C. S. Lewis

Why Read the Bible? An Excellent Question for the Modern Age

Barton Swaim in the Wall Street Journal today highlights why many moderns aren’t interested in reading the Bible in a critical review of a book on the Bible that assumes all the assumptions of modern critics of the Scriptures. What C.S. Lewis said of Christianity is true also of the Scriptures on which it is based: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” If the Bible isn’t true, then it is relatively unimportant and one must find ways to convince people to read it (as this author has attempted). This review, in my mind, exposes the arrogance of those who critique the Bible with no awareness or recognition of the massive amounts of scholarship that interprets the Bible as historically accurate and affirms the supernatural nature of the book and the miraculous events it describes. Everyone comes to the Bible with presuppositions. If you come to the Scriptures with a presupposition that the supernatural is impossible in a fixed/closed universe governed merely by natural laws then you will dismiss the supernatural. But if you come to the Scriptures with an allowance that the supernatural is a possibility, you may well discover that the events described are possible and given the many historical accuracies, prophetic fulfillments, and, this is a big one—the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, you may well become convinced of the Bible’s truthfulness and trustworthiness and become one of the millions whose lives have been changed by its central message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis on Reading Old Books

C. S. Lewis, in his Introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, warned that: “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 every three new ones.” He went on to explain:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

Postscript:  I wrote and scheduled this post for publication last week. Since that time, my friend David Schrock posted “Twelve ‘Old Books’ Every Christian Should Read”, inspired, in part, by Lewis’ admonition quoted above. It is a great list that will get you started on your quest to read old books!