I love books like probably the rest of you. In fact, I dream of the day when I can line our house with floor to ceiling bookshelves and books are everywhere. But, that dream comes to a shattering halt when I realize that I share the house I live in with someone else. My wife. And her ideas of decor don’t exactly include floor to ceiling bookshelves in everyroom. Thank God. But it’s still nice to think about.

I’ve decided to keep about 3/4 of my books in my office at church, and I keep the rest at home. I have a pretty strict system of organization. At the office, the books are broken up into categories (i.e., literature, philosophy, Greek, Hebrew, Systematics, etc, etc.) and then placed in alphabetical order in those categories. That way it’s not only easy for me to find, but for all the pastors who come by and want to borrow my books. You see, I had the good fortune of inheriting my dad’s library (pastor). So there are a lot of books. At home, I only keep one shelf of my favorite authors in alphabetical order, and then there are some scattered books in the closets, on tables, etc. My reasoning: keep my favorite authors safe and sound at home with me, and the other, I keep at the office.

Why am I sharing the inner world of my bookkeeping? I was reading the post by Al Mohler By Their Books We Shall Know Them.
HT: Brent Thomas

Interesting post. I was especially intrigued by this statement:

Parini observes that libraries are mirrors into our minds and souls. The books we collect, display, and read tell the story about us.

This may be especially true of Christian ministers. Books are a staple of our lives and ministries. When the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to bring the books and the parchments, he was writing with the kind of urgency any preacher understands.

To a great extent, our personal libraries betray our true identities and interests. A minister’s library, taken as a whole, will likely reveal a portrait of theological conviction and vision. Whose works have front place on the shelves, Martyn Lloyd-Jones or John Shelby Spong? Charles Spurgeon or Harry Emerson Fosdick? Karl Barth or Carl Henry? John MacArthur or Joel Osteen?

How serious a Bible scholar is this preacher? The books will likely tell. Are the books all old or all new? If so, the reader is probably too contemporary or too antiquarian in focus. Are the books read? If so, the marginalia of an eager and intelligent mind adds value to the book. It becomes more a part of us.

I agree that our books say something about us. That makes a lot of sense to me and I find myself looking at other’s bookshelves as well. But I also think that we sometimes are too judgmental about other’s spiritual and religious convictions, based simply on what we see in their library. There are many authors I am not fond of, but because someone has those authors on their shelves does that tell me all that I need to know about them? Whether they are a serious Bible scholar or not? Mohler says, “Whose works have front place on the shelves, Martyn Lloyd-Jones or John Shelby Spong? Charles Spurgeon or Harry Emerson Fosdick? Karl Barth or Carl Henry? John MacArthur or Joel Osteen?” I may be assuming too much, but I would think that Mohler would hope that your decision on these choices would line up with his views. And if they do, then that would probably make you a serious Biblical scholar and preacher. And if they don’t, well, then I suppose you are not? Is that too much for me to assume?

I will give Mohler credit in that he seems to imply that we should interact with all different views and authors of theology, but only certain types should have front places on our shelves. Many Christians just simply choose not to read anything by those they disagree with and then what we are left with is a bunch of arguments by people who haven’t even read the books in the first place, but have simply only browsed someone else’s comment on them. In this post by Al Mohler he gives some more specific statements about his views on theology and reading. He says:

I have hundreds of books in Roman Catholic theology–and these make me all the more committed to the Reformation. I can’t teach theological method to Ph.D. students without being conversant and knowledgeable in this area. Yet, I wouldn’t put these books in my church library. Time and place, people.

Similarly, I wrote my dissertation on the evangelical response to Karl Barth. Barth was sub-orthodox in his general system and in the outworking of his theology, and it is important for evangelicals to know why. So I require my doctoral students to read Barth, but I wouldn’t hand Barth to a layman looking for a book on doctrine.

On the one hand I am glad to see that Mohler reads the material of those that he disagrees with, but what would he think about seeing Karl Barth and Henri Nouwen so prominent on my shelves? From authors such as them would he have a full picture of who I am as a pastor and preacher, and how serious I take my studies? Or could he simply say, Rhett is a guy who has some different theological views than me, but I have no doubt he takes his study of theology and his preaching seriously?

I expect that as Christians and bloggers and pastors we have the opportunity to recommend many books to many people. I on the one hand wouldn’t hesitate to hand someone a book by Barth, though I would take into consideration different things before handing that book over since Barth is sometimes not the most accessible for someone new to theology.

And maybe I’m glad to know that the most prominent authors on my bookshelves aren’t the same as say Al Mohler. I am always intrigued by people’s books, and I often look at their books the same way I look at their music. The more variety of books they have, the more eclectic the collection….that says something to me. It tells me that they have an appreciation for many different authors though they might not agree with everyone. It tells me that they interact with a variety of them as well, though they may not hold the same conclusions. It tells me that they aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone and read someone they may disagree with.

Purgatorio lists the 50 books you should leave on your shelf and I agree with some of his list and other parts I do not. Hopefully he’s read all of them since he is making the recommendation that they stay on the shelf.

So I won’t list all of my books for you of course. But let me leave you with a few of the authors that hold prominent positions on my bookshelf at home. What do these books say about me? Just because I read them and they hold a prominent position, can they accurately sum up a person? And have you noticed how our choices change with time, different authors coming in and out of our lives, while some always remain prominent. Well, go ahead and analyze me……

C.S. Lewis

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Donald Miller

Eugene Peterson

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Henri Nouwen

Karl Barth

Miroslav Volf

Ray Anderson

Soren Kierkegaard