Why Your Kids Should Read Classics

We are at the start of summer, and each summer, I have my kids read a classic over the summer. Until five years ago, I had never read a work of classic literature. I recently graduated from Knox Seminary with a Masters Degree in Christian and Classical Studies. It was in the course of those studies that I have come to realize that everyone needs to read classics.

Why Should Kids Read Classics? 

  1. They are being taught less and less each year in our public institutions. 
  2. They cultivate imagination and foster a broader understanding of virtue. 

In public school, classics have diminished over time. There are two fronts to this fight, and the classics are losing on both fronts. One front is the excessive push toward STEM programs at the expense of the humanities. The second front is due to what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. When Lewis spoke of chronological snobbery in his day. He was speaking to the idea that people of his time would read modern books that fit their modern sensibilities, political ideals, and social ideas. We are blind to the problems in our day. We can’t see what we can’t see. Lewis argues, and I would agree we need writers from decades, even centuries ago, to show us what we can’t see. One fix Lewis argues for is that we read one old book for every new book we read. This would help us be better readers in general and help us see what we can’t see on our own. 

Our push for STEM programs has inadvertently lead to the diminishment of the humanities. We think we have evolved past those who came before us. We think we are wiser and more enlightened. What we can’t see through Bacon’s scientific method is our hearts have not evolved. Our hearts are sin-filled and desire the same things our great grandfathers and great grandmothers wanted. We see our world commit the same sins as our forefathers, only with a shiny new exterior. We think this is a new problem to be solved rather than an old sin to be repented of or an old heresy to be condemned. 

Children need classics because classics help cultivate imagination and module virtue and vice. Kids need to see the world through the eyes of another. An appetite for the good, the true, and the beautiful found in classical works of literature is something every child needs. Our children need to see what we mean when we say have patience, be brave, or love well. 

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes this is a big deal with grave consequences. 

“I see a lot of big issues facing the church today, but I think most of them result in one way or another from an impoverished imagination. For example, the division and polarization we are facing in the church and our larger culture owe in great part to our inability to imagine or empathize with opposing, or even simply different, perspectives. It’s not a stretch to see the lack of developed imaginations at play here.

Cognitive science shows that empathy increases among those who read literary fiction. Generally speaking, literature and other arts are not valued greatly in the contemporary church. Moreover, underdeveloped and unexercised imaginations make us more prone, ironically, to the lure of conspiracy theories. To be human is to have an imaginative capacity. Our imaginations will work, whether healthily or not. Imaginations that have been trained well in good, logical, well-constructed stories that make rational as well as aesthetic sense are less likely to be taken in by bad, false substitute stories.”

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior 

In our overvalued love of the empirical sciences, we have undervalued the humanities, which greatly matters. Do we need scientists? Yes, but we also need virtuous scientists and who do what should be done rather than what can be done. Do we need doctors? Yes! But we need doctors who can empathize with the losses of others and be human, not just right. This isn’t just true of the scientific professions. I would argue we need pastors, theologians who are not just theologically precise but who are also virtuous and empathetic. 

In the world we now live filled with information, and where everything is political, we need virtue, and we need empathy on levels never before seen. We need a generation of kids who can read a fairy tale and learn to see the world as it should be rather than blindly give in to the world as it is. The formation and catechism of our kids are taking place. If we are not intentional about their formation, someone will be. We have the privilege and responsibility to train our kids to see what is good, what is true, and beautiful. As Christians, we have the joy to show our children that every good thing we enjoy, including good books, is a fractured reflection of our perfect Heavenly Father. 

A Few Tips in Picking Classics for Kids

  1. Pick a classic to fit their interests. 
  2. Make sure the classic fit their reading level.
  3. Find a good classic. Not all classics are alike. Find one that has stood the test of time and one that promotes virtue. 
  4. Talk about the book with your kids. Dr. Prior has some great-looking classics with an introduction by her that will help you have a conversation with your kids about what they have read. Leland Ryken also has a few guides to classical works that would be helpful as well. 

The War on Joy.

I love C.S. Lewis. He isn’t perfect. He had a few ideas that were a bit much for protestant me. Overall he was a genius. What made him so brilliant is his ability to take the complex and translate it into words and ideas that others could understand and repeat. When you really understand something, you move beyond the jargon, take the idea apart, and remove the unnecessary, so the truly important can shine through with greater clarity.

I love the Narnian Novels by Lewis. They are brilliant. They have so many themes within his other books and are completely relevant for our world today, almost 70 years later. Lewis fought in World War I and wrote this book only a few years after the end of World War II. He was painfully aware of fighting in the middle of winter without the ability to celebrate Christmas. When Lewis penned one of his most famous lines, he summed up how the world’s enduring suffering faced during the second world war with one line. “It’s always winter, never Christmas.”

