Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Reading before your time...
A while back, I linked to a great post by Kevin DeYoung on the need for pastors to read over their heads.  In a more recent post, he has given some of his suggestions for where pastors can start to read over their heads.  I have read only a few of the suggestions he lists and those have been well worth the effort.  Actually, they haven't been difficult reads, just weighty ones.  In other words, while scholarly (based on excellent scholarship), they haven't been intended only for scholars.

Kevin mentions at the beginning of the second post that his beginner list is basically all contemporary stuff, and that's fine.  We ought to read good contemporary stuff.  But that is definitely not all we ought to be reading (and I know Kevin would agree).  I want to advocate that, as important as it is for pastors to read good stuff that is over their heads, it is just as important, or perhaps even more important, to read before their time.  In his preface to St. Athanasius's On the Incarnation, C.S. Lewis famously advocates the reading of old books.  Among the chief merits of reading works from the past is that it helps us to see the follies and errors in our contemporary time and culture and reveals the faulty assumptions we make in our present day thinking in areas and in ways that reading even the best and most faithful of contemporary works never can.  Here's an extended quote from Lewis's introductory essay:

     "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."

The entire essay is well worth reading as is the book it introduces.  If you can't find a version of On the Incarnation with Lewis's intro, you can read it here.

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