Don’t Be a Snob

Don’t be a snob. Particularly a chronological snob.

Why not? What is a chronological snob? Why is being one bad?

Allow me to explain.

Chronological snobbery is a fallacy of reasoning which argues that whatever is new is best. By this logic, the old is inherently inferior—simply because it is old.

C.S. Lewis coined the term when a friend pointed out that Lewis’s assertion (as an atheist) that “religion is outdated” was flawed. Religion may be old, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

In an introduction he wrote to the book On the Incarnation by the fourth-century church father Athanasius, Lewis argued for why we need the old books and not just the new ones:

We all…need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth-century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it…. None of us can fully escapte this blindness…. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

(C. S. Lewis, cited from The Quotable Lewis, ed. Jerry Root and Wayne Martindale [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989], 509)

For the past three months in seminary, I have been studing the first 1500 years of church history. Names like Papias, Polycarp, Eusebius, and Gregory—formerly meaningless—now have significance to me. Moreover, I have been repeatedly impressed at just how clearly and powerfully many of the church fathers expressed their theology.

To give some examples in honor of Reformation Day (on which Halloween happens to fall), here are three quotes on justification by faith alone from very early in church history:

A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this.

Origen (third-century bishop of Alexandria)

Wages cannot be considered as a gift, because they are due to work, but God has given free grace to all men by the justification of faith.

Hilary of Poiters (fourth-century French bishop), commentary on Matthew 20:7

So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8c).

John Chrysostom (fourth-century bishop of Constantinople), homily on Ephesians 2:8

 

As Apologetics speakers, we often like to quote Packer and Piper and MacArthur and Chandler and Sproul and Strobel and McDowell. But we forget about Athanasius and Chrysostom and Augustine, and Luther and Calvin for that matter!

Our speeches would be richer if we drew upon the deep well of church history.

The good news is that the church fathers did not copyright their works! (Because copyright didn’t exist back in the second century.) So you can find them all for free online.

Better yet, Google “the church fathers on _______.” That will get you quotes from the first few centuries.

Or check out collections of quotes from church history like this.

Don’t be a snob—relish the wonderful history we have as Christians!

I’ll leave you with a quote from a modern guy speaking of a not-quite-so-modern guy:

[C.S. Lewis] has made me wary of chronological snobbery.  That is, he has shown me that “newness” is no virtue and “oldness” is no fault. Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist. Nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valuable for being modern. This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty.

John Piper, The Pastor as Scholar, 34–35