The delight of old books

Over the last year I have been really challenged by what I read in terms of Christian books. If I was to look in a Christian bookshop at the Top 10 books, I am pretty certain that most the authors would be alive today (I am sure there are exceptions). Within Christian circles we have “hit” authors or famous authors like Driscoll, Piper, Carson, Grudem, Rob Bell, Tim Keller, Tim Chester etc…

It’s really struck me that our culture tends to trust more modern books, authors and ideas then that of older books passed through the ages. We have an attitude that new and modern is better than old and out dated. But I have been surprised that even though the authors I mentioned above are good, they aren’t really new in what they are saying nor do they say some things right or in a way that really capture our hearts.

Why do I say this? I think because I have been caught up in reading old stuff: Calvin, Sibbes, Luther, Lewis (I include Lewis because people say that Keller is the modern Lewis and I think Lewis speaks just as well and if not better into our culture than Keller does)…

The thing is, I read Calvin and I read a man who is captured by the love of God and thus captures my heart into seeing the beauty of Christ. I read Sibbes and I cant help but yearn for the fire of Gods love. If I have a snobbery about what I read and only read that of modern books on Christianity and the church, then I will be missing out on the breadth and beauty of these men who love Christ and explode with passion for Christ which speaks much deeper volumes in our culture then most of our modern books today.

I am challenged to get my teeth stuck into these old books and enjoy the layers and depths of what they know and have experienced about Gods love, about the church and what it means to live as a Christian way before those modern books have been written. I am challenged to go back to the source.

CS Lewis sets the challenge from the introduction to Athanasius “On the Incarnation”:

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

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4 thoughts on “The delight of old books

  1. Yeah I’m right with you I love a bit of Lewis although sometimes his work gets lost in his culture and time a bit too much which means I get a bit lost sometimes. I’m a big fan of Louis Berkhof at the moment, its always surprising to find out where all these ‘new’ authors get much of their information from.

  2. Hey Cat! Thank you for reminding us of this. It’s also interesting trying to identify our motivations behind mentioning who we have been reading. It can sometimes appear as though we’re aligning ourselves with certain ‘types’ of Christian, and therefore trying to elevate our own profile by doing so! Having said this, I’ve really enjoyed reading a bit of J.C.Ryle recently 😉 Ho ho ho.

  3. I absolutely agree – sometimes it feels much easier to go for the abridged version of a classic or someone’s interpretation, but we can lose out on what makes the original so enduring. Must remind myself of this when I’m reaching for the condensed version..

  4. Collection of Webs 2013 Part 2 – Sunshine Lenses

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