Why Christians Should Avoid Great Books Like the Plague

Jeff Baldwin book stacks

Note: An interesting article was penned this fall titled “People of the Screen.” The author, Christine Rosen, editor of The New Atlantis, opines on the diminished role of reading books for pleasure. The advent of computers and the internet has taught a generation of children to seek information online instead of on the page and several studies indicate the result is a lack of concentration and interaction with the values and worldview of the author. One national study found that nearly half of Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure. Rosen suggests this is to our individual and collective detriment. You’re invited to read the entire article here. This month’s article tackles the same issue but from a tongue-in-cheek perspective. Enjoy!

Jeff Baldwin book stacks
Photo by Eli Samuelu.

Recently, some evangelicals have embraced a dangerous fad: great books. Those who have the Greatest Book, the Bible, waste their time and brain cells on merely great books, expecting to engage in a “great conversation” with Christians and non-Christians alike.

Like the recent worldview fad embraced by some evangelicals, this great books fad seems to forget where Christianity belongs: in church. Christian worldview advocates not only encourage students to question the modern American interpretation of separation of church and state, but to carry their faith into dangerous places, like the public schools or the theater. In some of the most radical circles, Christians are being taught that they can even think biblically about biology or art!

This is cause for alarm. Students who feel this way about the Christian faith might try to shape public policy based on biblical principles, or expect others to be good stewards of their time on every day, instead of the Sabbath.

Only recently, I met a Christian student who was teaching film appreciation at a secular school! Can you imagine? This student was standing with both feet right in the middle of the world, teaching from a perspective that was not of the world. I think, though, that I set him right when I asked him about 2 Corinthians 10:5. How could he be taking every thought captive for Christ when some of his thoughts were about movies?

Likewise, how could any Christian ever hope to think like a Christian while reading men like Plato, Homer, Athanasius, Augustine, Dante, Machiavelli, or Erasmus? These men don’t even have two names! Sure, Augustine may occasionally reference scripture, but that just proves my point: Why read quotes from the Bible when you can read the Bible itself?

I’ve listened to these “great books experts” talk — just because I wanted to see the temptations facing our young people, mind you — and I can promise you that they are sheep in wolves’ clothes. It sounds good initially when they talk about the sovereignty of God, but then they make the incredibly illogical leap to conclude that this means He rules over all of His creation and speaks to every discipline. I’ve even heard them say — brace yourself — that all truth is God’s truth. You read that right! They seem to think that pagans like Homer or Aristotle might actually stumble on truth, just because they have a conscience. And they also teach that anyone can raise good questions!

The next thing you know, these so-called Christians will be saying that all beauty is God’s beauty, too. As if a pagan like Robert Frost could write beautiful poetry, or a homosexual like Oscar Wilde could write an elegant play. Don’t they see that Christians are writing the most beautiful books and filming the most stunning movies today?

Sometimes these great books advocates will talk about “ideas having consequences.” What on earth can they mean by that? Ideas exist only in the ivory tower, as do most of these quote-unquote academics. I’ve never seen an idea put out a fire or build a hospital — people do that! And not the sort of people who just sit around and read and chat for a living. It takes work to have consequences, not vague ideas. Did our founding fathers sit around and read and write about ideas? No! They fought for their rights and built a great nation.

The only time I was heartened by any of the rhetoric of the worldview/great books fringe was when I attended a Bill Jack lecture and heard him challenge his students to obey Romans 12:2 and “be transformed by the removing of their minds.” But I was shocked and appalled by what followed: the students laughed, and Mr. Jack laughed with them and launched into a tirade about “renewal.” Renewal? I suppose that tree-hugger recycles too.

The bottom line, of course, is that Christianity is not something to be hauled along with you wherever you go. When I attend a science lecture, I leave my faith at the door. Faith and science are two different things! When I walk my dog, I don’t try to make it all spiritual by praying or admiring God’s creation — I’m walking my dog. I can pray when I get to church, or after I’ve paid my money for the big prayer meeting.

You certainly never caught Jesus reading a great book. He’s busy doing spiritual things like giving sermons and teaching His disciples how to pray. He didn’t have time to worry about secular things like how people should care for the poor or spend their money. Are we smarter than Christ? Do we think we should do things He never did, like surfing the internet or using a cell phone?

Nor am I a fan of airing our dirty laundry. Christians have had their differences over the years — I admit it — but we don’t have to advertise it all around the world. When some guy named Luther gets huffy about the church needing a little bit more money and then finding a creative way to raise that money, that’s a disagreement that shouldn’t go beyond the four walls of the church. Nailing indictments to the church door! What good can come from that? And yet many of these so-called great books lists, including TheGreatBooks.com (which is probably the worst — a nefarious, underhanded, slipshod hack job without a veneer of respectability), forces students to read not only Luther but other trouble-makers like Calvin and Wingli, or Zingli — no, Zwingli.

Zwingli! I doubt he’s even an American.