Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Church Libraries

The importance of a good church library cannot be overstated. Christ has given to the church, the Bible tells us, teachers. Men (and women) who are able to wrestle with theology and scripture and write wonderful works to inform the church. Christian growth and insight happens through reading the Bible mostly, but also through reading helpful clarifications from other teachers (i.e. good Christian books). Notice that I said “good” Christian books. A few years ago I was helping to clean out a church library, the reason being that most of the contents of that library were not worth saving. Churches need to acquire books that will help grow the faith, servanthood, and knowledge of its members. They do not need books that are useless, outdated, and shallow (nor heretical, which most churches would be surprised to know they possess). The fact is that churches should appoint godly and discerning individuals to oversee the stocking and purchase of books for their libraries. An individual who will know where to get not only good deals but good books. To help these individuals I have written this booklet. It is my intention to help churches build up good theological libraries for their teachers and members, and thus to help Christians everywhere grow in their faith, knowledge, love and service to the Lord.

A good Church library consists of 8 specific categories, or collections, of books: Church Life, Christian Living, Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Ministry Studies, Church History, Apologetics, and Counseling. Each should have a sufficient store of works that will span from both deep and technical to introductory and simple. This will help your congregation to not only acquire knowledge on how to be Christ-centered in a wider stream of life, but also to progress in knowledge in certain areas. A closer look at each category will help to explain why each is so important and what church librarians should be looking for when they seek to buy books for it.

Church Life This one category is almost always overlooked in the establishment of a church library. It is evidence of the “me” mindset of our culture invading the church. Most members of the church don’t realize that they have responsibilities and can partake of many joys in their church life together. They don’t usually understand the theology of church life. By supplying books for this category you can reform your church’s mentality from a “come to church, worship, go home” mentality to one of more Christ-like service, love, and fellowship with one another. Use this category to build up a theology of the Church among your members.
Things to look for: In this category you are looking for books that explain church member responsibilities, fellowship, and general spiritual growth together as a body of believers in a local congregation. Some suggested volumes for this category include: Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church by Donald S. Whitney; Life in the Body by Curtis C. Thomas; Life in My Father’s House by Wayne A. Mack; and The Disciple Making Church by Bill Hull.

Christian Living This is a common category in Church libraries, but it is also the one for which books are supplied without discernment. The supposition often is that any Christian living book is a good, but this is far from the truth. Your members don’t have time to read everything, and most barely have time to read anything. The conclusion to draw from this statement, then, is that we should offer them only the best reading material. So purchase books wisely for this category. Books in this category may approach any subject regarding living as a Christian in the day to day life. Such topics as: parenting, dating, money/finances, career/vocation, personal spiritual disciplines, devotional literature, etc. This list is quite expansive, but you get the point.
Things to look for: look for literature that is distinctly geared towards living out the gospel. Texts that use scripture as the foundation for their theses. Avoid books that tend to express achievement of goals in simple steps (i. e. “Ten Steps to Divorce Proof Your Marriage,” etc.). Look for books that give a healthy, simple, theological foundation for their topic, and avoid those that have no biblical support for their theses (i. e. “Going to the Movies is wrong because movies are made by non-Christians”). Some recommended works include: Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper; Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes; Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp; and Personal Spiritual Disciplines by Donald S. Whitney.

Biblical Studies Study of the Bible is so key to the Christian life that a church should be willing to purchase materials to help and encourage its members to do just that. By offering commentaries, book studies, Testament surveys, and hermeneutical texts for its members a church can facilitate deeper knowledge of the scriptures among its members. Members who have never read Ezekiel will suddenly find themselves raptured in its content, theological meaning, and practical application as they read from the wisdom and research of Old Testament scholars.
Things to Look for: Remember that not all Biblical studies are conservative and orthodox. A major part of acquiring good literature in this field will mean becoming familiar with top scholars from theological institutions across the globe, and also conservative publishers. When you find one or two theologically conservative Biblical scholar see who they recommend, or e-mail them and ask them for recommendations. Look for books that will give basic introductions to whole books of the Bible, as well as surveys of the entirety of Scripture. Surveys are good for getting the big picture but it is harder to find a good one. Individual book studies will narrow the scope of study and make it more specific, but try to find texts that also keep in mind the larger context of the entire cannon of Scripture. Avoid too many heady academic works and zero in on simple commentaries (try those that are basically the expositional sermons of preachers re-formatted in the shape of a commentary, see John MacArthur, R. Kent Hughes, James Montgomery Boice, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones for examples). Recommended texts include: An Introduction to the New Testament ed. D.A. Carson, Doug Moo, and Leon Morris; According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy; and The Word Speaks Today Commentary Series edited by John Stott.

