I’m reading more these days than I have in recent past. When Googling “John Calvin” last week I discovered a blog called “Coffee With Calvin,” by a guy who is reading through Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” in one year, and sharing his observations. I had found my copy in the attic a couple months ago remembering why I enjoy reading this immense work. I’m using the McNeill edition published in 1960, the text translated by Lewis Ford Battles. There are many translations of the Institutes, this is the finest and most readable. Open anywhere in the 1521 pages of text and start reading anywhere. It’s like sitting in the finest of worship services. Martin Luther is pleasant to read but Calvin is an immersion in the worship of Christ the King, the God of glory. You can almost hear the angels singing. It is a feast for the soul. Reading straight through though is a real challenge for anyone, the work is immense, the theology very deep. But the rewards are worthy of the effort. Some books are must-reads for the believer, this is one. If I had to pick one non-Biblical person to spend extended time with it would be John Calvin. I say this mainly because of some familiarity with his writings, the Institutes, his commentaries, some tracts, I’m impressed with the kindness of his soul and his willingness to teach. The Apostle Paul would be an amazing companion, but Calvin would be an worthwhile friend.
Other influential books within arms reach of my nightstand include the publication “John Calvin, a Sixteenth Century Portrait,” by William J. Bouwsma, Oxford University Press, 1988. It isn’t a typical life of king of work, because those are plentiful. This one explores his living through the tumults of the 16th century, how it impacted him and vice versa, and less on his theology.
Another perennial favorite is “The Rise of Christianity,” W.H.C. Frend, Fortress Press, 1984. This thorough work is a treasure of learning how the early Church blossomed and survived tumultuous times to become the world’s leading spiritual and political force. It follows the development of the Church from its Jewish background through its first 600 years. It might not be as evangelical in some of its Biblical interpretations, but is filled with the historical influences and pressures that impacted the Church’s development. It bears reading and rereading, though if you have the time, Philip Schaff’s 9 Volume “History of the Christian Church,” 1890, is to be preferred for its exhaustive detail and evangelical enthusiasm. Another important reference is “The Creeds of Christendom,” Ed. by Philip Schaff, the 6th edition reprinted in 1985, in 3 volumes; and from the other camp, the “Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils,” Ed. Norman P. Tanner, S.J., Sheed & Ward and Georgetown Univ. Press, 1990, in 2 volumes.
But my reading these days mostly consists of my Bible. Coming to Christ in 1976 I became hungry to know what was in this book, wanting to know as much about this God who so immediately touched my heart and mind that one April evening. Upon having my eyes opened by the touch of His hand I pulled the family Bible down from the dining room shelf and opened it to the Gospels, and the Word was ALIVE to my heart and spirit! I was awestruck at what I read! The next weeks and months found me reading from Genesis through Revelation. I was soaking up this divine letter as if it was written specifically to me. After finishing Revelation I started again at Genesis working my way to the back cover. Reading the Bible straight through gave me a vital perspective on God’s dealings with mankind, and just how we have come our present predicament.
Along with reading His Word I have read as much as I could of other edifying works. “Evidence That Demands a Verdict,” by Josh McDowell, Francis A. Schaeffer’s “He Is There and He Is Not Silent,” C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy: “Out of the Silent Planet, “”Perelandra,” and “That Hideous Strength,” (the second volume, chapter nine, of which contains the most comprehensible view of how Adam and Eve could have made such a huge error of judgment by being deceived and taking the forbidden fruit – for those of you who find it unfathomable that a desire for the insignificant thing forbidden they could throw away the perfect life). I also keep nearby innumerable Bible study aids, my favorite being Keil and Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament. I sure kept the local Christian Bookstore in business.
However after some years of life in the Lord I got to a point of minimally reading the Word even while heavily involved in a local church. The pressures of life have a way of crowding out that which is really important for living. But a half dozen years ago or so I regained my senses and renewed my stroll through the Bible on a daily basis. I find it awesome to read how God directed His love and life into man’s world in such magnificent fashion. Especially poignant are the historical books of the Old Testament. The salvation story, beginning in Genesis and culminating in His glorious victory depicted at the end of Revelation makes for phenomenal and inspiring reading. His Word is truly awesome, and such a gift given to mankind graciously offered so that we could know Him as completely as we ever can in this lifetime should never be neglected, but should be enjoyed daily.