Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Reading the Classics

Some of the most powerful writings in the world were penned by absolute pagans; men who lived and died with their backs turned toward God, and with their faces turned toward human philosophy. They believed that the light of human reason was the true Light. That's what they taught, that's what they wrote, that's what they lived.

And then they died --- those moral pagans --- they died and went to Hell.

So, should we, Christians, even bother with the stuff they wrote, classics or no? Or is it too dangerous?

Well, many do argue that we should only read and study Scripture; that we must avoid the pagan classics altogether.

BUT. I would disagree with them there. Actually I think that in order to read Scripture in the context that God intended, we have to learn about the world, present and past. And what better way to learn about the past, then to read books written by contemporaries of those days? Scripture is the Light but sometimes, the pagan literature can be the matchbox you strike. When we read both the Bible and the Great Books, we begin to see the harmonious ties between the two. If we know what the world was like during the ancient days then we will understand the Bible even better than before. And we will realize that God's Word and the Great Books are consistent with and correlate directly with each other.

However ---- and this should go without saying --- whenever we read anything, whether ancient or modern, the first thing to have in the forefront of our minds should be the scripture. If anything we ever read goes against God's Word, we should have a red warning light going off in our hearts. Discernment is a necessary key if we want to unlock the doors of this classical Christian way of learning. As we read things that contradict what the Lord says, we should know that it contradicts what the Lord says. And we should know, too, what he does say. It is our response to sin that matters. We need to come away from reading Aristotle or Plato with a keen sense of the war between Christ and the devil.

The Great Books also prepares us for learning the rest of our lives. . . unlike modern education. In the modern classroom, students read textbooks printed full of whatever they decide is "tolerant" enough for everyone to read without getting their feelings hurt. (Well, except for Christians, that is). That kind of learning encourages helplessness. We are reading whatever they tell us to read. We don't know if it's accurate. I don't know about you, but I'd rather delve into the truth of a matter, no matter how dirty or painful, or even false, it might be. The Great Books teach us to teach ourselves. We are reading what the authors actually wrote hundreds, even thousands, of years ago, not some buttered-up, revised version. We need to learn to think that, yes, this is truly what Aristotle believed. And this is what is wrong with that belief. We should not settle in a shelter. Instead, learning should be like boot camp.

We need to learn to use our shields, and our swords, if we want to further God's kingdom. The world has a terrible shortage of Christians who know how to protect and defend their faith from attacks on all sides.

Through the classics, through the good, the bad. . . and the ugly, we gain a greater depth of wisdom about the God who created us and our world. And we learn about the people who have lived in our world. We understand more and more about why our culture has turned its back on its Creator. We learn through the wisdom of some men; and through the mistakes of others. It gives us an incredible advantage because we are able to look at all of history, up until now, and we can see how it all fits together.

This knowledge gained from the ancient, pagan classics has made me, if possible, even more exceedingly grateful to Christ than ever before, because it has helped to understand more potently what it would be like without him.

Sheltering ourselves from these books and worldviews is false protection, false defense. We should not, in the words of N.D. Wilson, try to make this R rated world into a G world by hiding forever. In the end, that denial leaves us defenseless, like a soldier without weapons on the field of battle. Instead we need to make ourselves dangerous so that we can "pollute the shadows" (Wilson).


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