Before we take leave of chap.6 (“How to Read a Classic”) of Leland Ryken’s recent book (A Christian Guide to the Classics; Crossway, 2015), let’s consider his final point in that chapter – #6: “be yourself as a Christian reader”.
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:
- Good Practice #1: Read a classic with respect for the momentousness of what you are doing.
- Good Practice #2: Understand the nature of the reading situation.
- Good Practice #3: Apply what you know about literature generally.
- Good Practice #4: Maintain a keen eye for the obvious.
- Good Practice #5: Be aware that the classics did not escape the effects of the fall.
- Good Practice #6: Be yourself as a Christian reader.
This is in part what Ryken has to say about good practice #6:
Christians are an interpretive community. They are not inherently better readers than other people. They are simply a group of readers who share a view of the authority of the Bible and who derive their beliefs from it. On the basis of the Bible, Christians have a shared doctrinal system and a common moral code. They also share a knowledge of the Bible, with the result that they are more likely than readers generally to see a biblical presence in a work of literature and to credit it as a welcome dimension of the work.
Two things flow from the framework that Christians share as an interpretive community. One is that Christians have a common agenda of interests in regard to the classics. They are simply interested in the Christian and biblical dimensions of literature. Christians also ask how a given work accords with biblical truth and morality and how it deviates.
…A second result… is that Christian readers have a standard by which to assess the truth or falseness of a work, as well as its morality or immorality. To make such an assessment is not something that Christians are simply free to do; it is something that they are obligated to do.
Which leads Ryken to conclude with these thoughts:
The general drift of being ourselves as Christian readers is to give us boldness to pursue the truth and remain committed to Christ when we read the classics. We should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by great authors or by other readers and literary critics. We have a right to be an interpretive community. …All that is required of us is to be a responsible member of our community – knowing what the Bible and Christian doctrine and morality say, letting authors say what they really do say, and then exercising our prerogative of agreeing or disagreeing with them (pp.59-60).