Last Friday was the 500th birthday of John Calvin. Some folks might understandably say, “who?” For better or worse John Calvin is the a primary founder of what we would call Presbyterianism. Just as Lutherans look back to Luther; Methodists look back to Wesley; we Presbyterians look back to Calvin.
Put generally I believe that most Presbyterians view their relationship with Calvin as uneasy at best. So many stereotypes of the man exist—ones from which most Presbyterians want to flee. Stereotypes about predestination, free will, total depravity, and just general dourness.
I have been studying Calvin off-and-on for almost 20 years. During my times of study I have found myself profoundly moved by his writings and his personal story; at other times I have found myself disagreeing completely with his arguments.
I first read the Institutes at an upper level theology class during my last year at Union Seminary in New York. We read the Institutes in ten weeks. Dr. Christopher Morse was the Professor. Each week I wrote a two page reflection paper on the hundreds of pages I had read during the week. To be engaged in the thinking of Calvin—such a brilliant mind—was invigorating.
In my preaching at Plainview I occasionally lifted up pieces of Calvin’s thought. One summer Sunday I devoted an entire sermon to Calvin’s personal story—which is fascinating. Through the use of Power Point I was able to share the important chapters of his life with that congregation.
In recognition of his 500th birthday, Princeton Seminary is encouraging people to read through the Institutes in 2009. They created a web site with a daily reading schedule, weekly commentaries, and a message board.
This is an excellent idea and I decided in January to follow along on the reading schedule.
This time reading through the Institutes has been a chore.
I started off by reading the Institutes during my own personal devotion time. I had planned to read through the New Testament in 2009, but initially decided to substitute the Institutes. I started off fine, but by mid-April realized that reading Calvin and reading the New Testament are far different. I discovered I was hungry spiritually. I stopped reading the Institutes and started reading the New Testament during my devotions. That was a good choice.
I didn’t give up on Calvin, though. I would find time during the day to keep on the reading schedule. But when my family moved out of our house in Rochester, my Calvin reading was cast aside. I found myself behind on the readings. Eventually I decided to give up on reading the Institutes for the year.
However during my prayer time this morning, I felt a gentle nudge to come back and read the Institutes again. When I felt this nudge I asked God, “How am I going to catch up?” I felt a response to read for 15 minutes during the day at the office; start out with the current day’s reading, and then find a way to read what I’ve missed.
Okay—that is the plan for me. I’ll keep you posted on how it is going.