C.S. Lewis and The Necessity of Old Books

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

BooksThis week I am in a seminar discussing Jonathan Edwards and his views on the Trinity, his dissertation The End for Which God Created the World, and his ideas of heaven. So far I have enjoyed the class discussion and the depth of thought that Edwards forces. I can’t say that I particularly liked the Edwardsian articulation of the Trinity. Paul Helm and others have raised concerns about the way in which Edwards speaks of the Son being the “idea” of God and thus a “duplicity” (Edwards own term). How this does not lead to ditheism is a question that Helm and others have asked. I have found this a bit troubling as well, but admittedly I’m a novice. I have enjoyed The End and the way that Edwards uses reason to engage with the 18th century rationalism of his day. I’m eager for the next three days of the seminar and continuing to think deeply over what Edwards wrote.

Some may think that it is a boring life to spend so much time working through literature like Edwards has produced. Aren’t books, especially old books, boring? I don’t think so and find myself appreciating older books more than I enjoy more current writings. C.S. Lewis has some wise words concerning the reading of old books and I thought I’d offer his quote in full here.

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books…This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology…Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. 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…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. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to eery three new ones…We all…need the old books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means old books…We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century…lies where we have never suspected it…None of us can fully escape this blindness…The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.–C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock


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