Four Books to Read - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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President's Desk
May 5, 2016

Four Books to Read

It would be fun to ask each Geneva professor to name four books everyone should read and then to design a seminar around them. In fact, I challenge you to stop reading this essay immediately and answer that question for yourself: what four books should every Christian read before turning 30? My list includes books by Greek, Roman, German, and English authors. No other books besides the Bible have shaped my outlook like these four. Your list, of course, will be different, but I would expect it to contain at least one of my books.

  1. What is God up to in history? I recommend Athanasius’ (Greek) On the Incarnation, one of the most accessible ancient books. Athansius asks and answers the question why God had to take on human flesh, live among us, die, and rise again. Four decades after reading it I remember: Suppose a king owns ten cities, which because of the careless infidelity of its inhabitants, he loses to his enemy. Will he not go to war with his enemy to reclaim those cities, not for the sake of his subjects, but for the sake of his own honor? I read that question and for the first time noticed that what Bible scholars call the protoevangelium (first announcement of the Gospel) is a threat to the serpent: “the seed of the woman will crush your head!”
  2. How can we understand ourselves? I recommend Augustine’s (Roman) Confessions. “How can the son of such tears perish?” What stealing a pear as a child revealed about his perverse love of evil. “Give me chastity and continence, but not just yet.” “Take up and read.” “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” “The Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them.” Skip the last quarter of the book on time and memory. You probably won’t understand it any better than I did.
  3. How should we live contentedly in a church full of imperfect people? I recommend Bonhoeffer’s (German) Life Together. If you have the blessing of living among believers, your first and only stance towards them should be one of thanksgiving. God does not give that blessing to everyone. Some He calls to distant places as missionaries. Others He allows to be imprisoned for their faith. And yet others are shut up at home with illness. The one who loves his dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around him will create community. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies; likewise his followers belong in the thick of foes, not in a sheltered hideaway. God is not a god of the emotions, but a God of truth.
  4. What is modernity (“post modern” is still really modernity) all about at its core? I recommend C. S. Lewis’ (English) book The Abolition of Man. Our schools and entertainments create men without chests, and we expect them to exhibit virtue and courage, but are shocked to find traitors among them. On the critical spirit: you can’t work at “seeing through” everything, because you will soon be seeing nothing at all. You cannot go on “explaining away” forever. The power to make Man whatever we please means, in fact, the power of some men to make other men whatever they please. (My comment: the soul of Progressivism)

I read Lewis’ The Abolition of Man when I was in college, about 1965, and wondering about the world I had landed in at Swarthmore College. Lewis told me. I read the Confessions the next summer, Athanasius when I lived in Cyprus four years later, and Bonhoeffer quite by accident at age 30 when I found his book at a used book sale in the White Lake RPC and picked it up for ten cents. No teacher ever assigned any of them for me to read. Each made such an impression on me that I remember them today. You should read them. After all, what is summer for? They will change the way you see things and will do you good. You don’t need a teacher to understand any of them.

Bill EdgarDr. William Edgar, Interim President

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