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. 

It Is Finished.

The second to last saying of Jesus is found in John 19:30 where Jesus says “It is Finished” these three simple words act as the exclamation point of God’s redemptive work in Christ.

This year has been one that has marked by fear, concern, and worry. We have lost much but not all. We are restless but God’s word to us is to come to Him and find rest. Rest from the weariness of sin and the worry of what is to come. Rest from trying to work to secure our place in this life, because of three simple words “It is Finished.” We rest not in our work but in Christ’s accomplishment. What he accomplished on a Roman cross two thousand years ago echos into our modern world filled with chaos and confusion.

Martin Luther said this “Though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.”

It is finished in Christ proclaiming his work and our place as those who are his is forever secure. It is finished is the basis of our faith the foundation of our hope and the power in our weakness. It is not our works that comfort and secure us. It is the finished work of Christ the redeems, secures, invites us to rest, and calls us home.

Happy Easter


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. 

The Fear of Death and Why You Should Stop Saying Stay Safe.

Fourteen years ago today, I was much younger and much more naive about life and God’s ways. I thought if I did the right thing, good things would happen every time. That if I said the right things, people would feel comfort and joy every time. I found out that God doesn’t work the way I think he should work. God is not tame, but he is good. I found out that the God we serve is not safe. All my life to that point, I thought he was safe, and the day I realized he was not safe was also the day I began to question if he was even good. 

How I have come to know God over the past decade and a half has changed the way I see him, the way I trust Him, and the way I see everything because of him. It is not an overstatement to say I was blind, but now I see. That day fourteen years ago, led to a chain of events that made me question the goodness of God; it led me to struggle with anxiety as a result of an overwhelming fear of dying. 

It was nearly two years of working through the implications of me thinking that if I pray enough, give enough and serve enough, good things will come from that as my payment from God because of my goodness. I had grown up in church my whole life, and I thought the gospel was for sinners, not for me. I thought God was in my debt because I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was angry fourteen years ago because I didn’t think God heard the prayers of a sweet family suffering far more than I ever had. I was angry because I prayed for a boy filled with more faith than I had ever had. He didn’t rise. I was angry with God because he owed me and wasn’t coming through when I was calling in my favors, eared through years and years of good behavior. 

I was a Pharisee. People look at Pharisees in the Bible and say they are religious zealots who don’t love God they love themselves. That isn’t so. They were some of the most outwardly perfect people you could ever imagine. A pattern of good behavior marked their understanding of life. They encountered Jesus, and he was not the Messiah they imagined. They killed Jesus because he was not and could not have been the God they had long-awaited. I was one of those. I had an idea of God that he always answered my prayers in the way I prayed them, He always did what I thought was right, that he is more pleased with me because of my goodness. I knew God but not his ways. 

It changed one day reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to one of my babies. I read how a woman who was a sinner came to Jesus and took the most important and expensive thing; she had a jar of perfume she broke it, and poured it on the feet of Jesus. The religious people thought this was a waste. It smelled like the lilies in the summer field. It wasn’t a waste. They were mad at God’s kindness to this sinner. They thought Jesus should not be kind to her. “That woman is a sinner!” they grumbled. “We’re the good ones,” God spoke to me as I was reading that to my child and said, that’s you. I knew God but not the ways of God. 

Jesus Calms the Storm

My favorite artist is Rembrandt because of his story, his use of biblical imagery, and the fact he places himself in the paintings he paints. This is what good art does it envelopes you; it swallows you and emerges you into its story. My favorite painting of his is the Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s been the background on my iPhone for four or five years now. I put it on my phone because I wanted to be daily reminded that I am prone to wander like the son, that I growing up in the church and never leaving home left home on my heart, and lastly, I’m called to be the father who loves both those who have wandered far from home and those who have wandered while never leaving home. The gospel points out my sin points me to Christ, and redirects me to run toward sinners.

The Return Of The Prodigal Son

I recently replaced it for the time being with Christ calms the storm. A painting that depicts arguably the best depiction of God’s trust in His Father and our trust in ourselves in all of scripture.

The biblical scene pitches nature against human frailty – both physical and spiritual. The panic-stricken disciples struggle against a sudden storm, and fight to regain control of their fishing boat as a huge wave crashes over its bow, ripping the sail and drawing the craft perilously close to the rocks in the left foreground. One of the disciples succumbs to the sea’s violence by vomiting over the side. Amidst this chaos, only Christ, at the right, remains calm, like the eye of the storm. Awakened by the disciples’ desperate pleas for help, he rebukes them: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” and then rises to calm the fury of wind and waves. Nature’s upheaval is both cause and metaphor for the terror that grips the disciples, magnifying the emotional turbulence and thus the image’s dramatic impact.

Michael Zell
Jesus Calms The Sea of Galilee

There are many ironic elements of this masterpiece. The first is the fact it was stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Gardener Museum in Boston. Most experts believe it to be the work of organized crime to be used as ransom to free jailed crime bosses. The irony is that since it was taken, there has been wave after wave of stolen peace in our lives and in our countries collective experience. I do not believe that the theft precipitated our lack of collective peace. It is only a cultural artifact that points to our loss of peace by righting our ship on our terms.