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Institutes of the Christian Religion, The

by John Calvin

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To assign John Calvin’s complete Institutes is to assure that your student will accomplish nothing else that semester. By the time Calvin was through rearranging and adding to his life’s work, the Institutes was almost as long as the Bible. When you further consider that Calvin was an intelligent Christian attempting to express a systematic theology, you know you’re probably biting off more than you can chew.

Which is why I’m much happier to assign students certain excerpts from this abridged edition of the Institutes. Calvin is not the writer that Martin Luther is, and much of his theology can be digested in an easier form by reading a work like J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology. Still, there are elements of Calvin’s thinking that you must get from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Do you believe in infant baptism or adult baptism? Calvin makes one of the classic arguments for infant baptism in Chapter 16 of his section on the Sacraments. Your position that baptism is intended for believers has not been fully considered until you wrestle with Calvin.

What is meant by predestination? Before you overthrow some of the straw men that have been set up to represent Calvin’s view, you’d best wrestle with the real thing (take your time reading pages 94-102).

The point, of course, is not to make students five-point Calvinists. The point is to help students consider their Christian faith as something true that demands deep thought. No systematic theology will ever adequately encapsulate the mystery of God and His relation to His creation, but every human should be fascinated by that mystery. Calvin doesn’t get it all right, but he wisely fears God and rejoices in contemplating His work.

by Jeff Baldwin