How to Read a Classic: #5 – Aware of the Fall and Its Effects

GuidetoClassics-LRykenIt has been well over a month (Sept.27) since we last examined chap.6 of Leland Ryken’s recent book (A Christian Guide to the Classics; Crossway, 2015), “How to Read a Classic.” We listed the six ways he tells us to do this and gave his summary of the chapter.

Lest we forget the “big picture” of this chapter, let’s put those six positive ways of how to read a classic in front of us again:

  1. Good Practice #1: Read a classic with respect for the momentousness of what you are doing.
  2. Good Practice #2: Understand the nature of the reading situation.
  3. Good Practice #3: Apply what you know about literature generally.
  4. Good Practice #4: Maintain a keen eye for the obvious.
  5. Good Practice #5: Be aware that the classics did not escape the effects of the fall.
  6. Good Practice #6: Be yourself as a Christian reader.

For today, we consider what Ryken has to say about good practice #5 Be aware that the classics did not escape the effects of the fall.

Here’s part of what he says about this important subject:

We can almost depend on it that the classics will give us a superior form and technique, and that the authors share the skill of their guild to be good observers of the human scene, combined with the ability to record that observation in words. These are simply the gifts that God has bestowed on writers. However, we should make no prejudgments about an author’s worldview and moral vision simply because of these superior skills. Our task as Christian readers is not to show that the classics state intellectual and moral truth but to ascertain whether they do.

…Evey story or poem is a calculated strategy to get a reader to share the author’s viewpoint. There is a latent persuasive element to every work of literature, and this is known by the technical name of the rhetoric of the work. We need to analyze this persuasive aspect and codify the results of it as themes or ideas about life.

The moral vision of a work is related to its value structure and worldview. Morality concerns people’s relations to their fellow humans. It is easy to identify the moral vision of literature. All we need to do is list the virtues (behavior that is offered for our approval) and vices (what is offered as negative behavior to avoid). Having codified the moral vision of a work, along with its ideas and worldview, we need to assess these things…[which takes us to the final rule – #6 – for next time].

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