6 Tips for Reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

"It might seem a little silly to offer tips on how to read a book. Don’t you start reading the first page and keep going until you reach the end? Well, yes. And no! Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion requires some guidance, or else readers will get confused and lose interest in a hurry. There are several reasons why this is the case." - Servants of Grace

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Bert Perry's picture

Calvin is, in my view, far deeper in its writing and harder to understand than most theological writing I've seen.  It is to Matthew Henry what Henry is to modern evangelical "self-help books", not a page turner at all.  One thing that I might add is that since Calvin builds off Augustine, a glance here and there at Augustine might be very helpful in understanding the Institutes.  Really, Calvin's trying to address the (Reformation) issues of the day and bring an understanding that the Reformation was indeed something that followed the ancient tradition of the Church.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Paul Henebury's picture

I had to read the Institutes as a preliminary to attending London Theological Seminary.  I used the Beveridge translation and found it relatively easier than the Puritans I was used to reading.  It is a great book, and like all great books repays the effort (even when one vehemently disagrees). 

Ford Lewis Battles wrote a fine book Analysis of the Institutes, and Tony Lane wrote a slim Reader's Guide which is very good.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture


I, too, have the Beveridge translation. I like Calvin. I haven't read the whole thing; I use it as a reference. I honestly want recommendations for medieval theologians. I'd like to broaden my library beyond Reformation+ figures.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Paul Henebury's picture

Well Tyler, if you move into the Middle Ages you will come up against Scholasticism.  I confess I find much of it very dry.  I have the Summa and have read bits of it, but I find those guys hard going.  One or two who are a tad less dry are Bonaventure and Richard of St. Victor.  Anselm isn't bad either.  

I have Edward Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics, but haven't read it yet.  If anyone can make the Medieval theologians and their followers interesting, he can.  I thought his book The Last Superstition was quite outstanding.   

As for the Institutes, Battles draws out the logical flow of Calvin's method brilliantly.  The book does repay a read-through. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.