Why should we read old theological works? Dr. John Fesko encourages believers to read Christian writers from centuries past in order to learn from their God-given wisdom.
Why should we read old theological works when we’re studying theology? I think the temptation can be to think that what is newer is better, and, what is the latest hot-selling book, and that’s something that I should read. Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions upon contemporary theological work. We have some great minds at work that are alive right now that are contributing to the ongoing theological discussion, and they have edifying and encouraging things to say. So that’s certainly important. But it was C.S. Lewis and his essay, On the Reading of Old Books, that said that if you’re going to read one new book, read three old books to give you a good counterbalance to it. But why is it important to read old books?
Old Books Are God’s Gift to Us
Well, if we recognize, as Paul says in Ephesians 4, that when Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father after His resurrection from the dead, that in His wake He poured out the Spirit and among the gifts that He gives to the church, He has given shepherds and teachers, or pastors and teachers, this means that pastors and teachers throughout the entirety of the history of the church—so for the last, say, two thousand years—those are God’s gifts to the church. It could very well be that the answer that we’re looking for doesn’t lie in a book that has been published within the last five or ten years.We shouldn’t think that, whether us personally or even perhaps us collectively, that we who are alive and walking around right now are the first ones to encounter difficult theological problems. We’re not the first ones to suffer. We’re not the first ones to endure trials. And it could very well be that the answer that we’re looking for doesn’t lie in a book that has been published within the last five or 10 years. But the answer lies with a book that’s been published five hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, 1500 years ago.
Old Books Give Us Perspective
And it’s not that older books are better, but rather, if these people truly are Christ’s gifts to the church, then it means that the wisdom of Christ flows from their hearts, onto their pens, and onto the books that they have written. And something that was written a thousand years ago may speak vibrantly to us. It may speak exegetically to us. It may speak in a heartfelt manner that ministers to us in a way that a book today may not be capable of doing, because it may be that the author hasn’t suffered in the way that you have suffered, or hasn’t learned something as well as this ancient author has. So it’s so important, I think, as C.S. Lewis says in that essay, to keep the fresh breeze of the centuries past blowing through our minds to teach us, to inspire us, and to remind us of important theological truths that we have long forgotten.