Classic Books

During my last trip, which lasted 5 weeks, I read the Koran, the Holy Writings for Muslims. Honestly, I have to say that the book is not on par with our Bible. But I’ll write a more detailed report on the Koran some other time.

I’d like to share what I’m reading these days. For the last year or so, I’ve read almost nothing but classics. People say we live in the Information Age. But most information is inessential. We can go without watching TV or reading the newspaper for months and have no big change in the quality of our lives. Classic books are both more useful for our lives and more entertaining.

I started with the 10 most influential 20th century Christian books as ranked by Christianity Today. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which we studied during the Three-Strand early morning prayer meetings, tops the list. Also included is Celebration of Discipline, a book we use for one of our Life Series Bible studies.

After I finished reading the books on that list, I got a list of the 100 most influential books in shaping the world today. I picked a few books from this list and read them.

Let me share my thoughts on two books I read. One is The Republic by Plato. I read it twice because it was so interesting to find that many modern ideas are just rehashing of ideas written in this book. The other book is The Prince by Machiavelli. His thesis is that the major duty of princes is to keep peace among people and nations. To do that, they must rely on wisdom and diplomacy, which seemed to me euphemisms for violence and treachery.

Classic books attain their status because they present ideas and human emotions that transcend time. They help us understand human beings and human lives. One particular benefit for Christians of reading classics is that they show the limits of humans and human efforts. For example, in The Republic, Socrates suggests ways to build an ideal society. But it’s obvious that the possibility of accomplishing it is nil because such schemes depend on too many unrealistic conditions that human beings cannot meet.

As I read the Prince, I learned about people who are driven by success and better understood their motivation and their behavior. But the book clearly shows that real peace cannot be obtained through what the author suggests, and reveals how superior Jesus’ ways are. Macchiavelli wrote that peace can only be obtained through force, but Jesus said, “All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” The book argues that peace can only be achieved by scheming princes, but Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.” Men cannot obtain peace or form an ideal society on their own: we need God.

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