In the next few months I will embark on the monumental task of reading, taking notes on, and writing a comprehensive summary of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion for my seminary education. (also available here to read it online or download) At a little over 1500 pages, it will take me about a year to finish the the assignment. I have read large portions of the Institutes over the last few years, so I am familiar with the content. But I have never engaged the text with the level of examination that will be required of me.
Sinclair Ferguson, in his book Some Pastors and Teachers, reminds us why Calvin is good for the soul of every Christian, and specifically reminds me why I really do want to do this:
The high point of theology in the Middle Ages was Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (Sum, or Survey, of Theology). But Calvin did not write a Summa theologiae; he wrote a summa pietatis, a survey of piety. He was concerned not merely with the instruction of the intellect, but with the engagement of the heart and the whole person in devotion to the Lord. His work will illustrates his personal motto: “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.”
…its central theme was always the same: the true, evangelical knowledge of God, and how that affects and transforms our lives. He therefore constantly seeks to draw the reader into a personal appreciation of what is being expounded. Piety, devotion to God, not merely intellectual understanding, is always his goal since eternal life means knowing God, in Christ, through the Spirit (John 17:3). People who are daunted by the thought of reading Calvin are usually amazed to discover how straightforward, practical, and devotional his writing is.
This is a great opportunity to engage with the theology of one of the most influential teachers in the history of the Church. He is known for elevating the glory of God in the minds of his readers, and his use of scripture is responsible and illuminating. The Institutes overflows with love for Christ and reverence for the Bible. When I find nuggets of spiritual gold (which I am sure there will be many of), I will share them here in the hope of encouraging some of you to embark on your own exploration of Calvin’s vision of the Triune God as revealed in the Word of God.
Calvin also wrote A Little Book on the Christian Life, a small book packed with wonderful scriptural truth on the call to holiness, enduring suffering, and the fulfillment of a Christian’s calling. I highly recommend this one as a great introduction to Calvin’s view on Christian living.