A Guided Tour of Classic & Contemporary Literature


Terry W. Glaspey

InterVarsity Press, 2001, 237 pp.  0-8308-2329-8


Glaspey, “one who loves books and whose life would seem incomplete without them,” is the author of several books on prayer and other topics.  Here he provides practical help to sort through the enormous number of options and select the very best books for yourself and your children.  You might not agree with all his selections.  This is not a book to borrow.  You have to buy it for reference.  It showed me, as a good friend told me recently, “Your reading is very thin.”


In several categories, he lists his favorite authors, a couple of their best books, a paragraph about their writing, and sometimes a quote from a book. 

The major categories are

  • Great Books of the Christian Tradition
  • Other Classic Writings
  • Books to Help You Think Like a Christian
  • Books to Help You Grow in Your Spiritual Life
  • Contemporary Fiction

Smaller categories include

  • Poetry
  • Books for Young Readers

He also includes brief chapters on

  • Why Read the Classics?
  • How to Use Reading Lists?
  • The Joy of Reading Groups

Two appendices discuss

  • Discovering our Christian Heritage
  • Why Read Books by Non-Christians?

There are also author and title indices.


Reading great Christian books is one of the surest ways to broaden and deepen our faith and our commitment.  Reading classics is being ushered into the presence of some of the greatest thinkers who ever lived.  It gives us a perspective much broader than merely contemporary thinking. (12, 15)


A one-year plan for exploring the classics is given on pp. 62-3.


Books founded on other worldviews also have a great deal to say to the discerning Christian reader.  “First, because as sharers in our common human experience they can provide valuable insights about living; second, because all human beings can draw on the richness of God’s general revelation; and third, because sometimes those outside our tradition can see our faults and failures more clearly than we can from inside that tradition.” (65)


In the classics, Glaspey introduces each century with a bit of commentary.  Regarding the 20th century, “There is a pervasive note of despair that runs through much of the art, music, literature and philosophy of modern times.  In our relativistic age, many people have given up hope of finding any real answers to life’s perplexing questions.  This has tended to produce work that is intricate, witty or complex on the exterior, but morally hollow at its core.  In many ways we appear to be a culture that is dying, losing that which gave us the strength to achieve much of our greatness.  But the despairing voices do us a service in clearly pointing people to their need for the hope and meaning that is available in the gospel.”  (87)


Books to Help You Think Like a Christian

“A worldview is a set of beliefs about reality that have an impact on every area of our life.  It deals with such questions as Is there a God? If so, how can we know him? What is the nature of humankind? What is truth? What is our purpose in life? The way we answer these questions will affect the way we view almost every area of our lives….” (103)  A list of books to help develop a Christian worldview includes authors Blamires, Colson, C. S. Lewis, Sire, and Daniel Taylor. (105-6)


Reading for entertainment is good, “but people who read only for entertainment are robbing themselves of one of the true pleasures of reading: that of expanding the mind, heart, the soul and the spirit.” “Learning is a lifelong activity.” (198) 


“Top ten” list of books and authors are offered for several categories.  (200-201)


“The only palliative [for the errors of our modern world] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.  Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past.  People were no cleverer than they are now: they made as many mistakes as we.  But not the same mistakes.”  C. S. Lewis (209)


“The Christian faith is not just some unique modern way of looking at life, but the single most powerful influence in the construction of Western civilization.”  “Christianity is not just a modern conservative outlook on life, but a richly textured way of looking at life and understanding our existence as human beings.” (209-10)

“Our lives will not be well nourished by an exclusive diet of the new and trendy.  To truly grow intellectually and spiritually, to break outside the limitations of our own modern patterns of thought, requires that we partake of the rich feast that is part of our past.” (210)


Chronological snobbery – “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”  “…our age is also a ‘period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions.  They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.” (quoting C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy) (213)


The past provides us with a viewpoint from which to critique our own age.  Tradition frees us from the siren of relevancy. (213)


“We use our perceived freedom from the constraints of the past to follow blindly the whims of the moment.  But, “He who is married to the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower.” (quoting Dean Inge) (214)


“The past is a priceless treasure.” (214)


Further good reading on this topic:

HOW TO READ A CHRISTIAN BOOK - A Guide to selecting and reading Christian books as a Christian Discipline, David L. McKenna