Reflections on reading Book I

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.

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