A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Building A Theological Library

Marcus Maher offers good advice for those wanting a religious library:
1. Preview before you buy

Books, especially commentaries, are expensive. Try to preview them in some way before you buy them. This will save you money and disappointment.

2. Think about it

There are so many good books to buy. So many! Often times I've learned about a book and gotten really excited about a book and wanted to buy it only to have my initial excitement wear off a few days later.

3. You need more than commentaries

A good theological library should contain commentaries, bible dictionaries, introductory books covering portions of Scripture (NT, OT, Paul, the Gospels, the prophets, etc.) both of the historical critical type and the theological type, systematic theology texts, books of historical theology, lexicons and grammars, books on church history, and some basic references on the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and the Apostolic Fathers.

4. Don't buy it just because...

it's cheap or it's by an author you like. I've seen the former mistake made often, especially related to commentaries. You have a lacuna in your library so when you see a book or series on sale that addresses your need you jump on it. Hold your horses...

5. Be diverse

No tradition gets everything right and there's great benefit to seeing Scripture from different angles. Especially when buying commentaries, try to buy books from several different positions. Buy Reformed and Arminiain; Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Catholic. Be very, very intentional about this.

6. Don't neglect older works

There are a lot of good works out there by dead guys. Read them!

7. Buy more than you think you need because you'll never know when you need it

I know that good reference books are expensive but you need to have enough books on your shelf that when you have a question about a particular passage or a significant topic you have a place or two to start looking for answers.

8. It's not just about you

When building your library, try to be other focused. Encourage people to borrow from you. Don't be afraid to give away a book that has been helpful to you.
You can read Marcus Maher's entire post here.


larry said...

I think most pastors have built theological libraries at the expense of building well-rounded libraries. I guess if you intend to build a theological library, these are certainly good guidelines. I've found a good basic Bible dictionary (the same Eerdmans one that is always showing on the right side of your blog) and a basic commentary set (I have an IVP two volume one - not my favorite - I gave away a better two-volume set and have regretted it). Still, I know many pastors with bookshelves lined with commentaries, even very good ones, and then books on leadership, spiritual formation, denominational resources, but totally lacking in science, world or even American history, biography, poetry and literature. I guess what I am getting at is that I think its better to have a smaller "theological" library if that allows you to have a better all-around library.

Dave Faulkner said...

If I recall, Martyn Lloyd-Jones told preachers, "You don't have time to read good books, you only have time to read the best books." On that basis, I find book reviews in journals invaluable. I certainly read them before buying commentaries, and I consult commentary guides.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Good advice, Dave. Thanks!

Larry, I share your concern that pastors should be fairly well read in other areas. I purposely read books on American history, science, and politics. Having said that, since pastors spend most of their time in their field, as do most folks, I would place the emphasis on the theological collection.