Building your theological library

Tim Challies posted a great essay on how to start your personal theological library. He’d linked to lots of fantastic free resources to show that a quick kick-start can be done. All of the links were to online, downloadable materials, and for the person who reads stuff online or on the laptop/phone, it’s a resource you definitely want to bookmark.

A Secret Way to Kick-Start your Theological Library by Tim Challies

Please read Mr Challies’ essay. I’m sure I’m in a minority when I say I don’t like to read on the computer but would rather have a solid book on my lap. In my essay I want to discuss starting your personal, theological library in hard copies.

We’re on this earth for such a short time and the Lord has given each of us resources of one kind or another to make His name known and to help grow the church and its members. He has urged us to use these resources to glorify Him.

One legitimate use of money is to support the Lord’s work through the religious institutions the Lord established (Matthew 23:23; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 8:1-3). We tithe or make offerings. We pay our taxes. We help the poor and needy, and we support missions. These are all biblical uses of our money. (Source)

Then we move into the realm of our giftings. If you’re gifted with a love of hospitality you might use your money to take in needy children or adults so you can house them and feed them. If your gift is toward administration you might be using your money for purchasing things your church needs in order to run effectively. If you have the gift of mercy you might be using your money on gas to drive to a mission to serve, or using your money to support a hospice or hospital.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17)

We all have a ministry. It might not be formal, incorporated, or within the walls of the church, but we all do. In one way or another, you minister to people. In this essay I ask you to think about after using your money for the above things, to consider using your resources toward your ministry in a focused, intentional way.

If you possess the gift of teaching, you might want to use your money on books and materials that edify and teach the brethren. Over time I’ve built my own theological library, but always with an eye to having it be more like a lending library. Except for my John MacArthur Commentaries, I consider all other books that have come into my possession as temporary guests. Once I read them, I lend them. I know some of them won’t get back to me and that’s OK. Before I was saved I had a lot of pride in the number of my 6-foot-tall bookcases stuffed with quality books, some of them rare. It’s taken a long time of self-discipline and submission to the Spirit to turn my mind from acquiring and coveting to freely giving away “my” books, which aren’t mine to begin with.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

I read them, so as to grow in sanctification myself and be able to discern when a person might benefit from the resource I’m sharing. I read them also so I know for sure it’s a valid resource. I don’t want to defeat my purpose in giving someone a resource who needs building up only to discover it’s not a good resource after all!

You might not have a formal ministry, but we all minister to each other in lots of ways. If you’re the bookish sort, consider these various ways to build your theological library on a budget.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 19:17-19)

–Sometimes people send me theology books! Bonus!

–Sometimes you might receive a gift certificate to a bookstore or to Amazon or other online book store. Please consider using all or most of it to build your library. The local public library has secular novels and other books you can read for free. All other books beside the Bible and theological books serve a leisure purpose, and you know that evaporates pretty fast. Theological books written to edify the brethren might save someone’s soul- and that lasts forever.

–When Amazon, Westminster Books, or Banner of Truth have a sale, look hard for theological books or other materials to purchase. I gave away my Gladys Aylward book and then another friend was interested in it so I looked today and Amazon is having a sale on that book for $5, so of course I bought two! Westminster has books in the Bargain section costing anywhere from 50 cents to just two or three dollars. There’s Tim Challies’ Free Stuff Friday Giveaways, supersales, two for one sales, Public Library sales (hey, it’s possible!) … take advantage of all of these.

–Our pastor at the old church I attended resigned and he left his theological library behind. The Associate Pastor called me to come over and pick through. I was so blessed! If you’re attending seminary, look for the Seminary Library used sales or castoffs or discards. If a seminary near you has a sale, make a point to save the date and go. Hopefully your pastor won’t resign, but maybe there might come a day when someone is cleaning out their theological library and you could take advantage if invited.

–If ever you receive a donation consider turning it to buying materials for your ministry.

–Sacrifice. The Lord wants us to subvert our fleshly tendencies to indulge and to give sacrificially. Sadly, it has taken a long time to squelch my life-long habit of accumulating books to keep for myself and to turn my mind to the idea of immediately and happily giving them away as a ministry to edify a sister. I have been selfish for a long time but I’m learning how to build my theological library. It takes time and it’s happening slowly, but it IS happening. It will for you too.

You’ll see. If your ministry is helps, perhaps you’ve noticed the Spirit draw you to yard sales or thrift stores that are selling the exact baking pan you need for when you next make a certain kind of cake for a grieving person. If your ministry is administration, perhaps you’ve noticed the pattern of just happening to be at the right place when an office store is going out of business and you have opportunity to buy administrative items for your church or ministry or mission.

If you have a ministry, think about building it in a focused and intentional fashion. Mine’s teaching and discipling, so I’m building my theological library in all these and other focused ways. Then read the books yourself so you will grow, and then you will have a first-hand knowledge of what books to share with whom.

What Paul said:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. (Romans 15:14)


The Joy of self-discipline