The Attitude of Respect for Christian Tradition – 4

What follows is a list of works spanning the 2000-year history of the church. They do not all agree with each other perfectly. Their views of the Christian life sometimes differ from one another. Their theologies would not line up like a military parade. They reflect the church’s struggles, travails and groans to come to maturity. Reading through them will acquaint you with Christianity as it has been before the dark pragmatic times we now live in. You owe it to your own Christian maturity and intellectual adulthood to read them.

While some are longer (and harder to read) than others, most adult Christians could work their way through the writings on this list in two years (if you read slowly). When you think about the avalanche of books flooding out of modern Christian publishers, my counsel would be to give your reading attention to some of the ancients before jumping on every new book on the block. We have limited time on this earth. What would you rather do: chase down every ‘latest’ book (though it simply rehashes the shallow thoughts of the day), or give yourself to the books which have deeply nourished and warmed the hearts of pious Christians for two millennia?

With the exception of the most modern of these books,  all are in the public domain, and can be found on the Internet. If you’d prefer to read it in your PC, I can email you a copy of any or all of these books. Furthermore, you can probably find most of these books in hard-copy if you start looking.

I have listed them chronologically (that is, by the approximate dates of writing), which is no indication of the order in which they should be read. Pick any one and start.

The Didache (110)

Confessions – Augustine (397)

The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love – Augustine (420)

On Contempt for the World – Eucherius of Lyons (430)

On Loving God – St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1150)

Meister Eckhart’s Sermons (1320)

Revelations of Divine Love – Julian of Norwich (1343)

The Cloud of Unknowing– Anonymous (1370)

The Imitation of Christ – Thomas à Kempis (1400)

Theologia Germanica – Anonymous (1516)

Dark Night of the Soul – St. John of the Cross (1585)

The Practice of Piety – Lewis Bayly (1631)

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1630)

Pensées – Blaise Pascal (1650)

A Divine Cordial – Thomas Watson (1663)

The Devotions of Bishop Andrewes (1675)

Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan (1678)

The Practice of the Presence of God (1685)

Spiritual Progress Francois Fenelon (1700)

Autobiography of Madame Guyon (1710)

Hymns of Gerhard Tersteegen (1729)

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life – William Law (1728)

The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts (1730)

Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards (1746)

Unspoken Sermons – George MacDonald (1867)

Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton (1908)

My Utmost for His Highest – Oswald Chambers (1917)

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis (1944)

The Knowledge of the Holy – Tozer (1963)

This would be a significant start. Other authors to read would include: Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Gregory of Nyzansius (and other ante- and post-Nicene church fathers), Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Balthasar Hubmaier, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, George Whitefield, John Owen, William Gurnall, Richard Baxter, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Brooks, Stephen Charnock, Henry Scougal (and other English Puritans), J.C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J. Gresham Machen.

This can at first seem so daunting as to cause us to recoil at the task. However, remember that the goal is not to ‘get through’ these writers. The goal is to live with them. The goal is to make the atmosphere of historical Christianity the air we breathe. There is no hurry here. If we spend our lives reading the gems of the church, we will not have wasted our lives. On the other hand, if we use that time to read trashy religious fiction, contemporary ‘hot’ books aimed at selling millions or the ‘latest’ work by some famous writer, we may just be choosing the lesser over the greater.


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