Systematic Theology The modern church has made a large scale abandonment of formal doctrinal study. It is all too often asserted that since doctrine divides we must not broach the subject. Theology, however, is something we all have, regardless of what we say. Theology comes from a compound words the word “Theos” which is Greek for “God” and “ology” which we know means the “study of”. Thus Theology is the Study of God. This is a must for all Christians and should be a desire. Paul’s letters were highly doctrinal, read through Ephesians and see the doctrines of election and redemption clearly defined. His letter to the Romans has often been compared to a Systematic Theology texts which, while not exactly true, reveals the apostle’s own conviction about doctrinal study. No one has it all figured out and theology must be pursued with humility, but it must be pursued in order that we might think rightly about our God. While Scripture is not to be regarded as a text book of systematic theological subjects, as we read it we find that it does speak on various theological subjects. Theologians who have taken what the Bible says as a whole on various subjects and set them into categories offer us a help to better understanding these doctrines through the lens of Scripture.
Things to Look for: There is no perfect Systematic Theology text. I can’t imagine that anyone agrees with the entirety of a theologians book as it covers so many subjects and some of a very highly sensitive nature. Thus it is good to collect a wide range of works from various denominational backgrounds. That being said it is important to check out a theologians writing on the central issues to the faith. Any theologian who denies the essentials of Christian faith (divinity of Jesus, trinity, resurrection in the flesh, second coming, etc.) will not be beneficial purchase for the lay members of your congregation. Along with finding orthodox systematics , collect also both introductory studies, single issue books, and more detailed investigatory pieces. This will provide a wide range of topics, as well as depth levels for your congregation. Recommended texts include: Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem; Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie; The Doctrine of God by John M. Frame; The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul; The Cross of Christ by John Stott; The Glory of Christ by John Owen; The Message of Salvation by Philip Ryken; and The Doctrine of the Work of Christ by Robert Letham.

Ministry Studies For those both in the ministry currently and those who are considering pursuing the ministry it is important for churches to train them up and continue educating them. It has been said, and wisely I might add, “Seminaries do not make pastors, churches do.” We might add that seminaries do not make missionaries, Sunday school teachers, or lay theologians either. God uses the church to make all His ministers and it is there that they should begin their education. To that end we should attempt to offer them introductions to various aspects as well as theological overviews of their various roles. This is key both to training up new leaders in the church as well as fueling your current leadership on to Biblical fulfillment of their duties.
Things to Look for: Avoid purely pragmatic works. Methodology is not all that matters in the ministry, Biblicalism is King! If a method works but is contrary to Scripture than it is to be abandoned. Books that move the church away from preaching, doctrinal education, Biblio-centrism are not part of any “Good” church library. Look for texts that combine both the theological motivations with the theological foundations. Look for books that will be helpful training tools for young pastors, those considering the pastorate, and or those with long-term experience who desire to train up younger men. Seek tools that will help grow leadership within the church in other areas as well, such as deacons, Sunday school teachers, and various ministry leaders. Examine works that will incorporate men and women at various levels of church life. Finding commendable works on women’s ministry in the church will be harder but see what godly men you trust are recommending. I list one that will get you started here: Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan III & Susan Hunt; Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch; The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever & Paul Alexander; Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever; The New Testament Deacon by Alexander Strauch; and The Crisis of Caring by Jerry Bridges.

Church History This may seem like a rather useless category but it is just such thinking that urges me to promote it. The ignorance of the last 2,000 years of our heritage has led to repeated mistakes and frustrations in the church. When we learn that our forefathers encountered many of the criticisms of the faith that we do today we take hope and strength from the works they wrote concerning them. When we see the way God has worked to preserve His church throughout the centuries we are reminded of His faithfulness. When we read of the suffering of those who have gone before us we are humbled and encouraged to do greater works for God’s glory. Church history does much for us today, it not only explains how we got to where we are, but it gives us hope, encouragement, and testimony of God’s power and grace.
Things to Look for: “History Twisting” is uncommon to no age, and church librarians will have to take this into consideration as they search for works to add to the collection. It becomes important to seek out historians who have credibility with other historians. Few men will give credence to a collegue who is does poor research and bears false facts. Also stick close to Christian historians from conservative institutions who will rightly interpret the theological implications and intentions of events and individuals from history. Again it is necessary to find both a good Christian and a good historian, this is not always easy but here are a few good names: Tom Nettles; Timothy George; Michael A.G. Haykin; Mark A. Noll; Roland H. Bainton; Iain H. Murray; and Arnold Dallimore. A few other comments are worthy of mention here. Don’t stray from the high points of church history. Your members cannot appreciate the “Open Communion Debate” between 17th Century Baptists until they have a wider vision of their heritage. Furthermore avoid too many surveys, most are too generic and will only re-hash the same things that the other texts you purchase will too. Key areas to focus on include: The Protestant Reformation; The Great Awakenings in America; 17th Century Puritan England; Christian missions; and Battle Against Liberalism in the 19th and 20th Century. Key figures might include: C.H. Spurgeon; Jonathan Edwards; George Whitefield; John Wesley; Francis Asbury; William Carey; Adoniram Judson; John Owen; Oliver Cromwell; Augustine; and Martin Luther. Recommended works include: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton; The Story of Christianity 2 volumes by Justo Gonzalez; The Baptists 3 volumes by Tom Nettles; Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain Murray; A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot; and A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer.

