I have wrestled some time with the problem of modern Christian books. I love trees and I hate to see them go to waste – cut down and placed on the altar of modernity, and especially modern books.
Please hear me out: there are some fine modern Christian books. I really enjoyed our esteemed and gentle editor Mark Woods, Does the Bible Really say That? And I am not trying to butter him up, honest. Alister McGrath is wonderful. And there are many others.
But one day while in a large evangelical church I visited the bookshop and was strangely overcome with gloom. All these books. Churned out. And how many are really worth the paper? Now you could put this down to me having a bad day. But perhaps there is a nugget of truth here. I could say a great deal more, and perhaps will do in future. But for me many modern Christian books seem spun-out. They would have made a good article or pamphlet but elongated to book length they tend to pick up a good deal of flab, or pretension. I am naming no names.
C S Lewis was onto the same thing. In Christianity in the Dock he says:
Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. 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 light.
So what 5 old-books would I choose, and what about you?
G K Chesterton's Orthodoxy is a rambling, beautiful, disastrous masterpiece. Like all his books he dictated it. But unlike the rest he was just getting over a nervous breakdown following a family rift. That nervous energy flows though this book and it is as good a defence of the faith as you will ever read – but written with flourish and delight in words. (Something so much of our leaden modern book diet lacks.)
St Benedict's Prayer Book is a little gem. It has been my Morning Prayer partner now for 6 years. It is a simple set of morning and evening prayers and then some classic ancient prayers for different occasions. It simply has never let me down and on those mornings when I am struggling to know what to pray and how to pray it I just go back to the ancient words.
Frank Boreham's The Heavenly Octave is beautiful. It is a poetic, folksy unpacking of the beatitudes and for my money the best thing ever written on them. It happens to be one of Ravi Zacharias' favourite books and is so obscure that perhaps we are the only two people still reading it. It's chapter on Blessed are the Righteous, is one of the most lucid and uplifting things I have read about our Lord's precious words.
CS Lewis's Weight of Glory presents the thesis that there is no such thing as an ordinary person. It is not a book, but was Lewis' lone sermon. The sheer beauty of Lewis mind is a thing of wonder. And the piece is pliable and fresh and is guaranteed to make you think about the beauty and wonder of God's creation. For my money Lewis was a way better essayist and sermon writer than novelist.
And just to be topical go out and buy Martin Luther's Christmas Book. It is a collection of 30 excerpts from Luther's Christmas sermons. It counters the idea that Luther was all about salvation and not about caring for those in need and it is a shoe-in for any Christmas talk of sermon.
So my friends, what do you think? Can I tempt you to read a few old books? If you are a Christian publisher can I ask you to save some trees?
Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214