We have been working our way slowly through chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), where 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 we noted how Ryken starts with reading the Bible as a model for reading Christian classics (see our previous posts).
In the last section of chap.7 Ryken (“Reading Christian Classics”), the author addresses first of all the purpose of reading Christian classics, and he takes us back to the Roman poet Horace to begin the discussion:
A good framework to bring into the discussion is the twofold purpose of literature. Writing two decades before the birth of Christ, the Roman poet Horace bequeathed a formula that has stood the test of time. Horace said that literature combines what is useful (utile) with what is sweet (dulci) or delightful (The Art of Poetry). Variants have reverberated through the centuries of literary theory – teach and delight, truth and delight, wisdom and pleasure. These are the purposes of literature – the things that a writer aspires to put into a work that a reader experiences when reading it.
And then Ryken applies these two purposes to the reading of Christian classics, beginning with that purpose of pleasure or delight:
We can legitimately bring both of these expectations to the reading of a Christian classics. There is absolutely no reason to waive the usual criterion of pleasure and enjoyment when we read Christian classics (including the Bible). Literature is an art form. There is a category known as didactic literature (“having the intention to teach”), and I do not want to rule it out entirely, but a true classic is something that we read for the full range of literary rewards and not as we read a book of information [p.69].
I agree wholeheartedly with Ryken on this, don’t you? When you pick up a Christian classic to read, is it your purpose to read it for the delight and pleasure it will bring as well as for instruction and inspiration? Take that purpose away from any reading, and I don’t want to read anymore.
Reading simply for delight is a great motivator to read. Do you find that true also? If you haven’t, why not try it with your next book.