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 (literary “taxonomy”).
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 Classics, Part 1 and Part 2”).
In our last few posts we began to look at that seventh chapter and took in some of Ryken’s thoughts on what makes a classic work of literature a Christian one (including that its content is distinctively Christian and that its viewpoint is decidedly Christian).
In the second half of “Christian Classics, Part 1” (Chap.7) Ryken looks at the “Bible reading as a model.” Here are his continued thoughts on this:
A second way in which the Bible serves as a model stems from its literary nature. The Bible gives us a definition of a Christian classic. It is not all equally literary, and this should keep us from overstating the case for the importance of literature (as though nonliterary forms of writing are inferior). But the Bible is predominantly literary. It overwhelmingly presents human experience in the concrete form of character, events, settings, and images. As a result, when we sit down to read a Christian classic, we are freed from anxiety about the worthiness of what we are about to do. Additionally, the Bible is a book overflowing with literary form and technique. If we can give ourselves to literary form when reading the Bible, we can do it with other Christian classics.
To which he adds:
By meeting all the criteria of being literary, the Bible shows us that before a work can be a Christian classic, it needs to be a classic. It needs to meet ordinary criteria of literary excellence. There is a place for expository religious writing, but a work of literature needs to be literary. Religious content by itself does not produce a Christian classic (p.67).
Clearly, the Bible is much more than merely a literary classic (cf. Ryken’s thoughts on this posted earlier). But, at a basic level of a Christian classic, the written Word of God is certainly a marvel of literature. We would expect nothing less from its divine Author, the sovereign Maker of language and the Master of revelation.