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C.S. Lewis on Reading Old Books

June 28, 2009

C.S. Lewis notes in his introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius:

A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to life.

He then gives this principle for reading:

The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. 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. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Quite a challenge! Everytime I read something by Lewis it’s like revisiting an old friend.

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