Friday, February 16, 2007

Reading Old Books

C. S. Lewis argued for the reading of old books, especially in theology. He wrote,"Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. 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. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. 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. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. 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 to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between."

There is a reason why some books are still in print after a thousand years. They are worth reading! That is why we so frequently turn to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Browse it by author, and you will find some of the most influential thinkers in the history of the church. Bookmark this one--you will love it!


Blogger Barry said...


Glad to see you've added some new things to the blog(s)!

One of my favorite lines from this classic piece from Lewis is where he says something to the effect of "two heads are better than one not because either is infallible but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction." The thinkers of old are, according to Lewis, prone to make mistakes just as we are, but not the same mistakes. Good stuff.

I enjoyed our lunch yesterday.

10:35 AM  

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