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Knowing God and Ourselves

By David B. Calhoun
August 2017 | Review by Graham Kissack
  • Publisher: Banner of Truth Trust
  • ISBN: 978-1-84871-718-3
  • Pages: 348
  • Price: 9.00
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Book Review

The subtitle of this book is ‘Reading Calvin’s Institutes devotionally’. For most readers this may be somewhat misleading. It is not a devotional book in the standard sense, using excerpts of writings from well-known Christians for daily thought and devotion. It is more of a theological introduction to Calvin’s Institutes.

The book certainly has value for those desiring to study the theology of Calvin. Of course, one does not have to agree with Calvin at every point to benefit from it.

The book has an informative introduction, followed by 26 chapters. Subjects covered include ‘Knowing God in creation’, ‘Knowing God in Scripture’, ‘God’, ‘Creation’, ‘Providence’, and so on. Readers are assigned a certain number of chapters from the Institutes to read before studying each chapter.

The intention is that readers will read systematically through the Institutes, using the chapters in the book as a study/devotional guide. The versions of the Institutes that are recommended are either the McNeill-Battles edition or the edition translated by Robert White.

The chapters are well laid out, each starting with a notable quote from John Calvin on the subject being covered, a Scripture text, and one of Calvin’s prayers (which, in themselves, are worth reading carefully). The chapters to be read from the Institutes are clearly stated and the main points of the section are highlighted and explained.

However, there are some drawbacks. First, the reader will need to have access to a copy of Calvin’s hefty magnum opus. Second, the reader needs to be aware of the amount of reading that will be required to work through this book as well as the Institutes — a work well over 1,000 pages long.

Third, Calvin is not as easy to read as many modern authors. One suspects that, even with the historic significance of Calvin’s work, most modern readers would prefer to digest something along the lines of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic theology instead (which, by the way, also has devotional elements in it).

For those interested in the writings of John Calvin, particularly theology students, this book is excellent. However, ordinary readers will find it challenging.

Graham Kissack


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