Friday, March 20, 2009

Calvin's Institutes


A number of us are reading through John Calvin's Institutes this year, the 500th anniversary of his birth. Yesterday morning I finished. But I did get a head start. In 1981. So it's about time.

Calvin can be tiresome when he goes off like this: "This is what, indeed, certain fanatics who delight in unbridled license shout and boast . . .," referring apparently to Anabaptist conviction (4.20.2). Smackdowns do not edify.

But there is so much about Calvin's thinking I receive and love. I found myself agreeing with almost every conviction he proposed. Not everything. But disagreement was rare. I have been instructed and enriched by this study. My Bible is now marked in many passages with a marginal note: "See Calv, Inst, x.x.x."

Why does John Calvin still matter today? Above all else, Calvin understands what it means to take into account, first and foremost, in all things, God: "The Christian must surely be so disposed and minded that he feels within himself it is with God he has to deal throughout his life" (3.7.2). Every moment of every day is a God-moment.

For us, that way of thinking is an adjustment. An adjustment big enough to be called repentance. We think piecemeal. We compartmentalize. We diminish the reach of God's grace into the moment-by-moment of our lives. But like a prophet of old, Calvin calls us back to God.

I thank the Lord for this fallible but precious gift, my brother, John Calvin.