Loving Books

I was recently given four large bags’ worth of books, including an almost complete set of Calvin’s Commentaries. Accommodating these additions was not straight forward, and the need for additional shelf-space is now more acute, but I feel wonderfully blessed by others’ kindness.

A few days before, I was having a conversation with a gentleman. He stated that his own book collection had become something of an idol to him, and that his circumstances had demanded that they part company, which he could now see was for the best. I wondered if my own love of books was verging on the idolatrous. Perhaps these are the tests, or considerations at the very least:

Do we own books to look good? I know of one individual whose shelves groan under the weight of hundreds of pounds’ worth of hardback Bible commentaries - but they are never read; I might venture that neither is the Bible for that matter. They look great; they give him the air of a scholar and a gentleman, but he is neither.

Do we refuse to share and lend? We all know that Christians are some of the worst book thieves - not from shops, but from each other. Despite this, if a book is so precious that we would not allow others to enjoy it, we may be holding it in too high a regard. Let it go.

Do we spend our time reading fine books and godly tomes, but at the expense of God’s own word? The medieval Catholic schools' and universities' scholars spent hours poring over works of canon law, piety, commentaries and philosophy, but seldom God’s written word. The latter brooks no substitute; better be rid of its rivals than supplant it.

Do we become members of parties by our reading? Does Calvin, or Wiersbe, or Gill or Macarthur, always have the final say on every matter? They are but men, and they can err. A book is a set of opinions, a compendium of ideas, many of which are sound and inspiring, while some are likely mistaken or eccentric. Let us consult the traditions of the elders, but not be bound by their rulings, nor from them derive our identities.

I have found two extremes in Christendom. There are those who think that every Christian should be well-educated, conversant in Greek and Hebrew, able to pit Owen’s christological views with Baxter’s, Melanchthon’s sacramentalism with Zwingli’s. Let the scholars engage in such things; the ordinary Christian need not. It is worth remembering that the educated scribes looked down upon the fishermen of Galilee who presumed to speak of the Christ. Then there are those who revel in ignorance; their inverted snobbery is proud of what they do not know. They disdain education and think any serious study (except of the Bible) an utter waste of time. It is worth noting that Paul could cite classical writers in his letter to Titus and his famous sermon at Athens. An insular ignoramus he was not.

Read books. Let the Lord’s people be a wise and knowledgeable people, but if your books come between you and God, throw them in a skip. Or give them to a pastor.