An Introduction to Calvin's Geneva Catechism / by Joshua Torrey

No name looms more largely than John Calvin among Reformed Theology. His systematic writings, exemplified by the colossal Institutes of the Christian Religion, have impacted every subsequent theology. His theology is devotional in its praise of God. It stands within reason to say that Calvin was a history-altering theologian and pastor.

Calvin hasn't done too poorly in the modern, internet age either. His soteriological teaching has been branded with his name (Calvinism), acrostics (TULIP), and emphatic declarations (the doctrines of grace). Reformed Theology has risen to fame, even in secular communities, off of the ground-breaking work of John Calvin. My own introduction to the writing of John Calvin came at the hands of his Institutes of the Christian Religion—not the surging number of “Young, Restless, Reformed” blogs. I, a stumbling Baptist at the time, was flung upside down theologically by Calvin. I was naively shocked that Calvin's systematic thought went well beyond soteriology. Peripheral debates of Calvinism-Arminianism were rendered mute or irrelevantly shallow. In Calvin, I found a humanistic, yet biblical theology that touched on the full scope of the Christian experience—not just salvation.

My trajectory was set. As my study—and my writing—increased I spent much time with Calvin's 1545 Genevan Catechism (his second attempt). Calvin's first attempt in 1538 was a paragraph style confession that has been preserved in English by Ford Lewis Battles. However, Calvin made alterations for the education of children in a true "catechism" style only a few years later. It stands as a historical landmark in the theological output of Calvin (the third edition of his Institutes was published in 1543). Containing the almost fully developed theology of Calvin, the catechism is worthy of preservation because of its simplicity and comprehensive nature. I have relied upon it for many years now and have quoted it on many occasions to convey Calvin's thoughts in a more simple form.

Because some of the answers are merely "yes" or "no," Calvin's catechism is not particularly remarkable for memorization and fell out of publication. What follows in this volume is a refined version of Elijah Waterman's 1815 translation of the catechism. Principally, only the words, format, and punctuation have been brought forward to modern vernacular and readability. My hope is that the re-publication of this catechism will bring more people into contact with the full theology of John Calvin. For all the clamor over his name, many continue to only read and apply popular portions of his thought. The thickness of his Institutes and commentaries are not found here. Hopefully, this catechism can work as a gateway to a renewed emphasis on truly Calvinistic thought.