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Monday, 3 September 2012

Books Old, New, Borrowed and Blue

Life is short....
We can't read everything, so every book requires careful selection. You could read all the 'in books'. But if you do, you'll read an awful lot of pages that will be unknown in 2022, let alone 3022, should the Lord tarry....

The pros and cons of the New 
You should read some new books because they deal with live subjects, explain modern findings or apply old truths in new ways. In a very few cases, they do break new ground, for God has more light to shine from his Word. Some of us must also keep up to date with new heresies - which always turn out to be old heresies in new garb, of course.

The disadvantage of new books is that you simply never know if they are worth reading. You can rarely trust a review because you don't know if a mate of the author wrote it; whether one sentence or paragraph so helped the reviewer that he encourages you to buy the book; whether promotional machinery behind the book is the reason it is being reviewed in the first place. An experienced bookworm lamenting the dozens of useless books he'd read over his lifetime, once suggested to me that no-one should write a book till they are over fifty to take advantage of  that wisdom gained by age. (That advice applies, of course, only to books where life experience is required.)

As you can see, this cynical blogger has read one too many of the New Books.....

The pros and cons of Old Books
....don't get me wrong a whole lot of rubbish has been written in the past. And if you randomly buy books of yesteryear you will also waste a whole lot of time.

But one great filter of  Christian literature is time. If a book is still reprinted decades or centuries after it was written, tis a good sign. (Not a sufficient sign, for some publishers only publish old books - but a good sign!)

Actually, although time seems to be the filter, the real filter is the church: over decades and centuries the church sifts out the good from the bad.

The Church, after all is the pillar and ground of truth.

What should one do?
For every new book read three good old ones? Five old ones? Ten old ones? One hundred old ones? Whatever, Just make sure you read lots of old stuff. And of course, make Scripture the first Book on your list and in your heart.

Example 1: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.
Born in 1628, John Bunyan, a tinker (fixed pots and pans) from near Bedford, England, ended up in prison for preaching "illegally" (if it happened before....). His twelve years in prison were not wasted, because he wrote this great allegory of the Christian life. He imagines a pilgrim on his way to heaven. On his way he meets all kinds of characters,  from Atheist to Talkative, the kinds of characters a believer will meet on their journey. With masterful insight Bunyan explains how these people must be dealt with. Not only does Pilgrim meet people, he passes through experiences of all kinds, from doubt to guilt; once again Bunyan masterfully explains how we work through these problems. The reasons Pilgrim's Progress is still read today, some four centuries after being written, is singular: it is filled with Scripture. That is the reason any Christian book is read years after it is written; it is filled with Scripture Truth. 

Example 2:  "Irenaeus - Against Heresies"
Here's an example of a good old book (don't let the halo stuff put you off, those who publish old Christian books can't seem to resist "catholic" images). Writing somewhere in the second century, we learn many interesting things from this ancient "church father".

First, we learn that there are no new heresies under the sun. The Shack, Love Wins, etc., etc., etc., it's all been touted before. Second, you find yourself amazed at how consistently based on the New Testament such an ancient writer is. Although the canon (the list of 27 books in our New Testament) is not yet 'fixed' all he quotes from and all he recognises as Scripture is what we recognise. Third, you are amazed at the stability of the New Testament Greek Text over 2000 years, because all of his quotes (translated into English for us) are immediately recognisable to us. There are no jarring surprises or shocks, such is the providential oversight of God over the Greek text. Fourth, you are grateful that we live now not then, for the number of errors today are  less (and more easily recognised): 1900 years have enabled truth to become settled orthodoxy. Fifthly, you learn that good old Irenaeus didn't get it all right. How could he?  He suggests in one place that Jesus lived until 50 years old because he had to experience all the seasons of life we experience (and 50 in those days was old age). But, hey, that's a small error (we assume now it is an error).

This old book gave me a renewed confidence in Scripture. That's one of many blessings an old book may give you....

So what old books would I recommend? I sense another blog emerging.... 

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