C.S. Lewis comments in his introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation: “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.”Some time ago in an interview I read the subject was asked who were some of the authors he was reading. He mentioned one who is quite popular and then added a note that though he reads the books this man writes he proceeds to give them away because they are worth only one read. They are helpful for the moment.
What books are we reading that have been read by five generations (200 years) or more? We certainly should be combing through the great Christian literature of our day, but are we regularly being challenged by previous generations who saw God, salvation, and service from different angles?
One person has said that the definition of tradition is giving dead men the opportunity to vote. Are we giving former generations of Christ-followers whose legacy is clear and heroic the opportunity to influence us? For me that generation would be first the Puritans of the 1500’s in England. They are a particular favorite of JI Packer, and in his book, A Quest for Godliness, describes why they are so valuable for those of today.
I am also beginning to read more of the church fathers from those who immediately followed upon the Apostles through St Augustine (d.430). Believe me, this is a different world. It sends shivers up my spine to be reading the preached words of those who were discipled by the Apostles or of those who were discipled by the Apostles’ followers. While they were but men, they were close to the fountain of teaching that produced a mass movement of spiritual life that in 300 years conquered the Roman Empire. It’s surreal to be sitting in my living room reading the sermons and letters of men who 2,000 years ago God was using to shape the burgeoning church.