I love old books. They allow me to engage with the wisdom of generations past. To see how authors and thinkers from centuries past answered many of the same questions we ask today. But I’ll be honest, it’s easy to get caught up reading too many new books. Not that new books are bad, of course. But we do ourselves a disservice when we neglect the old. This, I believe, is the heart behind C.S. Lewis’ famous rule:
“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,” he wrote. “If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”[1. God in the Dock, 200.]
I don’t follow this rule slavishly, of course. But I do read old books, and I try to encourage others to read old books, too. Here are three I have found especially beneficial from a Christian perspective:
All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon. Honestly, I could choose most any Spurgeon book for this list, but I have a special fondness for this one. I first read it in 2009 while sitting in a hospital while doctors worked on keeping Emily alive. While this book is a fairly simple presentation of justification through grace alone, it is one of the most hopeful books I’ve ever read, bringing me near to tears at least once with every chapter.
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton didn’t make anything simple for his readers. I suspect he respected his readers too much to write down to them. What I believe he did best, along with expecting his readers to use their minds, was play with words. His writing is fun to read, full of wit and whimsy. Do I agree with everything he wrote? Of course not. But I love his writing. It makes you want to come back for more (and you really do need to).
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Bunyan’s classic allegory of the Christian life is beautiful to read. He is one of the first Christian authors who helped me see how important “story” is to communicating our faith, and gave a powerful reminder that easy and following Jesus rarely go together. Although the book isn’t perfect (what book is?), it is one that strengthens me each time I read it.
There are other books I can and would encourage reading: Augustine’s Confessions, Müller’s Answers to Prayer, and Ryle’s Holiness, among them. But these are ones I would always suggest trying first.