Reading Calvin Devotionally


It’s been awhile since I posted my thoughts. To be honest, I think I needed a month or so to stabilize, kind of get my heart right knowing that the next few months will “a ride”. I’m not sure how much of this journey I’ll share on a blogsite but I’d be more than happy to describe what it’s like in person.

That said, I have to be honest that in my stubborn past, I refused to read John Calvin for a number of reasons. First, some (ok, a lot) of the Reformed-type people I know came across as boorish. it seemed like we could never have a conversation about life without somehow getting back to theology proper, particularly the issue of predestination. And it seemed like even as a young believer I was an object being smashed with a hammer into a pigeonholed pentagon… And second, I thought Calvin himself was wound a little too tight. Without even considering his historical context, while I was thankful for the Reformation, I refused to read Calvin because it was too cold and precise theologically. I remember a post of Tim Keller’s where he described many people’s reaction toward Calvin as someone with a “dismal reputation as a pinched, narrow-minded, cold and cerebral dogmatician.” Uh… yea… that’s pretty close…

A few months ago, I started a project by reading Calvin in a different way. For sure, I had to wade through some of the topics that I initially had avoided Calvin over. Most every morning I have read Calvin’s Institutes devotionally. That is, rather than reading him critically (that’s in the good sense of the word), I’ve read him with an open heart. In the beginning Calvin begins by positing two forms of knowledge – knowledge of God and knowledge of self. Knowing God and knowing self are both important, and are not separate but interlinked. But which comes first? Of course, he holds to knowledge of God. But putting that aside, what if I read Calvin with an open heart to see myself in light of knowing God more?

So when I came to some of his famous chapters on election and predestination (which are way less than I originally had assumed), here’s what it did in my heart. Apart from any logical or biblical argument that Calvin puts forth, what my heart sensed was deep gratitude that in some way salvation was wrapped up in His initiation in my life. I don’t know how much my agency played a part but my heart was settled in the fact that somehow, in God’s wisdom, His lovingkindess was made known in my life through Christ. For the time, it was ok to “sit in it” and not try to figure it out.

All that to say, in honesty, I’ve been surprised how devotional his writings are and how wrong I was!

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