How To Read The Institutes in 6 Months

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

As many are aware, 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. The Calvin 500 Blog is one of the best resources for information concerning the events, conferences, tours, reviews, studies, discussions, and developments related to the 2009 quincentenary of Calvin’s birth.

In 2006, I took 6 months to read Calvin’s Institutes. It was a very rewarding time and it has been a source of profound insight and ongoing learning since. In light of the great amount of material (1521 pages), I am often asked, “How did you read something that long?”

This is a good question. First, I am not a Calvin Scholar. There are some excellent resources available to help readers become acquainted with Calvin and his works (e.g., The Calvin 500 blog referenced above; Princeton Seminary’s website, which has a reading plan of Calvin’s Institutes;Blogging the Institutes at Reformation 21).

To be sure, 1521 pages can appear quite an enormous task. But, it really is not that difficult. The way you read Calvin’s Institutes is the same way you eat an elephant, a few bites at a time! So here is the plan I came up, which may be helpful to you:

Edition: Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, McNeill/Battles edition, The Westminster Press, 1960, 1521 pages

Reading Schedule: Monday-Saturday, 10-12 pages a day (Never less than 10; the key is to be consistent and don’t fall behind)

Time Length: I began on January 1, 2006 and finished in the middle of June (Note: I used a pencil and ruler to underline and write notes in the margins; I also used my computer to take notes and ended up with 300 page topical index to use as a personal reference for the future).

John Calvin was the most important theologian of the Reformation and of the Reformed tradition. The Institutes is one of the most important works penned in the last 500 years. So, I encourage everyone to read it. Don’t be intimidated by the length or by the fact that some of the material may be too “deep.” Just read it.

Most people are surprised to find out how devotionally rich the Institutes actually are. It was and continues to serve as a source of gospel-centered, Christ-exalting encouragement for me.

Here is a good gospel-driven quote from Book III.XV.I:

“If righteousness is supported by works, in God’s sight it must entirely collapse; and it is confined solely to God’s mercy, solely to communion with Christ, and therefore solely to faith.”


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