C S Lewis once gave some great advice on reading. 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. He explained that only reading contemporary books robs us of the perspective that previous centuries can provide. Old books help us to avoid the blind spots of our present age. In light of that, I’d like to recommend an old book. An old, old one.
It is On The Incarnation, written by Athanasius in the 4th century. Now before you think that this book isn’t for you, consider that it is one of the most influential books in Christian history. On The Incarnation is also well known because of its famous introduction which was written in the 20th century. It is also available online here. Athanasius lived at a time when many people did not believe that Jesus was the divine Son of God who had come in the flesh. Athanasius stood against the theological/philosophical/cultural trends of his time to argue that Jesus was indeed God in the flesh. After the Bible itself, his writing has been most influential for preserving this precious truth.
So why should you read an old, old book? (If you’re in The King’s Fellowship I’ve got a copy for you. Free.)
1) It’s short. Old books are usually shorter than contemporary ones (this one’s only 60 pages or so). Our ancient friends apparently didn’t feel the need to go on and on.
2) It’s not Max Lucado but it’s surprisingly readable. Reading a book from 1,700 years ago is not as tough as you might think. If you’ve never challenged yourself in your reading, why not try now? If you can understand the Bible you can work through this small masterpiece. The diamonds here are worth digging for…
3) It’s Christmas-y. Kind of. I re-read this every December. It is, in essence, about how Baby Jesus matters to Crucified Jesus. If there is too much consumerism and family tension for you, maybe you can let yourself be reminded of what the greatest gift of the season is.
4) It is so relevant. Athanasius reminds us that we don’t need to be afraid of going against our times. He also reminds us that the first truths about Christian faith are the most profound. For him, that God had come into the world to save the lost. Reading him reminds us that we don’t need to go along with the current of our times.
Lewis was right about old books. And where was it that he made his famous observation about old books? In his famous introduction to On The Incarnation of course! His introduction to it is almost as famous and itself is worth the price!*
* the price is free online, or free if you ask me for a copy, but you get the point.