In chapter three of A Christian Guide to the Classics (2015), Leland Ryken gives answer to the matter of “Why We Should Read the Classics.”
He gives five reasons, which I summarize here:
- “…the classics provide superior entertainment for the people who have developed a taste for them (p.23). ..The first reason to value the classics… is that they are fun to read” (p.25).
- “…a second mark in favor of the classics… is that they possess a greater degree of artistic excellence than lesser works” (p.26).
- “…the classics… possess a quality of complexity, density, and multiplicity of levels” that “demand more of us as readers than lesser works do. By demanding more from us, the classics can be said to elicit our best effort” (p.28).
- “The classics, especially the masterworks of substantial length, are as good an avenue to encountering the great issues of life as we will find. The masters who produced the classics were great thinkers and should be honored as such” (p.29).
- “A final value of reading the classics” is that they are “our gateway to the past” (p.30). Here Ryken has additional points about why the past is important, not as an end in itself, but because of what the past embodies and teaches us in terms of “the true, the good, and the beautiful” (p.31).
What I also appreciated was the way in which Ryken summarized these five values of the classics from “a Christian mind-set.” This is how he does it:
- “The Christian faith affirms the enjoyment and pleasure that the classics offers us.
- God is the ultimate author of the artistry and beauty that are a hallmark of the classics.
- The example of the Bible shows that God values human experience and, by implication, approves the way in which the classics deepen our understanding of it.
- God is the God of truth, so of course he delights when we are led to embrace truth as we interact with the ideas embodied in the classics.
- Because the great events on which the Christian faith rests happened long ago, and because the sacred book of the Christian faith is thousands of years old, drawing strength from the past as we do when we read the classics is an orientation that is natural for Christians” (p.34).