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Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion…

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian… (edition 1960)

by John T. McNeill

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3,919161,314 (4.5)1 / 23
Title:Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (The Library of Christian Classics)
Authors:John T. McNeill
Info:Westminster John Knox Press (1960), Paperback, 1822 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Calvin, theology, systematic theology, reformation, reformed

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Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin



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Finishing Calvin's Institutes felt like eating Bran Flakes. You know it's supposed to be good for you, but when given the option to have Lucky Charms, you'll choose the Leprechaun every time.

When I started reading the Institutes I was fresh out of Seminary. I didn't have the opportunity to take a course on Calvin, so I thought that this would round out my education. Another reason I tackled Calvin was my (former) love for systematic theology. I thought that there was nothing more sublime than a cohesive logical understanding of scripture.

The more I pastored and studied scripture for myself, the more I became disillusioned with systematic theology. No matter whose system you chose, the emphasizing of some passages over others always felt arbitrary.

Take the Calvinist/Arminianist debate with respect to Philippians 2:12-13. It's all a matter of which side you emphasize: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Calvinism) "for it is God who works in you" (Arminianism) (ESV).

Systematic theology is like a bit-mapped picture. If you have a sufficiently detailed resolution (or nuanced systematic method), you can reproduce a pretty accurate picture of the original. But why not just enjoy the original? Scripture is the story of God's relationship with his people. There is a reason love letters don't look like bullet lists in a PowerPoint presentation. Narrative trumps systems. Every time.

The logic of Calvin's systematic theology is highly nuanced and quite brilliant. I learned a tremendous amount from his encyclopedic knowledge of scripture. (This 1,700 page edition of the Institutes is rather small compared to his Commentary on the entire Bible!) When he speaks about the role of faith in the believer's life and the nature of prayer, his work is inspiring. The problem comes when he follows the logic of his system to the end and is left with with double predestination, for example. (If scripture says that God predestined believers for glory, then logically, He must have predestined souls for hell, right?)

Here is where systems fail and narrative comes to our rescue. The Bible is more of a library than a book. Each author has his own understanding of scripture, as inspired by the Spirit of God. True, the books and stories fit together in amazing ways, but that doesn't take away from their own character. Read Ecclesiastes beside Song of Songs and you'll see what I mean.

I started the Institutes as a systematist. While I still appreciate and respect this discipline, I am now wholeheartedly a Biblical theologian. For example, I would much rather work at bringing out what John meant in his Gospel than spend my time trying to reconcile the date of the crucifixion with Mark's account.

Let scripture speak in all of its sundry glory. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Oct 21, 2014 |
John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, was a seminal work that shaped Christendom as well as history in the 16th century and beyond. Calvin’s tone is pastoral and his attitude worshipful, which makes his theological views come alive. He was a man who was passionate about the person and work of Christ, the wonders and mysteries of the Godhead, and the deep, abiding love of the Father for His children.

Read The Institutes and be swept away by the power and spiritual wisdom of one of the Church’s mightiest saints.

"Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is a monumental work that stands among the greatest works of Christian theology and Western literature. The Institutes are highly pastoral and devotional. Calvin understood doctrine to be more than theory, something to mold our understanding of God, ourselves and the world in which we live. Carefully working through the Institutes is a journey worth taking!"
- Douglas V.

"If there was one book other than the Bible with me on a desert island it would be this one. No other human author has ever been as edifying for me. This book truly drove me to my knees!
- Dave K.

"The Institutes are exegetical in substance, Christ centered in focus, worshipful in tone, and polemical in style. Calvin is not a dry theologian. This book lifts my gaze to God!
- Brian Hedges

John Calvin remains one of God's greatest gifts to the church. - Derek Thomas
  Stormrev1 | Aug 23, 2014 |
Let's be upfront about this: I came into this reading disliking Calvin. I dislike almost everything about him. I dislike his rigidity. I dislike his scriptura sola thing. I dislike the way he twists his theology to satisfy two claims

i) God can't change
ii) People are worthless

even though God changes throughout the bible and people wouldn't be worth saving if we were worthless. I dislike the way he ignores the obvious conclusion from his theology, which was nicely smirked at in James Hogg's 'Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.'

But I read this because Marilynne Robinson's crusade to make Calvin respectful made me ashamed and I decided I should go to the horse's mouth and, worse case scenario, I would understand Robinson's novels better. Marilynne won't be happy to know that my general attitude toward Calvin hasn't changed. She might be glad to know that I won't be as dismissive as I was before reading this book, if only because I now feel like he was a basically good guy who got carried away by a really bad idea, and a really smart guy who tried to square his goodness with his bad idea, but failed. It could be much worse.

So I have no idea whether this book is a representative selection of his complete Institutes or not, but it is a surprisingly easy read. The editor deserves a lot of praise, and he gets one of those three stars I just gave out. Calvin gets two for being smart and basically good.

As a special bonus, my running complaints in the margins of this book gave me a much better idea of what I value and what I do not value in the Christian theological tradition. Calvin turns out to be a good whetstone for your brain. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Majestic! ( )
  NathanBlaineShaver | Jan 9, 2013 |
Volume XX and XX1 of the Library of Christian Classics
  Willgee | Jan 10, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Calvinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McNeill, John T.Editormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Allen, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Battles, Ford LewisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beveridge, HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Niet, C.A. deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0664220282, Hardcover)

This is the definitive English-language edition of one of the monumental works of the Christian church. All previous editions--in Latin, French, German, and English--have been collated; references and notes have been verified, corrected, and expanded; and new bibliographies have been added.The translation preserves the rugged strength and vividness of Calvin's writing, but also conforms to modern English and renders heavy theological terms in simple language. The result is a translation that achieves a high degree of accuracy and at the same time is eminently readable.

Long recognized for the quality of its translations, introductions, explanatory notes, and indexes, the Library of Christian Classics provides scholars and students with modern English translations of some of the most significant Christian theological texts in history. Through these works--each written prior to the end of the sixteenth century--contemporary readers are able to engage the ideas that have shaped Christian theology and the church through the centuries.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:41 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

"Long regarded as the central theologian of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin changed the course of the Christian church through one book: Institutes of the Christian Religion. Hendrickson Publishers here offers the classic English translation of this masterpiece, newly typeset and freshly designed for the modern reader, with all the citatioins, indexes, and other other helps updated."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

2 editions of this book were published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co..

Editions: 0802881661, 0802807747

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