Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Defining the 'Great' in Great Books

Happy October!

In keeping with the reading theme, I found this post from Ligonier Ministries interesting. Gene Edward Veith, academic dean of Patrick Henry College, talks about how we choose a "canon" of secular literature. Some postmodern thinkers want to redefine the classics. Here's what Veith says:
"This mindset, of course, undermines, intentionally, traditional ideas and values. And yet, the effort to include women and minorities in the canon has unintended consequences. Many of those women admitted into the canon (Dame Julian of Norwich, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Flannery O'Connor -- who belongs in any canon of modern literature but who has a new prominence as a major female author) wrote about Christianity! The same is true of many minority authors (Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass). So we have the spectacle of liberal, feminist, politically-correct college classrooms having to wrestle with O'Connor's depictions of sin and grace, and Wheatley's evangelical fervor as a freed slave."
Isn't it fun to see how God works through the world's best-laid plans? 

Although the secular canon (literature) cannot replace the sacred canon (Scripture), this does not mean non-sacred books are worthless, or that we can only appreciate books written by people who share our beliefs.  Nor does it mean all secular books are equally worth reading.  Either one is a postmodern response, because it dismisses objective standards for judging right and wrong, truth and beauty (the foundation of discernment). 

As Christians, we can (and must) learn to discern truth from lies.  And that includes recognizing authors as human; they can be flawed and still write something with grains of truth worth reading. Veith reminds us that some of our greatest authors recognized this fact.  He says,
"It may be a mark of their greatness that our culture's greatest writers often draw on, quote, allude to, and are inspired by the canon of Holy Scripture."
If, as Veith suggests, we assembled another list, this one of Great Christian Books, what would be "must-haves" on the list?  How would you choose?

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