Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Reading Christian Literature

My wife bought "Contending for Our All: Defending the Truth And Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, And J. Gresham Machen" by John Piper as a pseudo-anniversary present for me. This book, as evidenced by the title and subtitle, is going through the different fights and struggles that these men endured to preserve the gospel so that we could have easier access to the pure gospel.

I have only begun to read the book, but I was struck by a quote from C.S. Lewis, and I would like to summarize what this quote, as well as Piper's comments on it, means and implies. C.S. Lewis basically said this: For every modern book (or two) that you read concerning the Bible theology, and eternal things, you should read one book from the past. Books that are contemporary are, as Lewis states, still on trial and the average reader (or even some scholars who endorse the book) are not suited to effectively judge whether it is a good, solid book. However, a book that has been around a while has been thoroughly discussed, dissected, and analyzed so that the flaws or biases that it does possess are well known to the reader. Also, when I read a book from the 18th, 19th, or early 20th century I am removed from that time and place when it was written. Therefore, I do not necessarily have the same "blind spots" or "hang-ups" that the author does, so I can more easily agree, whole-heartily, with some of the book that is time testedly true but yet not accept other parts because the same time testing has shown the errors of some of the author's "hang-ups."

I also heard someone say (not sure who, though) that if you could you should read three books on the same subject:

  • a contemporary book
  • a book from 200+ years in the past
  • a book from 200+ years in the future

This formula would allow us to see our present situation and understanding from 3 points of history (past, present, and future) and then we would be better equipped to understand the present. However, since we cannot read books that haven't been written yet, obviously, we must content ourselves with reading books from the past to balance books from the present.

Practical Application:

When we read any popular book or many similar books from a popular movement, we may have the tendency to become persuaded to that specific point of view simply because of the vast amounts of material present as well as the present popularity of them. Books written about the "changing" Christianity or new ways "be Christian" need to be weighed in light of not just our contemporary culture, but in light of the history of the Christian faith, and above all - the Bible (understanding it in the manner in the way that the author's who wrote it and as the Holy Spirit who gave it intended it to be understood).

For example, books about the emergent church that either advocate or philosophically come from the standpoint of the "hermeneutic of humility" (stating that we cannot know for sure what the bible says) are so popular in our post-modern world (go figure) that the unsuspecting, ignorant, or lazy person who is examining the faith (or even may be a "Christian" teacher or scholar) can easily be led astray - possibly eternally so. For this reason: if we cannot know "for sure" what the Bible says, then we do not know what man must do to be saved, and then there is no gospel message, there is no hope, there is no foundation.

It has been said that there is no such thing as a new heresy or new false teaching, just the same old ones dressed up again in new clothes. We need to beware and be aware, otherwise we have only ourselves to blame.

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