Be they never so devout and faithful, those who simply echo Calvin are not good Calvinists, that is, they are not really taught by Calvin. Being taught by Calvin means entering into dialogue with him, with Calvin as the teacher and ourselves as students, he speaking, we doing our best to follow him and then--this is the crux of the matter--making our own response to what he says. If that does not happen we might just as well be listening to Chinese; the historical Calvin is not present. For that Calvin wants to teach and not just say something that we will repeat. The aim, then, is a dialogue that may end with the taught saying something very different from what Calvin said but that they learned from or, better, through him. Calvin's doctrine is the teacher, and therefore history is when it kindles in us our own independent knowledge which basically makes that doctrine superfluous no matter how much or how little of the teacher's words we can directly make our own. For if a teacher is able, and students do their duty, then by the year's end they do not need the teacher. If they stay where they are, then that would be a terrible symptom that something is wrong.

-Karl Barth, The Theology of John Calvin

I like this approach to reading because it assumes the reader should be different for his experience. It places definitive, and significant, burdens on the reader. Reading, as Zadie Smith discusses in her essay 'Fail Better,' involves duties to the thing being read, and the fact that there are duties means one can fail at them. It is certainly true that reading is difficult, and the more profound the thinker, the more difficult. (this is also the great bane of readers. Profound means, in almost all instances, difficult. Difficult, however, does not imply profound.)

As Barth writes elsewhere in the preface to his book on Calvin, when we come across what we take to be a mistake or misstep on the part of an author we are reading, we would do well to first assume the mistake is ours. Almost no one reads this way, unfortunately; almost everyone wants instant gratification (in this I am no different).

In the past I have made some mention of the virtue conferred by re-reading. I think this is the first step to avoiding these problems.

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