Well I’ve finally finished the first of the four books – the knowledge of God and ourselves. I’m taking a quick break from the regular posts to share some of my thoughts after reading Book I of Calvin’s Institutes over the last two months. Four things have struck me:
1. He doesn’t try to square the circle. I have been impressed with how far Calvin will go to grapple with complex issues such as the trinity and providence. He uses many different approaches to try and understand these truths and interacts with many controversial views. But he is also more than willing to stop when human intellect can go no further. He is content to submit himself to the Word as the final authority on these doctrines, not human reason.
2. More apologetics than I expected. I expected lots of teaching on the doctrine of God, but there has been much more apologetical reasoning on the credibility of the scriptures, how we know truth, understanding atheists and assessing false religion. It has been great to see how someone of Calvin’s ability writing in the 16th century approached these issues. The truth is that there were many of the same issues back then as there are now… nevertheless, Calvin was…
3. A man of his time. Living and teaching in the 16th century Calvin had no idea the challenges that were to assail the church from evolution and higher criticism (to name just two). For him it was self-evident that even the non-church goer would acknowledge the divine craftsmanship within the universe. While Calvin does spend time arguing for a Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, some of his arguments need to be supplemented with modern evangelical scholarship.
4. More devotional than academic. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Calvin’s warmth and devotion during these chapters. He was a man of deep passion for God’s truth. It is clear he loved his Saviour intensely. Calvin sometimes gets a bad press as cold and calculating, but reading his work for yourself its clear these are more characterures than reality.
So onto Book II – the knowledge of God the redeemer. I’m just about managing to keep up with the blogging and reading, lets see how this next book goes, the plan says I’ll be finished on 21st April… God willing.
Well a month in and I’m only a couple of days behind schedule, however the last couple of weeks have been tough to stay on track. Work, family, illness and traveling are taking their toll on my regular reading. Also, the chapters are getting longer and deeper…I must admit that Chapter 13 on the Trinity was tough, both to understand and to blog.
So…if you are still with me after a month then give me a shot in the arm and leave a comment. All you need to do is click on the comment hyperlink below and leave your name, email address and hit submit. It would help tonnes to know people were still enjoying reading the blogs. Thanks to those of you who have encouraged me so far.
Only 11 more months to go and three more books………. I must be crazy!
So a week in to my plan to read and blog on the Institutes in 2009 and I’m still on track! Its really been a great discipline to pen a concise summary of its teaching and reflect on what I am learning. Its also been good to interact with others doing the same thing.
But, I hear someone say, why bother reading a book that is nearly 500 years old?
Well, firstly as someone who has been a Christian a long time and has been in Christian circles a long time I think it becomes really easy to accept certain theologians & books as “sound” without ever examining them for yourself. So I have made it my ambition to read the classics for myself, not just hear what people have to say about them. I have my own thoughts but I would be interested to heard of any others that you would recommend as “must reads”?
Secondly, I have been struggling for a while to find the best way to deepen my theological knowledge in a structured way. I don’t have much spare time at the moment and with a young family I find myself in the house most evenings. But its so easy to just turn the TV on in the evenings rather than pick up a church history text book! Having the blog means I will be more disciplined to do the reading and analysis (nearly!) every day.
Thirdly, I believe in the “little and often” philosophy when it comes to spiritual growth. Reading only a short section of a book like this, but doing it every day means I will get a lot more out of it than trying to read longer sections, especially if I take the time to contemplate how I can explain it in a way that a modern reader will understand.
Fourthly, there is a large part of me that thinks the old books are the best! So much of today’s prose is superficial and massively influenced by our culture that its great to transport myself back to a time when things were really different. Its only when we step out of our own generation and read the books written when the world was different that we begin to understand how we got where we are. Having said that I also believe its important to really understand the culture we live in so we can communicate to it effectively, I guess I try to find a balance by alternating an old book with a new book, a secular book with a Christian book etc
So that’s my reasons why I felt compelled to take up this challenge, thanks for stopping by.