In chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), the author begins to identify the great classics of literature by breaking them down into categories.
And he starts with what he calls “the leading categories of literature that make up the domain of the classics” (p.61), by which he means the category of Christian literature (which is why chapters 7 and eight are titled “Christian Classis, Part 1 and Part 2”). In that connection Ryken states,
Christian literature is a category that Christian readers immediately claim as a special possession. It begins with the Bible, which provides a good paradigm for defining the entire category. Within the realm of Christian literature, there are further subcategories, which I will define shortly. Even though Christians should read much in addition to the literature of the faith, I believe that Christian readers should especially resonate with the literature of Zion (metaphorically speaking), and I am always perplexed when Christians find their chief literary excitement in non-Christian literature. In the overall canon of Western classics, Christian classics comprise approximately half of the material. This is true because Christianity was the dominant belief system in the West for seventeen centuries (p.62).
A little later in chapter seven, Ryken gives the identifying characteristic of a Christian classic:
The ultimate standard for calling a work Christian is the intellectual content of a work. A Christian literary work is one in which the author asserts a Christian allegiance at the level of ideas and morality. Whether the writer personally embraces that Christian content is not directly relevant and may be impossible to know. What matters is what the work itself asserts. Having said that, genuinely Christian writers tend overwhelmingly to make their allegiance clear, so that the work becomes a personal testimony of the author’s faith (p.64).
More on this next time!