Benefits of Reading Old Books

I’ve been finding that the best books on suffering are books that are about Jesus, or the cross, or God’s character, or general theology. Many modern books on suffering are either about ‘secrets’ to overcoming it, or the better books need to convince us that suffering shouldn’t be a surprise, or that it’s not outside of God’s will.

The older books on theology mention a lot about affliction both because they lived in it, and because it’s mentioned so much in Scripture.

If we only look to the Bible for verses about our own inner needs and psychological comfort, or for physical needs and material things we think we need, we may be missing the broader teachings that will ultimately transform us instead of just inform us.

The problem with reading only contemporary work is that we all sound so contemporary that our talks and sermons soon descend to the level of kitsch. We talk fluently about the importance of self-identity, ecological responsibility, tolerance, becoming a follower of Jesus (but rarely becoming a Christian), how the Bible helps us in our pain and suffering, and conduct seminars on money management and divorce recovery. Not for a moment would I suggest that the Bible fails to address such topics—but the Bible is not primarily about such topics. If we integrate more reading of, say, John Chrysostom, John Calvin, and John Flavel (to pick on three Johns), we might be inclined to devote more attention in our addresses to what it means to be made in the image of God, to the dreadfulness of sin, to the nature of the gospel, to the blessed Trinity, to truth, to discipleship, to the Bible’s insistence that Christians will suffer, to learning how to die well, to the prospect of the new heaven and the new earth, to the glories of the new covenant, to the sheer beauty of Jesus Christ, to confidence in a God who is both sovereign and good, to the non-negotiability of repentance and faith, to the importance of endurance and perseverance, to the beauty of holiness and the importance of the local church. Is the Bible truly authoritative in our lives and ministries when we skirt these and other truly important themes that other generations of Christians rightly found in the Bible?

–D.A. Carson, Too Little Reading, Especially the Reading of Older Commentaries and Theological Works in a Themelios article: Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives

Themelios

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