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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Why I read more old books than new books

Keeping in touch with the times
It is a good thing for a Christian, and especially a Christian leader to know what's going on around him in today's world. To that end he must read stuff written today, whether in print, blogged or tweeted. Without this constant refreshing, his ministry is unlikely to connect.

But should he be a spiritual  fashion junky? Should he only read the latest books and blogs and twitter feeds? Should he make these his staple diet? Should he forget  Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon and Tozer and concentrate only on Bell, Chan and Driscoll?

Reasons to be sceptical about the new stuff
He'd be a fool to spend all his time 'on the latest' for the following reasons:

(1)  Much of the new stuff may be simply the product of the commercial machine. In other words, a book may be pushed more by the publishing machine behind it than on the merit of the book. The book may be 'in my face' for no other reason other than that the publisher is a e-savvy.

(2) The popularity of the author may be due to their clever use of e-technology. Take Twitter for example. In today's world, the celebs have to twitter on constantly because otherwise they could lose their fan base. It doesn't matter what trivia they tweet, they just have to tweet. In the same way - and here's the point, and as far as I can see for the same reasons - some Christian leaders have taken up tweeting. The content of their tweets is unbelievably humdrum (for none of us has an original thought 5 times an hour) but it's got to be done otherwise the fan base will dwindle. My point? The 'fame' of some of the 'leaders' of today may be e-fame, rather than merited fame.

(3) The popularity of older authors is tested by time. What none of the new authors have - or can have (it's not their fault) - is the sieve of time. Time itself sieves out here-today-gone-tomorrow books. Books which were hyped as the most important book of the year/decade/century just years ago are to be found  at the bottom of the Amazon ranking today. Why? Simply because time allow novelty to mature into reality.

(4) The popularity of authors is tested by the church. Even more important than the sieve of time is the test of the church. In the same way that hymns and songs are accepted or discarded over decades by the church, so the works of authors are evaluated theologically by the church over time. Only the good ones survive this test.

So if you gave me a choice of reading on my Desert Island, between Bell, Chan and Driscoll  or  Spurgeon, Tozer and Lloyd Jones, and I was pressed for time - and let's face it life is short - I'd go for the latter every time.

Perhaps this should be the rule: for every new book you read,  read ten old ones!

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