TO THE MOST HIGH, MOST MIGHTY AND MOST BIG-TIME PRINCE, FRANCIS, MOST CHRISTIAN KING OF FRANCE, HIS PRINCE AND SOVEREIGN LORD, JOHN “TONS OF FUN” CALVIN, PEACE AND DELIVERANCE IN GOD.
Hi there King Francis,
Let me be honest: when I started writing this book, I never thought you’d read it! I was only trying to teach the basics of Christianity to my neighbours. But then something super sad started happening: Christians, right here in France, who believe the stuff that I’m writing about, were told they weren’t welcome in your kingdom, and they started getting killed or burned or sent to prison or stabbed.
So I had an idea: Why don’t I write this book to you too, so that you can hear what we believe right out of my own mouth? That way, if someone says that we’re troublemakers, you can say, “Na-ah; not true!”
“When man fell, it was therefore an attempt to do without God in every respect. Man sought his ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty somewhere beyond God, either directly within himself or indirectly within the universe about him. Originally man had interpreted the universe under the direction of God, but now he sought to interpret the universe without reference to God (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 42).”
In Gen. 1:26 and 28, we read that our first parents were made by God to “have dominion” over everything in creation and to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Verse twenty-six relates this function simply to our being made in God’s image: we image God in the way we are the undisputed rulers over all of creation. In verse twenty-eight, this role comes out of a blessing: “God blessed them and said to them…” A person is, just by showing up, a creation-ruler, and they are sent out to do this work with God’s blessing.
The way humans carry out this work is through the altering of creation. The English word “culture” has agricultural roots related to cultivating, tilling, and caring for land. Human culture alters the landscape of the world, in every way. Through culture, that is, the works of art and science, humans exercise their dominion. They then have babies that grow up to carry on this work of culture-making and creation-shaping, and on it goes.
Admittedly, humans as a whole don’t have a good track record with culture-making. Every culture we’ve made so far bears the sin we brought to it. Most of us can’t handle our smartphones in a responsible manner, and yet we’re in charge of the planet and its lifeforms?
It’d be nice at this point to have the option of opting out. Take a pass on the whole creation mandate-thing. But the gardener who stops weeding is making a horticultural decision; he’s exercising dominion in his own lazy way.
Bruce Waltke observes, “The issue is not whether human beings will develop culture; the only issue is what kind? Will it be godly or ungodly? Will it be motivated by agape (God’s love) or eros (self-love)?” Imaging God is simply inescapable for those made in his image.
So at work, at home or at school, we are always gardening and tilling and shaping the world. And whether we do it well or poorly, we will do it nonetheless.
“The Christian teaching of the ontological Trinity, therefore, gives it a clearly distinguishable metaphysic, epistemology, and ethic. In all these three Christian theism is wholly different from any other philosophy of life (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 30).”
Hi, kids! It’s me, John “Tons of Fun” Calvin!
Have you ever thought, “Zut! The Bible is huge! How can I understand it all?”
Well, remember how hard it was when you were just learning to use the plow or slaughtering animals? I bet your dad and mom helped you, right?
In this book, The Institutes for Kids, I’m going to help you see the very most important things in the Bible. Because I’m a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of time reading and studying the God’s Word. So think of me as your guide, walking with you through “Bible-World.” I’ll point out its clearest rivers, help you through its biggest mountains, and bring you to its prettiest views. Once you’ve walked around with me, the whole landscape will be easier to explore on your own.
Now, listen up: keep your Bibles open! That’s the most important thing! I don’t want you to think I’m playing a trick on you and leading you down a twisty path 😉 I want you to make sure whatever I say is written down in God’s Word.
And if you’re having a tough time understanding something in the Bible, don’t give up! Maybe the next verse will make things clearer!
Let’s go exploring!
When John Calvin was finishing off his 1514 edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, a popular Christian-book publisher approached him and asked if he would be willing to write a companion volume of his magnum opus that was “totally fun and safe for kids!” Being a broad-minded man, John Calvin jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell past its first printing, and very few copies remain.
A few months ago I received a package from Geneva, Switzerland containing a fairly well preserved illustrated edition of The Institutes for Kids I bought on Ebay.
I’ve only started the translation work, and so I’ll be posting section by section as I go. I’ll be using the section titles from Robert White’s excellent translation of the full edition because the Kids version employed Renaissance-style woodcut pictures instead of section headings.
And now, for the first time in English, here it is: The Institutes for Kids!
“This view of Scripture [that it speaks not only of religious and moral matters, but also of history, philosophy of history, the physical universe, etc.], therefore, involves the idea that there is nothing in this universe on which human beings can have full and true information unless they take the Bible into account” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 20).
Let’s zoom in. Seeing education as the process of training us what to love makes us look at our daily habits differently. You can’t cruise your Instagram feed just to pass the time; its very nature is to powerfully form or deform you.
James K.A. Smith says these beautiful, strong, creative, and happy people are more than app-based entertainment or inspiration; they’re, “embodied pictures of the redeemed that invite us to imagine ourselves in their shoes–to imagine ourselves otherwise.”
Without saying a word (unless you’re following an outright boaster, Floyd Mayweather-type), these “embodied pictures” are catechizing your heart with images. You’re learning to love what they love. You’re learning to love how they love. “Happiness and meaning can be yours, as it is now mine, if you would only join CrossFit, or take this cooking class, or voice your outrage, or renovate your basement, or start dating someone good-looking!”
Lots of other daily habits are like this. They are our regular submission to a form of education. Are these habits forming or deforming your loves? Are you learning to love things worthy of love, the Triune God of the Bible and the things he loves, or are your affections being tutored in the ways of lesser gods and their lesser works?
“There is a tradition throughout the history of theology of saying things vigorously, combatively. Luther and Calvin sometimes went into diatribes that make Van Til look mild by comparison” (Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, p. 13).
We’re trying to process “education” up in here. Our eldest is approaching school-age, and she’s starting to ask questions.
A while back, Brit started hanging out in Charlotte Mason’s web and I’ve been digging into James K. A. Smith’s work. What follows is a many-parted post (a nugget-bonanza, if you will) on education:
Education is teaching you to love. A good education teaches you to love the best things.
Education doesn’t only happen in schools and lecture halls, where new ideas and new information is transmitted–education happens wherever you’re learning to love. Homes, malls, places of worship, Facebook and Instagram, what’s heard in music and seen on the screen shape and inform our loves–they’re teaching us, with or without words, to “love this and not that.”
We’re always being educated, but often, we’re not receiving a good education.