Some Thoughts/Questions About Owning & Reading Books

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Puritan Board Freshman
A few years ago I let go about a 2,500 volume library for Scripture alone and started reading the Old Testament 2x a year, then New Testament 4x a year and the Gospels 6x a year and my personal and pastoral growth skyrocketed, as did my abilities of interpretation and application, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Since then I started adding Hebrew/Greek resources to help my reading. I have found that this has been like a well to where I have never thirst again.


Puritan Board Sophomore
I sense a hint of Biblicism in some of these comments. While we must be prudent in our choice of books to read and no book is a substitute for the Bible or your own ordained leaders, when we ignore or minimize the written corpus of the church we are also ignoring the ministerial and theological blessings that God has showered on the church throughout history. There is enormous value there. In reading many of the great figures in church and Reformed history you will find that they were intimately acquainted with the Holy Writ, but they also had extensive knowledge of other writers and cited many of them as (ministerial) authorities. They did not record the results of their labors in writing in the belief that readers should limit themselves to the Scriptures and one or two catechisms or theologies.

Most of us don't have the time to read even a substantial proportion of the works of our own branch of the church, but I think that it would be a mistake to not acquaint ourselves with as goodly a number of great Christian works as is reasonable and prudent for us. This is especially true today when so many of us have been raised in churches (or outside of them) were Biblical teaching is shallow or even nonexistent. Thankfully for us, so many of these works are now easily and inexpensively accessible.

Now when we speak of what is "sufficient", that is another matter. One does not need these books in an absolute sense. Indigenous ministers need not wait until Fisher or Calvin is translated to their language to begin preaching. They remain, however, of great value to the lay-person and minister alike.


Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I was reading a couple things recently, one about how John Bunyan had a very small personal library; and another a quote by a man (I forget who) who stated that the Bible and either Fisher or Ames' systematic (again, I forget) was sufficient to be a minister.

I posted a while back about trimming my library, but now I am seriously considering the pros and cons of literally only having a Bible and a book or maybe three.

1. What is your opinion on this? Keep in mind I am a layman, so I don't have the same needs as a pastor as far as books, commentaries, etc. Do you think that, at the very least, devoting a significant amount of time to reading and re-reading only a particular book could be a beneficial experience?

2. If your library could only be the Bible and one or two other books, which would they be? No internet, no library, no prospects of acquiring more books.

Maybe it's just me, but the thought of trying to master a few, instead of merely dipping into many, has great appeal.

I struggle with wanting to collect every Puritan work I hear of, to the point where good books become a weight upon me, staring at me from the shelf as they wait to be read.

Am I merely romanticizing here?

It sounds like the desire here is for a life that is significantly simplified; and certainly that appeals to our aesthetic imagination, as well as opening up intriguing possibilities for our sense of self. But in the absence of providential limitations forcing a small library, I think having a tiny library is just as likely to result in hardly reading at all as it is to result in mastering some great books.

That being said, certainly reading the best books multiple times will be better for you in many ways than reading every new thing that comes out. But to that end books that are stimulating rather than deadening, and books that are vast and disparate are your best choices. For instance, John Davenant's commentary on Colossians is a book into which you can dip at any point, and always learn something in a variety of areas.
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