Saturday, April 6, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Four

I suppose I should take a minute to say that these posts on John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion are intended to be an unbiased summary of what Calvin says, and not a wholesale endorsement of his theology, philosophy, worldview, or thought processes. Calvin's work is quite dense, and his vocabulary is impressive, and he often refers to previous chapters in a sort of shorthand, as if the reader is supposed to remember all of his arguments as well as he does. I started writing bulleted summaries so that I did not have to do as much rereading, then decided to share these summaries, in case anyone else out there ever started Calvin and got bogged down in his style. I do, however, sometimes provide my own commentary in bracketed italics, particularly if I think Calvin is wrong or if he is making too many assumptions. For example, in the early chapters, I'm noticing that Calvin had no conception of life outside a society where more or less everybody was Catholic or Protestant (aka some kind of Christian), and it shows in his arguments concerning what "everybody" knows about the existence of God.

Anyway, on to the summary:

Section One

  • Although everyone has some innate grasp of religion, few cherish this knowledge, and fewer still mature in it
  • There is no true godliness anywhere in the world; everyone is degenerate
  • Vanity and pride lead men into superstitious belief, as well as into perceiving God by their own ideas of what He is like
  • When they worship God according to the dictates of their own hearts rather than according to His standards, their worship has no value in God's sight

Section Two

  • Those who become hardened against God often forget Him entirely
  • They believe in a God who exists, but who is powerless to act in the world, for punishment or for good gifts

Section Three

  • They say that it is enough to have some sort of religion, ignoring God’s will in matters of worship and belief
  • God cannot be changed to fit the whims of each individual; to attempt to do so is to mock Him
  • Those who seek to worship God according to their own standards are actually worshipping themselves—they would not even attempt such a thing if they had not already redefined God according to their whims
  • At that point, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in one God or many; false worship is false worship, idolatry is idolatry

Section Four

  • When they do think of God, it is because of fear of punishment, not because of reverence
  • They turn to meaningless religious rituals as a means to propitiate God
  • They do end up seeking God when tough times come, but laugh at Him in the good times

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