This past year has felt like it is always winter, never Christmas. It feels as though there has been a spell put on the world that has frozen hearts, frozen dreams, and is desiring to freeze our joy. There is a war we are facing in our world today, and it is a war on Joy. True Joy everlasting Joy.

 The Weather

One of the central themes of the life of C.S. Lewis was that of joy. His autobiography is entitled “Surprised by Joy” He had much to say about Joy. It was the hope of what was to come for him and the real enjoyment that comes from understanding we have been forgiven. The Pevensie kids understood this in the gifts they were given. “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be.” -C.S. Lewis (Interestingly, his wife’s name was also Joy).

The contrast between the Witch and Aslan at this point is one of the central themes of the first Narnian book. A key scene occurs in Chapter 11 when the Witch and Edmund are traveling through the woods in pursuit of the beavers and the other children. They happen upon “a merry party” made up of a squirrel family, two satyrs, a fox, and a Dwarf, seated at a table and enjoying a delicious holiday meal. The Witch is incensed and demands to know, “What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?” When she discovers that the meal was a gift from Father Christmas, she turns the entire party into stone. The benefit of the scene is that it demonstrates that the Witch’s evil is not fundamentally about winter and cold weather, but about a deep-seated hostility to life, joy, and celebration.

Joe Rigney

The witch wanted nothing more than to see winter forever. Like Rigney says, her desire wasn’t about cold and winter. It was a deep hatred of joy of celebration of the newness of life. This wasn’t just about cold weather. It represented her hatred of joy the forward-looking hope even in winter. Which is why she made it always winter and never Christmas. 

Top 10 Books of 2018

A quick note about this year’s book list. I tried to be better about reading more fiction and I intentionally read more books written by women, I tried to get on the Flannery O’Connor bandwagon but still do not see what all the hype is about. I am nearly halfway through reading all of the major works of C.S. Lewis. I also tried to read a couple of books by people I don’t agree with, Brian Zahnd’s book is on my list if you read his book definitely spit out the bones for they are plentiful. Lastly, I started what I hope to be a tradition with all my kids reading classics over the summer. My oldest son and I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was so moved by the portrayal of the horrors of the slave trade and the beauty of the Gospel was breathtaking. My challenge is always to read old books and that continues but I would also add the challenge to read books by people who are different than you. One of the beautiful things that are true is that we see life through different eyes and we see Christ through the application of the gospel in our daily life yet our perspective is limited. Reading people who are different than us allows us to borrow their eyes to see the world and to share their pain and to come alongside them and bear their burdens. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and happy reading next year. 

My Top 10 Books of 2018

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi – I listened to the Audiobook with my family on vacation. The Audiobook was read by the author Nabeel Qureshi it was powerful, moving and convicting. Hearing Nabeel in his own voice recounts the pain and difficulty that led to him walking away from everything to follow Christ was so convicting and so powerfully encouraging at the same time. It was important for me to have my boys listen in because they will wrestle with the truth claims of Scripture one day and Nabeel journey to Christ is one they will not soon forget. 

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Growing up moving so much meant I changed schools often and as a result, I missed a lot of classics I should have been forced to read in High School. With many schools now seemingly abandoning the classics I decided that during the summers I want to start a tradition where I read a classic work with my kids each summer of Jr. High and High School. This summer I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin with my oldest son. This was such a moving story. To read the horrors of the slave trade and at the same time, the beauty of the gospel so deeply embedded in this book knowing that this was the book that Lincoln credited with the start of the civil war easily made this book my favorite of the year. What dumbfounded me the most in reading this book is I kept waiting for Tom to betray his people as the most well know euphemism taken from this book is calling someone who betrays their own race an “Uncle Tom.” To see the Christlike sacrificial love of Tom on display page after page made me stop and pray that God would give me the love and courage that Tom had in this book. So powerful. Thankful for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s courage to write such a book in a time when doing so did not get you invitations to come to talk about your book on The View. 

 

Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots by J.C. Ryle – J.C. Ryle is one of the most profoundly deep yet at the same time deeply accessible writers of his day. Ryle had such an accessible and practically applicable style. Any work or sermon of Ryle’s I have read I am always, always challenged to live my light different in light of the Grace provided to me in Christ because of Ryle’s ability to distill truth and apply those truths in universally applicable ways. This is a book I will re-read again. 

