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Read Old Books First

Old is often better. New is often bad. Why think the newer is truer, especially on philosophy and theology? Old books have withstood the test of time. That doesn’t mean they are true, but they are venerable. Most books are printed once or twice, go out of print, and are forgotten. And we spend so much of our time reading ephemera, this listless dust. When reading about physics, we need the latest discoveries and theories, but not so about the first principles and ultimate issues of life. As C.S. Lewis said, inspired by his friend Owen Barfield, moderns practice chronological snobbery, deeming the newest as the truest. There is no reason for it.

New books usually say nothing truly new and say the old things worse than the old books themselves. Who can top The Confessions by Augustine in a modern memoir? No one can, of course. Then why read Blue Like Jazz? We have The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. Then why read Love Wins by hipster and slacker Rob Bell? One could go on, but I will not. Instead, I offer a few old books worth reading, pondering, and rereading. This list is neither comprehensive nor adequately justified. Nevertheless, the reader may, one hopes, find inspiration for reading what ought to be read, instead of reading what everyone else is reading (or claiming to have read).

  1. Augustine, The Confessions. Augustine reflects on this life theologically and existentially.

  2. Anything by Thomas Aquinas, the greatest thinker of the medieval world.

  3. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Many condemn Calvin without have ever read him. I always consult his commentaries on the Bible in preparation for preaching.

  4. Martin Luther. The 95 Theses set the Reformation in Motion. See also his commentary on Romans and much more.

  5. Blaise Pascal, Pensees. The polymath’s ruminations on God, man, and Christ. An unfinished apologetic for Christianity.

  6. Anything by Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s greatest thinkers. See his much maligned, but seldom read in toto, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

  7. Creeds and confessions: The Athanasian Creed, The Counsel of Chalcedon, The Westminster Confession and Catechism, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Thirty-Nine Articles, Luther’s Catechism.

  8. Some works of Soren Kierkegaard. SK was a fideist and I am not. However, his insights into the psyche and some of his biblical reflections are profound. See especially, The Sickness unto Death and Purity of Heart.

  9. The Dutch titan of theology, politics, and journalism, Abraham Kuyper wrote voluminously and is experiencing a revival in recent years. Start with Lectures on Calvinism.

  10. The works of biblical scholar and theologian, B.B. Warfield.

  11. The works of biblical scholar and theologian, J. Gresham Machen, especially Christianity and Liberalism.

  12. Anything by G. K. Chesterton, but especially Orthodoxy, a book I often quote. I have memorized several passages from it.

  13. Books by modern, but established, masters of devotion, theology, and social critique: A. W. Tozer, C. S. Lewis, J. I. Packer, R. J. Rushdoony, John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, and Carl F. H. Henry.

Christians should be well-read and discerning people in order to out-think and out-live the world for Christ. A diet of the contemporary at the expense of the perennial is unwise. Read old books and become a wiser soul. Then re-read them.

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