Here is my latest article for our Church’s monthly newsletter, the Courant:
This will come as no surprise to most of you, but I’m a little bit of a “book guy.” Although my library doesn’t hold a candle to that of some of my colleagues, I have been carefully adding new favorites to it for about two decades. However, with an overseas move on the horizon, I’ve had to rethink my approach to books and start evaluating which are important enough to take up space (and weight) in our luggage (or to reacquire digitally), which can be stored, and which to liquidate.
As I’ve thought about this, I was reminded of a list I put together several years ago describing what religious books are worth buying for a home library – as it turns out, it’s very similar to the list of books that I’ll be packing. Most people make the mistake of buying too many low-quality books and end up with a library full of relatively worthless ones that aren’t really all that helpful. Perhaps I can save you some money and space – here are the ones I think everyone should consider:
- An NRSV version of the Bible: there are a lot of English translations and paraphrases available and each has their own benefits and drawbacks. The NRSV, however, is something of an “industry standard” and it’s the one we use in worship at Pultneyville Reformed. For what it’s worth, I prefer versions that include the Apocrypha – they usually cost the same, and it’s helpful to have at your disposal. ($10-50)
(Also available online for free at: http://bible.oremus.org/)
- A copy of the RCA creeds and confessions: you may not agree with everything in them, but they provide a helpful foundation for being able to think intelligently about matters of faith. The Bible is our “only rule of faith and practice” but it isn’t always easy or concise. The creeds and confessions often boil down complicated concepts into helpful explanations. ($7)
(Also available online for free at: https://www.rca.org/standards)
- The Isaiah Vision by Raymond Fung: It’s a simple little book, but the Adult Sunday School Class has spent most of the year discussing it and its implications. Sometimes congregations like ours find it easier to say what we don’t believe than to describe what we do stand for. The Isaiah Vision gives language for how “to do church” in a way that makes sense in a wide variety of contexts. ($8)
- The New Bible Dictionary published by InterVarsity Press: Bible dictionaries are essentially encyclopedias of Bible information. If you run across the word denarii do you know what it means? What is a Psalm? What important contextual and genre information should you know when reading Nehemiah? Bible dictionaries give you all the inside information you need in (reasonably) short and concise articles (without actually telling you what to believe). I like IVP’s The New Bible Dictionary because it does a good job of straddling “easy” and “academic. ($30)
- John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: believe it or not, the Institutes are exceptionally accessible. Even if you take a year or two to work through them, you’ll be better off than reading a hundred pseudo-religious books picked up from the sale aisle of the bookstore. Whatever you do, though, please get a modern translation like the one by Ford Lewis Battles. ($25-50)
You can buy all of them for around a hundred dollars, and if you never buy another religious book, they’d serve you well for the rest of your life.
Seriously, how often can you say that?!
On the other hand, if you’d like to go further than that, here are a few more I’d suggest:
- Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
- The Great Omission by Dallas Willard
- The Mystical Presence by John Williamson Nevin
- Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hunard
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible – don’t laugh, it’s actually remarkably good
One last thing: there are two categories of books that are generally a waste of money for a home library (1) original language resources and (2) commentaries. Although both do a great job a boosting the ego, they simply aren’t usually worth it. Why? Put bluntly: the NRSV is a quality translation and most people will never develop enough skill with the original languages to make it worthwhile, also most commentaries fit in to one of three categories: too academic, too unacademic, or too stuck on a particular position. Most people will benefit more from spending time studying the Bible itself (especially if they do it with other people) rather than studying what some “professional scholar” has to say about it.
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like help choosing specific editions.
Grace and peace,
PS: I provided links to the above resources on Amazon. For the record, I get no “kickback” or benefits for doing so. Most of them can be found through various distributors at similar prices.