I should warn you from the beginning that this is a very opinionated post.

If you are in theological education, you probably love books but the truth is, we are using books the wrong way.

And we will have to continue to do so while we are operating as an academic enterprise within its rules and practices. We read to teach; we look for articles which push our subject onwards or in a different direction; we read quickly, photocopy the essentials and work on them; we want to write therefore we read deeply in a narrow field; we know and appreciate the recent over the old otherwise our bibliographies are criticised.  There is genuine advantage in all this – indeed it is important and we enjoy it but can’t we also use books properly and teach our students to do the same?

What would that mean?

Firstly, we should treat them as friends, following Erasmus’s famous claim about his library. We don’t have a thousand friends whom we meet occasionally, we have a few good friends we encounter often. So with books. Find a smaller number of good printed friends (of all genres) which are worthy of deep friendship and read them often. They will be a choice specific to you, which is always the case with friends.

Secondly, we should generally prefer the old to the new. As C.S. Lewis said, the old has been proved by many years of use. The biggest issues which do not change are, in the end, more important than those which just belong to today. Indeed, they will help us in today’s problems. The best books are well out of date and yet not.

Thirdly, we should prefer the small to the big. There are some big exceptions to this rule but by and large (OK!), the books which change the world and change people are not large and do not have two or three volumes, they are small or average, deeply fundamental, felt writings.

Fourthly, we should read for enjoyment. There is an intellectual enjoyment in a really good book. There is even with a few great books, a sense of encountering beauty. Some books you take into your hands, and your head and your heart are “strangely warmed”. Even difficult challenges we encounter in their pages have a disturbing joy at times.

Fifthly, we should read to enhance relationship. A book is the rich gift of the author to the world. Behind it is a life lived, struggles encountered, joys felt, service given. We read and grow to know and sometimes love the author (or subject of the book) – though he or she may have lived hundreds of years ago. The best ones enhance our relationship with the Lord.

What to do? You can simply catalogue your small number of books of joyful wonder into a special category in your mind or use a special shelf  alongside your hundreds of other useful books. What you must do is return to them often when the world is too much with you, or not with you enough. Let your heart grow lighter as you pick them up.

And may they help you to find a peace and joy in this world and with your God.

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2 Comments on “Books”

  1. PAUL COOKEY Says:

    This was quite an interesting piece. I have more “book friends” than human friends and they keep me better companion than friends who don’t edify me. Shalom!

  2. Donald Wayne Dickman Says:

    Thank you for your enlightening articles. I too have many book friends of various genres. Would love to have more time though with the book friends. Love you articles, Blessings to you.

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