Sunday, March 11, 2007

Great Books

I was reading a recent issue of First Things. Being a journal that is very much influenced by Roman Catholic thought, there are many advertisements for Roman Catholic universities and colleges. I find these ads interesting for a number of reasons. First, they openly proclaim that their school is faithful to the Magisterium (the official body of Roman Catholic doctrine). I don't suppose all Roman Catholic schools are like this, but it is refreshing in a time when many Protestant institutions seem obsessed with apologizing for believing anything.

But a second point should be made. These Roman Catholic schools make frequent reference to interacting with the great books of the Catholic intellectual tradition. But that left me wondering about the great books of the evangelical Protestant tradition, and whether anyone reads them anymore. Maybe we Protestants are addicted to new books. Given the choice between a new book that presents "just the facts" and the choice of reading a dozen books starting at the beginning and tracing the development of a doctrine, we'll choose the read the new book. But reading the abridged version doesn't give you the depth of understanding you will get when you start from first principles and read a dozen theologians who have wrestled with a doctrine over the centuries.

That's not to say all new books are bad. There are a couple of Christian books that have been written this century which will still be read 300 years from now. But that's just it; a truly great book will stand the test of time. It will discuss issues the church wrestled with 3 centuries ago and will still be wrestling with 3 centuries from now.

Of course the nice think about these books is that they are available. One does not need to attend a university or seminary in order to interact with the greatest Protestant thinkers (though admittedly a good professor can make the whole task easier). The books are available, if we want to take the time to read them.

So what are the great books every Christian thinker should read? And lets not restrict ourselves to one theological view. For example, I'm not a Calvinist, but I might be inclined to put "The Institutes" on the list. I guess intellectual honesty requires me to state that every Christian should understand the development of Calvinistic thought, whether you agree with that doctrine or not. Similarly every Christian, even the most Calvinistic, should understand why some Christians came to reject Calvinistic teaching and adopt an Arminian position. So without trying to push one specific theological view, what are the great books of the Protestant intellectual tradition that every thinking Christian should interact with? I'd like to hear your suggestions.

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Anonymous Deborah said...

How about a book by Francis Schaeffer? I have barely scratched the surface of his books, reading only How Should We Then Live? and The Christian Manifesto.

11:52 p.m.  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

"How Should We Than Live" certainly influenced me. But will it still be read 300 years from how? Maybe.

I suspect C.S. Lewis will still be read 300 years from now, so I would put him on the great books list.

So far, our great books list has:

John Calvin - The Institutess
C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity, et al
Francis Schaeffer - How Should We Then Live, et al

8:10 a.m.  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

I suppose we could add Martin Luther's commentaries on Romans and Galatians to this list.

5:26 p.m.  
Blogger Rileysowner said...

I would say Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards would be on my list.

9:01 p.m.  

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