Chronological Snobbery

by Apr 2, 2010Books, Personal1 comment

I don’t want to be, but I think I’ve been stuck in what C.S. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery.”

I pick up an old book—most recently, Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics—and I can’t really read it without my fingers crossed. I can never shake the suspicion that the science of whatever it is I’m reading about has progressed so far by now that I am wasting my time on old arguments.

I do not feel this way when reading Jonathan Edwards—or C.S. Lewis, for that matter. And I know in my head and heart that the latest book isn’t necessarily the best book. I want to escape the you’ve-got-to-read-this culture of the blogosphere—but I don’t want to, either. It’s so, well, beguiling. To be up on things is to have power other’s don’t. But, then again, the new books I have read recently have been genuinely helpful and edifying. And they speak my language.

Lewis said that he read old books on a regular basis in order to breathe the air of a different century, ventilating his own.

I need God’s wisdom to know what to read and when. He knows best what I need.

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1 Comment
  1. Brian

    Isn’t there a difference between these kinds of books. For instance, I trust modern Greek grammars more than older ones because there have been true advances in our knowledge of grammar (though being familiar with older works is probably a beneficial check to the claims of the newer works, with personal work in the text being the key test of both).

    But with other kinds of writing, reading older books has greater benefit. For instance, if I read a commentary by a 19th century author, I’m probably going to get a more detailed discussion of aspects of the Greek texts than even some NIGTC volumes (though I’ll need to beware some of the conclusions). If I read a reformation commentary, I’ll probably get a fair amount of theology mixed in with the exegesis. If I read a Puritan commentary, I’ll probably get the theology plus a good bit of application. So I end up benefiting from reading commentaries through various eras.