Last year we found that the 40 days leading up to Easter were a great opportunity for many members of our congregation to read a daily devotional together. Last year our devotional blog “40 Days to the Cross” carried us through the Gospel of Matthew. This year, I almost let the swirl of life distract me from writing a similar blog journal. But in a moment of inspiration (or perhaps weakness) I felt compelled to produce a devotional once again during the season of Lent. The goal will be to produce something 6 days a week, though if that is too ambitious we may need to pull back from a “daily” devotional and simply have a “regular” devotional. One of the easiest ways that you can interact with this material is to have the “daily/regular” readings sent to you by email. You can do that by typing your email address into the box titled "subscribe" just to the right of this entry. If you need help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The plan for this year’s Lenten devotional is to read through a couple chapters of a classic reformation book, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion,” by John Calvin. Calvin was one of the earliest and most influential theologians of the Reformation and the “Institutes” are his greatest work. It is one of the first Protestant attempts to draw together a system of theology which interacts with the church traditions but is grounded in the Scriptures. Many people have heard about the Institutes or John Calvin but most stop short of actually reading his most important work. We hope that taking it in small chunks and providing a commentary can make it more manageable. This would be a great opportunity to dig in and engage with this historic reformer face to face.
Each entry will begin with a short scripture reference, a reading from Calvin and then a short reflection on the topic. The section we will begin with is from Book III, chapter 7. It is called “The Sum of the Christian Life the Denial of Ourselves.” When I read through this section a few months ago I was struck by this assertion. John Calvin says that the sum of the Christian life is that we deny ourselves. Now, this denial leads to a greater focus on the glory of God which is our greatest joy. But still… I can’t escape noticing that this is a radically counter-cultural message. The beauty of reading old books is that they can speak into our situation with a fresh voice from beyond our cultural moment.
My guest blogger for this devotional is Justin Kunkle. Justin has been a member of our church for several years and is completing his seminary studies at RPTS in Pittsburgh. Justin has spent years working at Teen Challenge, a Christian drug/alcohol rehabilitation center. As such, he is an expert teaching on the topic of self-denial. He is also a bit of a Calvin scholar and will have some great insights to offer on this subject.
The translation we will be using is by Ford Battles. It is the newest and most readable translation of the Institutes, but unfortunately I have not seen it available to read online. An older translation (Beveridge) is available online and can be found on the website “Christian Classics Ethereal Library” (CCEL). http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes/ If nothing else, it has a great introduction to the book!
Also, Justin sent me a link to an article on reading the Institutes. It can be found here: blogs.thegospelcoalition.org (Matt)