What is the rationale for unearthing the dead guys? In his introduction to Athanasius’s masterpiece, On the Incarnation (a book written over 1,600 years ago), C.S. Lewis discusses the propensity of many people to gravitate to the new when all the while neglecting the old: “This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.” He goes on to describe the reason he advises people to select the old over the new. The reason is this: “… He is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to the light.” So Lewis essentially argues that most people simply do not have sufficient resources to sift through the sludge of contemporary writing. Thus, he is vulnerable to worldviews that are spiritually dangerous.
Lewis rightly says that every culture is unique. Each culture comes with a certain amount of baggage that does not square with Scripture. So he makes an appeal to old books, what I call reading the dead guys: “We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” His advice is pretty clear and carries a lot of weight: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
So with Lewis’s admonition close at hand, notice the first of eight reasons for unearthing the dead guys.
1. The dead guys remind us that normal people can accomplish extraordinary things for God
John Bunyan is a classic example. They called him an “uneducated tinker.” His classic autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, recounts his miraculous conversion. Bunyan admits he came from the “meanest and most despised of all the families in the land.”
“Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain.” Bunyan clearly described the hatred he had for God prior to his conversion: “I saw my sin most barbarous, and a filthy crime, and could not but conclude, and that with great shame and astonishment, that I had horribly abused the Son of God …”
“I saw how gently [Jesus] gave himself to be hanged and nailed on it for my sins and wicked things.”
In a stunning turn of events, Bunyan explains the radical change that the Holy Spirit wrought in his sin-stained heart: “I magnify the heavenly Majesty, for that by this door he brought me into the world, to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel.”
Bunyan was a Bible-man whose preaching, writing, and life screamed the truth of Galatians 6 – “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14, ESV).
Bunyan’s pedigree was among the lowest of the low. Indeed, he was an everyday “Joe!” But God rescued him from his sin and used the British tinker as a powerful instrument in God’s hands! Who would have thought that as he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress from a Bedford jail that it would become the number two best seller in the world? The great British theologian, John Owen, when asked by King Charles why he, a great scholar went to hear an uneducated tinker like Bunyan preach, said, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.” Indeed, the dead guys remind us that normal people can accomplish extraordinary things for God!