 

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves – One of the things I am convinced of is that Christians (this means me too) don’t understand the Trinity as we should. We hear the word, Trinity and we avoid thinking about it or talking about it and retreat with claims of mystery. To the Christians faith, there are few things that are more foundational and differentiating than the doctrine of the Trinity. The unity and diversity of God is unique to Christianity. Knowing that we can and should know more about the Trinity the question is often where do I start? I would say right here, Delighting in the Trinity is easily the most comprehensive and accessible books I have ever read on the Trinity. It is a quick read that is well worth your time. 

 

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren – Loved this book Warren has a way of seeing the beauty of Christ in things I never do. Everyone wants to live a life worth living. Our culture is fame-obsessed people do the craziest things for 15 minutes of fame. Yet most of us go from mundane to mundane. Warren explains that the extraordinary life isn’t the one that is lived outside the lines it is lived best by those who see God in the ordinary things of life in the good simple gifts he graciously gives us. 

 

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin – Jen is a fantastic writer. She does naturally what so many speakers and writers struggle to do she takes complex ideas and she distills them to their essence. If you are not going to read Systematic Theology and most people won’t, None Like Him is a must read. Wilkin discusses each of the incommunicable attributes (the attributes of God that can only be true of God) of God with such winsomeness it was a joy to read. 

 

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller – The best compliment I can give this book is that most books on prayer deal in the currency of condemnation this one dealt in the currency of conviction. This book and Ryle’s pamphlet on prayer are by far the best books I have read on prayer. I left this book challenged on why I pray and how I pray at the same time empowered to pray and inspired to pray. By far the best book I have read on prayer. 

 

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne – I really enjoyed Rankin’s writing style. His treatment of the work of Sanctification was one of the best and most accessible books I have read on such an important topic. When we get sanctification wrong it leads to legalism or cheap grace. Our church will be going through this book in our small groups this fall. I highly recommend this book. 

 

 

That Hideous Strength (The Space Trilogy, #3) by C.S. Lewis – In this book, Lewis does what Lewis always does. Lewis’ friend and fellow Inkling said it well “Somehow what Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.” This book was no exception. If Narnia was the novel form of Mere Christianity than That Hideous Strength finds it’s counterpart largely in the Abolition of Man. Lewis dystopian fiction discusses the nature of salvation and how we in a Spiritual battle in which we have picked a side because in picking no side we have actually picked a side. George Orwell’s early review, for instance, expressed what would become a common criticism: “One could recommend this book unreservedly if Mr. Lewis had succeeded in keeping it all on a single level. Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in, and it does so in rather confusing, undisciplined ways.” Unlike Orwell, Lewis understood that the supernatural is not subject to our sensibilities. 

 

The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs – I have read several biographies of Lewis this one was unique in that Dr. Jacobs attempts to view the life of Lewis in light of his faith and imagination. How his imagination informed everything else he said and did. Jacobs says it this way in his introduction. What made Lewis write this way, and why it is such a good thing that he was able to write this way—these are hard things to talk about without being (or at least seeming) sentimental, yet they are necessary to talk about. In most children but in relatively few adults, at least in our time, we may see this willingness to be delighted to the point of self-abandonment. This free and full gift of oneself to a story is what produces the state of enchantment….Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and a grievous loss. Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted.

Here are the other books I read this year.

  1. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
  2. No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful by Andrew Naselli
  3. Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  4. Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman
  5. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  6. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
  7. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd
  8. The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther
  9. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare 
  10. Perelandra (The Space Trilogy, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  11. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
  12. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  13. Path of the Assassin (Scot Harvath, #2) by Brad Thor
  14. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship by John Piper
  15. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
  16. The Flash: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1 (Rebirth) by Joshua Williamson
  17. The Lions of Lucerne (Scot Harvath, #1) by Brad Thor
  18. The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts
  19. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
  20. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders
  21. Art & the Bible by Francis A. Schaeffer
  22. He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis A. Schaeffer
  23. Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament: Devotions for Lent by Paul E. Stroble
  24. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  25. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
  26. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen
  27. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  28. When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt
  29. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis
  30. Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters by Helen Smith
  31. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson
  32. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce K. Waltke
  33. Great Courses: St. Augustine’s Confessions by William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman
  34. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth
  35. Thucydides: The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians – Translation by Jeremy Mynott
  36. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy
  37. Cottonmouth and the River (Freddie Cottonmouth #1) by C.S. Fritz
  38. The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places by Nik Ripkin
  39. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  40. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

A few books I’m planning on reading in 2013

Last year I set a goal of reading 52 books I ended up reading 44. I found my self reading more because I was trying to beat myself. I’m hoping to hit 52 this year here are a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading this year.

 

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Weight of Glory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Does

 

Storyline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

non profit narrative

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Center Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sovereignty of God

 

Creating Community

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LeadSmall_189

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lone Survivor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bourne Identity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God in the dock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

god in the manger