Apologetics Christians have, since their birth, been under attack by the world. On both the physical and the intellectual level Christians have been assaulted. In our own present world of modernism, postmodernism, and Darwinian materialism it is essential that we acquire the tools to combat and represent the faith as logically sound. To this end books on defense of the faith, or apologetics, can help. Thus the church should aim to acquire a number of intellectually engaging books that will better equip all members to give a reason for the hope that is in them. Ranging from heavily philosophical to introductory the church can equip its members to both stand firm for the faith and assure themselves that what they believe is truth.
Things to Look for: Target the essential doctrines in search for apologetics texts. A book defending certain methods over another will hardly be interesting to the average church member. A Book on defending the Bible as the word of God, however, may. Also aim to start with foundational works before jumping to the more precise. Defense of the doctrine of God should precede defense of the Kalam argument for the existence of God. Recommended texts: Defending the Faith by R.C. Sproul; Faith & Reason by Ronald H. Nash; I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek; The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? by F.F. Bruce; Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells; and Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.

Counseling For the sake of our pastors and in hopes that members will take an interest in helping one another our church libraries should also include sections on counseling. That is not only texts on the issues surrounding counseling but books on pertinent issues requiring counseling. Issues requiring counselingthat are common in most churches today are eating disorders, sexual sin, depression, anxiety, and child loss. These topics need counsel that most of the church is ill prepared to give. Futhermore the issues surrounding secular psychology compel the church to take an interest in this area for the sake of one another’s souls. Offering counsel is one thing, but offering Bible saturated, Christ-focused, and God-empowered counsel to change a person is another thing.
Things to Look for: Target books that deal not just with symptoms but with the heart issues at the center of problems. Look for books that do not make light of the difficulty of change (i.e no “ten steps to success” books). Look for books whose author uses Scripture as the foundation of their approach, and who acknowledge both the sin issues while not ignoring the possible biological ones. Recommended texts: Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick; Depression: A Stubborn Darkness by Edward T. Welch; Seeing With New Eyes by David Powlison; Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison; Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick; and How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson.

In conclusion I recognize that it is not possible for all churches to acquire texts for every category. Some do not have either the finances or the space to do so. If this is you then I recommend narrowing the field to Christian Living, Systematic Theology, and Biblical Studies. Of course it would be quite easy to take texts from any of the other categories and apply them to one of these three. If you can only buy for one category it must be Biblical Studies, for it is through a better understanding of God’s word that we can come to fill up our knowledge the other categories. Furthermore I know there are other possible categories that could be listed: Denominational Interests, Christian Missions, and fiction. I have not mentioned those here because they are not necessary. Christian Missions falls under the category of Ministry Studies, and essential components to a “Good” church library do not require the addition of the either two. If you insist on supplying fiction I urge you to choose works whose theological overtone is clearly seen in the texts. Works like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan; Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe; and Lord Foulgrin’s Letters by Randy Alcorn. Also denominational interests should focus on subjects significant to your denomination, so Baptists might include Adoniram Judson’s On Christian Baptism, or Stan Norman’s More than Just A Name: Preserving Our Baptist Identity.

Church libraries are not necessities. They are never included in the marks of a healthy church , no matter who the composer of the list or the time in which it was composed. However a “Good” church library can help bring churches to a place of better health. To this end may churches appoint a godly individual to oversee the purchase and stocking of good books for their library. Someone with time, patience, discernment, and a wide basic knowledge of all the categories will be a real asset to this job. And may it all be done to the glory of God!


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