Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting to Know Calvin

Friday July 10th was John Calvin's 500th Birthday. Quite a milestone for the man. Many blog posts have circulated in his honor. I have benefited greatly from his works and wanted to pass along a few ideas on how to get the most from all his years of labor in the scriptures.

Reading Calvin's Institutes - While in college, I joined two friends in a study of the book Disciplines of a Godly Man. The best part of reading this book was what I found in the back. The author (R. Kent Hughes) interviewed a number of well known Christian leaders (like R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, and Eugene Petterson) and asked them, "What books, apart from the Bible, have been influential in your life?" I've often tried to discover what books shaped famous people and read those (for instance, Reagen pointed to Witness and Churchill cited The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as most influential). The most often mentioned book by these authors was C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, but a close second was John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion. Since being involved in that group, I've wanted to read the Institutes and have finally made it around to it this past year. I only read a few pages a day - but they are powerful pages. And it is surprisingly readable: it seems Calvin's intent was to write for the layman. He answers the charges of the day in a way the common citizen can easily understand. I highly recommend taking the next year or two to read through this work. You can either buy this fancy two-volume work, or this more affordable combined version.

Calvin's Commentaries
One of the more useful things I learned in seminary was the value of Calvin's commentaries. Wayne Grudem told me, in the midst of working heavily on the ESV Study Bible, that he often begins with John Calvin's commentaries (before a modern commentary) when seeking further clarification on a passage of scripture. You can purchase the entire set in hardback here, or you can access them on online for free at

The Master of Geneva
Calvin has often been misunderstood, both in his theology and in his governing of Geneva. There are many biographies available on Calvin, but last year I read a novel on his life called The Master of Geneva. If you have wanted to read more on Calvin's life, this would be a great book to pick up. However, good luck finding it, since it is out of print. I borrowed it from the church library, and I imagine most seminary libraries would have it. You can find them used online here and read a review of the book here

You can also download a well acclaimed biography on Calvin from Desring God Ministries for free here.

1 comment:

John and Pam said...

Thanks for the info. I looked up a passage last week in Calvin's commentaries. Thanks.