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Why Young Christians Need Old Books

My dad went to a seminary with old roots and stunning architecture. I remember walking around campus as a 9-year-old, in awe of the enormous, ornate buildings. But one building stood out more than any otherthe president’s house.

It wasn’t because it was the biggest or flashiest building. It was because there was one room in this building that stood out to me the mostthe president’s library. It was the biggest personal library I’d ever seen.

I wandered around in silence. Not only were there so many books; there were so many old books. Thousands and thousands of weathered spines and faded fabric covers looked back at me.

That’s because this seminary president who invested so powerfully in the lives of young Christians knew one thing: Young Christians need to learn from old books.

YOUNG CHRISTIANS DON’T NEED NEW

At times, the church can be guilty of thinking young Christians need something new.

A new app, new Bible translation, new style, or new truth for modern times. But what young Christians need most is tremendously and radically old. We need faithful wisdom from ages past.

Instead of newer, cooler, faster, and edgier, we need simple, beautiful, and ancient.

Instead of newer, cooler, faster, and edgier, we need simple, beautiful, and ancient.

Growing young Christians need mature old Christians to help guide, curb, and correct. And in God’s mighty providence, he has given us hundreds of mothers and fathers in the faith who help us through their writings. Authors like Augustine, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, Fanny Crosby, J. C. Ryle, Amy Carmichael, and Corrie ten Boom still teach, admonish, convict, and encourage through their written words.

We lack sorely when we don’t learn from past wisdom. But how are ancient writings relevant for modern young believers? What can Christians from different times with different experiences and different vocabularies teach us today?

Here are three things old books teach young Christians:

1. How to Engage Culture

It’s tempting to believe we live in unique times—that few from the past can speak with insightful specificity into our present culture. But that’s just not true. Humans have been dealing with the same sins and sufferings since our banishment from Eden. Sure, it’s manifested in various ways in various eras, but old Christians from the past can be startlingly relevant.

Wisdom from the past has been preserved for the present, and we lack sorely when we don’t learn from it.

J. C. Ryle’s Thoughts for Young Men, for example, brims with winsome and compelling insight for young Christians—men and women alike—who desire to stand for truth amid a shifting cultural landscape.

2. How to Handle Romance

Despite the caricatures and stereotypes, not all Christians from the past were prudes. Many wrote freely about sexual purity, romance, marriage, and love.

Believe it or not, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon were both young once. They were teenagers, 20-somethings, and 30-somethings who dealt with the same struggles, pressures, and emotions you face. Their writing is not detached from your experience; in fact, they speak with the wisdom of experience under their belts—especially when it comes to romance and sexual purity.

For example, Augustine’s Confessions is filled with practical reflections on his transition from a life of sexual hedonism to God-focused purity (including how he endured a brutal breakup).

3. How to Fight Temptation

We live in a world where temptation engulfs us. But that’s how it’s always been. Christians from the past have been writing for millennia about how to deal with temptation.

From fighting sin to pursuing holiness, they’ve been there and done that, and they now offer you wisdom that only an older mentor in the faith can give.

Amy Carmichael’s If, for instance, is a powerful and practical meditation on fighting temptation by remembering Christ’s love.

BEST OLD BOOK

Yet even as we read and learn from godly, human-authored books, we can’t forget the best old book: the Bible.

As Spurgeon famously put it, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” God’s Word is the only perfect book, the only book we must prize above every other.

But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read other old books.  Rather, it should fuel our desire to read and learn from old Christians who faithfully loved and taught from the greatest of books.

Young Christian, God has given you the opportunity to learn and grow from old books. Don’t minimize it. Don’t reject it. And don’t waste it.

Editors’ note: 

This article originally appeared at SOLA Network.

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