You can get a good set from here or here. This will require just two chapters a week to finish this year (with plenty of time left over). I will try to write my thoughts each Saturday about that week’s reading. My desire for you all, and myself, is that through this you will know, love and serve our God and Savior Jesus more fully and completely. He alone matters.