Posted by Tori on Apr 29, 2013 in a good word., theology

“Men’s minds need to be fed just as much as their bodies. And the kind of food our minds devour will determine the kind of person we become.”  John Stott, Your Mind Matters

I mentioned in my last post that I have been re-reading literature that I once fell in love with, but has since been relegated to the dusty bookshelf or (God-forbid, but it’s true) an old box. I fear that in our present age of, literally, the world at our fingertips, we are actually missing out on a great deal.

There is a false idea that the classics are only for the intellectuals, or the book-worms, or the culturally out of touch. And that the ones who are well-read on the modern works of “literature” are the ones who are most relevant and able to most profoundly influence the current culture.  Unfortunately, this is now an out-of-control trend in Christian circles. Have you visited a Christian bookstore recently? It has turned into a gift shop, filled with inspirational baubles, self-help, Be Your Best You books, and daily 10-minute devotionals — not to mention books by contemporary church leaders out to show “how traditional ideas have grown stale and dysfunctional” (RobBell.com).

Sadly, this has left us both spiritually and mentally poorer and less equipped to produce the lasting influence on our culture that we desire (not to mention less equipped to live victoriously). We are in a dangerous place when we build an entire theology around the preacher on Sunday morning and the 365-day daily devotional. Yet, this is the reality for a shocking number of Christians.

One of my passions for the women of our day — whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working professional, retired school teacher, or any other combination of the roles and responsibilities we take on throughout the various seasons of our lives — is that we exercise the mind the Creator has given us to truly understand how to study His Word for ourselves and create a careful, thorough hermeneutic. Part of that involves familiarizing ourselves with the conversation that has developed over centuries of thought.

These classic works have proven themselves over time, and have acted like savory salt over centuries of history to preserve culture and proclaim the Gospel of Christ. C.S. Lewis writes in his essay, On the Reading of Old Books:

A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light…. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said…. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (‘mere Christianity’ as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

He makes me chuckle, but he’s right. And, as one with aspirations as a writer (even just as a blogger), I must be careful to measure the weight of my words. If I’m going to write, I want to write something that will endure and contribute to the conversation. Lewis rightly points out that the classic authors were no more clever or any less prone to making mistakes than we are today. He says, “Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.”

Bottom line: don’t be intimated by old books or label them as “boring,” and be aware of the dangers of an entirely modern diet.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.'” Jeremiah 6:16 ESV

And…just for kicks, here’s another favorite Lewis quote from that same essay. Has very little to do with what I’ve just said, but maybe I’m not the only one who relates…

“For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books.”

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1 Comment

Alyce Irwin
Jun 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm

To be sure, Christian books written by solid authors can expound on Scriptures and make the Word easier to understand so that you can apply these time-tested biblical principles to your daily life. I wrote a Christian book called Fervent Faith, for example, that offers many different Scriptures instructing people how to stay on fire for God. The Bible tells us we have an enemy to our faith. My Christian book shows you how to keep your first love for Jesus alive and well.


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