Finally on Kindle: Best Edition of Calvin’s Institutes

The definitive version of Calvin’s Institutes is finally available on Kindle.41HJYeQt-FL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_-1

In 2012 I asked the publisher if there were plans to make it available on Kindle, and they weren’t hopeful. They quietly released it on Kindle this Spring.

I recently wrote how Tim Keller read Calvin’s Institutes and loved it, as well as mentioning a workable plan to read it in a year.

How A Repressive, Dour, Wig-Wearing Puritan Liberated Marilynne Robinson

2014_1112_webimages_14_jonedwards

Do I Look Like a Liberator of 21st Century Humankind? (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In the latest issue of Humanities, the magazine for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nobel Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson discusses how Jonathan Edwards, that repressive, dour, powder wig-wearing killjoy Puritan, popularly known for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” liberated her.

The essay, titled (brace yourself), “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light: Remembered for Preaching Fire and Brimstone, He Was Actually One of the Great Intellectuals of His Era,” is striking most notably because Robinson is known as an unashamed Calvinist who actually reads, loves, and frequently writes about Calvin, while she’s been relatively silent about Jonathan Edwards. This essay demonstrates she’s more than a one-note, albeit highly literate, Calvinist.

Here’s some excerpts:

I know this sounds improbable on its face. We are told that it is modernity that liberates, and Puritanism, with its famous defense of predestination and its all-devouring work ethic, that we ought to be, and perhaps never are, liberated from. I have always been unperturbed by these criticisms.

And:

Jonathan Edwards provided me with a metaphysics that made the phenomenal world come alive for me again and that seemed to me to undercut every version of determinism, including even predestination, without obliging me to accept an alternative.

Robinson concludes the essay:

Edwards’s vision….taught me to think in terms that finally did some justice to the complexity of things.

Read Robinson’s essay on Jonathan Edwards here.

The Wonder of Being

Marilynne Robinson:

[Calvin] did not set out to refute or prove but to enlist.

Think what a wonderful creature you are—‘such agile motions of the soul, such excellent faculties, such rare gifts, especially bear upon the face of them a divinity that does not allow itself readily to be hidden.’

And think what a terrible creature you are, how inclined to indolence and selfishness, dishonesty, pride and error, cruelty.

Everything about you that is wonderful points to God, because it is his much marred but still perceptible image.

Everything that is terrible about you points to God, because in confronting it you feel the vastness of the difference between yourself and any conception you can form of him:

‘To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves.’

This paradox, which is typically Calvinist, enlarges and complicates the meaning of self and self-knowledge by placing them in the moment of the grandest, indeed the most metaphysical, experience of the wonder of being.

John Calvin: Steward of God’s Covenant (Selected Writings), eds. Thornton and Varenne, p. xx. Preface by Marilynne Robinson. (Italics mine. Reformatted for readability.)

Reading Calvin’s Institutes: A Not-So-Daunting Task After All

Largely inspired by Tim Keller’s confession that he had only recently just read Calvin’s Institutes, last year I attempted to do the same.

I failed.

Okay, I made it through a third of the first volume. But I intend on plugging away at it yet again this year. (Would that I finally finish Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which I’ve partially read and has been a constant bedside companion for over ten years. I know, shame on me. My wife and kids endlessly mock me.)

Back to Calvin. Here’s some things Keller learned after reading the Institutes:

  1. First, it is not just a textbook, but also a true work of literature.
  2. Second, it is nothing if not biblical.
  3. Third, the Institutes are, I think, the greatest, deepest, and most extensive treatment of the grace of God I have ever read.
  4. Last of all (and here our modern evangelical terminology fails us) Calvin’s writings are astonishingly “doxological.”

Read Keller’s gleanings from Calvin’s Institutes here.

And here’s the reading plan Keller references.

“So, Are You Open and Affirming?” A Lesbian, a Pastor and Sparks of Glory

Several years ago during Lent, I went to a local coffeehouse–also a lesbian hangout–to prepare a sermon. With my books spread out on the table, deep in thought while my fingers danced on the computer keyboard, a young woman unexpectedly sat down next to me.

“What are you working on?” she asked.

In hushed voice, I hesitantly replied, “a sermon.”

Her face lit up. “So you’re a pastor? That’s great! I’m ___________, and I’m a lesbian. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Bracing myself, I knew what was next. “So, is your church open and affirming?”

Pregnant pause.

“What do you mean by ‘open and affirming?’ I asked, trying to appear calm and sincere while nonchalantly sipping my coffee. Surely she must be on to me.

“You know, is your church open and affirming of the gay and lesbian lifestyle?”

Of course I knew. After all, this is Minneapolis.

Now I could have simply told her the cold hard truth and promptly ended the discussion. “Sunday’s a comin’!” is the pastor’s mantra, and I had a long way to go before the sermon was ready for delivery. But she seemed genuinely interested in friendly conversation. And with me, a pastor. Moreover, she didn’t appear militant. So not wanting to kill the conversation, I took the bait and attempted to answer her inquiry.

“Our church seeks to be open and welcoming to all sorts of people, including those in the GLBT community.”

“That’s great! I completely agree!” she said.

“Well think about it” I replied. “What sort of people did Jesus hang out with much of the time? The super-religious people of his day accused him of being a drunk, a friend of prostitutes and ‘sinners.’ It got him in a lot of trouble, eventually leading to his awful death.”

“I guess you’re right.” She seemed genuinely intrigued, so I continued.

“I envision a church with all sorts of people learning what it means to be followers of Jesus living in a broken world. We want to be open to everyone from across the spectrum of faith, including those who are unsure of what they believe. The gospel, this amazingly good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is something we want all individuals, whatever their temptations may be, to know and love. So from that perspective, yes, we are an open and affirming church.”

So began a long and fruitful conversation on the gospel and same sex attraction. It probably wasn’t the answer she expected. We even discussed the necessity of repentance and faith, not just for the non-Christian but for Christians.

Mind you, this wasn’t the time or place to give a comprehensive gospel presentation–at least not yet. My initial aim was more modest: to simply talk respectfully and seek to understand someone with whom I often struggle to find common ground, sprinkling the conversation with compelling gospel truth.

Later that night, I was reminded of something John Calvin wrote: “…wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory” (Institutes I.V.1).  And while Calvin was referring to the heavenly bodies above, if I had eyes to see past this lesbian’s sexual sin-marred physical body, surely I would behold sparks, even faint ones, of Divine glory. “For although God’s glory shines forth in the outer man, yet there is no doubt that the proper seat of his image is in the soul” (Ibid I.XV.3).

Contextualizing Calvin, I wasn’t speaking merely to a lesbian. While she and others may ultimately define her by her sexual practice, a greater truth emerged: I was beholding a woman–a person–created in the Imago Dei, who was living in a world that’s not how it’s supposed to be because of this anti-God virus that infects us all. That night, God gifted me with the grace and pleasure to talk with a sin-riddled woman shot through with God’s glory, despite her sexual orientation and practice, or the nature and gravity of her sin.

I didn’t finish my sermon that evening. Instead, I chose to wade into the complex world of a fallen Daughter of Eve who perhaps considered her need for a Savior, one who was open to some hearty discussion with a pastor during Holy Week.

And you know what? Given the chance, I’d do it all over again.