Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ten reasons to read Calvin's Institutes

1. It is a key Reformation text. If you would know what the Reformation was all about, read the Institutes.
2. The Institutes are readily available in a older and quite cheap English translation (here) and a more modern edition (here). You can even access them online (here). Why not give 10 minutes every day to reading Calvin's great work? Keep at it and you will be sure to make good progress.
3. The Institutes were written as theology for the people of God. You don't need to be a pastor or theologian to read this work. Calvin's intention was to give the Reformed churches a clear and deep understanding of biblical doctrine.
4. The practical sections of the Institutes are very helpful. Calvin's teaching on self-denial and prayer are outstanding. This is a work of theology that will change your life.
5. While Calvin builds on the insights of scholastic teaching, his approach to theology is refreshingly biblical. The work is full of Scripture references and considered exegesis.
6. In the Institutes, the doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of God. The Reformer insisted that the Son of God does not derive his divine essence from the Father. He is autotheos - God in his own right. For Calvin the language of begetting with regard to the Son is to be understood in relational rather than causal terms. Calvin's whole system of theology is thoroughly trinitarian. The Father reveals himself in the Son whom we know through the Spirit's witness to the Word of God.
7. The God-centeredness of the Institutes is a welcome corrective to "me and my needs" centred evangelicalism.
8. Unlike some works of Reformed theology, Calvin gives due attention to both the cross and the resurrection of Christ.
9. For Calvin union with Christ is the key to understanding the Christian life. Those who are united to him are both justified and sanctified. The Reformer taught that God declares the believing sinner righteous in Christ apart from works. But those who are united to Christ are also sanctified and called to do good works. Calvin thus avoids both legalism and antinomianism.
10. Read the Institutes for knowledge of God and yourself.


W. Travis McMaken said...

11. Calvin is a darn fine theologian and the Institutes is a prime example of why.

Anonymous said...

12. The attitude of prayer pervades the entire text in a way absent from far too many theological works.

But I still like Calvin's biblical commentaries better. I think Calvin was a better exegete than systematic theologian--doubtless because I am an Anabaptist-Arminian. :-)

richard zuelch said...

Hello, Guy: I've just recently discovered your blog. I was particularly interested in your reason #6 for reading the Institutes. As one who is, shall we say, skeptical about the doctrine of eternal generation (precisely because such doctrine denies to the Son of God His very self-existence as God if He must allegedly derive His Personhood, or even His essence, from the First Person of the Trinity), I appreciated your comments. In listing this reason, is there any special reason why you chose this particular point to highlight?

Guy Davies said...


I very much appreciate Calvin's trinitarian theology and think that his teaching on the autotheos of the Son is most helpful. I just wanted to flag up his distinctive contribution to the doctrine of the trinity.