Bookshelf by the door Bookshelf by the closet

During the Keep Believing board retreat this weekend, I was asked what books I have been reading lately. That led to a discussion of books in general. When I graduated from seminary in 1978, I had already amassed a nice-sized library of basic reference books–lots of Greek and Hebrew commentaries, heavy tomes on theology and church history plus a smattering of books about the church and pastoral ministry. In the intervening decades I have added hundreds of books to that library. And along the way I’ve either given away or thrown away or somehow lost hundreds of books. Some books I gave away because I no longer needed them. Some I decided weren’t worth giving or keeping so I tossed them. And inevitably I lost quite a few.

When we moved from Oak Park two years ago, I had around 60 boxes of books. When I packed them, I noted that some of them I had not used in over twenty years. A few had been carted from California to Texas to Chicago and now were on their way to Mississippi. On the premise that if I hadn’t looked at a book in twenty years, I probably wouldn’t look at it any time soon, I gave away some books and discarded as many as I could. And still I had almost 60 boxes left.

When we got to the cabin in the woods, we had very little shelf space in the cabin itself so 95% of the books ended up in storage in the lodge across from the lake. At one point I decided I was going to be industrious and sort the books out. So I lugged them from the storage room to an open area about the size of a basketball court. There I piled the boxes on on a raised platform and on two long tables. I think I managed to go through two boxes before I gave up the project. Partly it was time-consuming and partly I couldn’t decide what I might need sometime in the future.    

Having most of my books in storage turned out to be a blessing of sorts because I realized how much I could do without. Books for a pastor are the tools of his trade, and the more he has, the better he feels, or something like that. But I discovered that I didn’t have to have all my books around me all the time. If I really needed something, I could get it out of storage, which I did from time to time. And with more and more resources available on the Internet or on CD or DVD, I could concentrate on having a few choice books on hand. When we moved to our new home in June, I decided to leave most of my books in the lodge. I took only those books that I thought I might actually read.

And that leads me to the question, What’s in my library? At the moment I have two small bookcases near my desk, each with five shelves. Roughly speaking, here is what I’m reading at the moment. The top shelf of the bookcase nearest my desk contains books about the Civil War and about American history in general. The next shelf is entirely eclectic, containing books I have purchased (or been given) in the last several years. It runs the gamut from Anne Lamott to Anne Rice to Ann Coulter to an old book of sermons by Sam Jones, biographies of Stephen Olford and John Nelson Darby, “Ten Passions of a Man’s Heart,” “The Musclehead Revolution,” “Epicenter,” “Thrill of the Chaste,” “Pushing the Limits,” “One Nation Under Therapy,” a book on Christology in the early church, and so on. Then there is an entire shelf of books about preaching and pastoral ministry followed by another shelf given over to books about business leadership, including “Making It Stick” and ”The Speed of Trust” (both well worth reading), “Be Nice or Else” and “Never Eat Lunch Alone.” That shelf also includes the two-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones plus “Miles Gone By” by William F. Buckley, “Renovation of the Heart” by Dallas Willard, and “The World is Flat (Version 3.0)” by Thomas Friedman. The bottom shelf contains study Bibles.

The bookshelf by the closet has an entire shelf of books on China plus a few historical books on the Holy Land, Then there is a shelf of commentaries on Romans plus Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” and Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” plus Wilbur Smith’s “The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven” and a Brethren hymnal called “Hymns of Worship and Remembrance.” I also have a shelf of books on spiritual warfare plus a book on prayer by Philip Yancey and another one on prayer by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, and more books on China.

That’s my current reading at the moment. And those books indicate the range of my interests at the moment–the Civil War, American history, preaching and pastoral ministry, business leadership, Bible study, theology, and of course, China.

That leads me to ask . . . What’s in your library right now? What books are you reading at the moment? Click here to offer your comments.

You can reach the author at ray@keepbelieving.com. Click here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.