Buying Books for our Home
Few spaces in my home give me as much joy as the study my husband Austin and I share. It’s light and bright, with natural sunbeams coming in from two large windows on opposing walls. We have desks that match but face away from each other (a good rule of thumb when you marry your best friend and theological debate partner). Each of our desks display art that conveys the purpose of our ministries and our divergent personalities.
His displays characters from Wes Anderson films and artistic depictions of pastoral ministry. Mine has a print titled “Grace” that my grandparents hung in their home for decades before their passing, as well as framed postcards from different cities we have lived in. But the crowning glory of this study looms overhead with joy and permanence: six bookshelves, packed to the brim with our favorite theological titles.
Building this theological library has taken years. It has required investment and restraint, intentionality and enthusiasm. But for all that has gone into the building of this library, we are the richer for it. We have gotten more out of these shelves than we ever put into them.
Beyond the Books
The usefulness of a theological library goes beyond reference and practicality. There is a theological reason that ticks in the back of my mind every time I consider these six shelves of books. These books remind me that I am not alone. They remind me that I do not come to the Biblical Text in isolation, nor am I allowed to draw independent conclusions about what I find there. No, the life of Christian discipleship and ministry is one decidedly built on community—the community of faith today and throughout history. Martin Lloyd-Jones puts it this way:
“We must listen to those who have been in this world before us … they understood the possibilities of the Christian life. So they sought it and they struggled, and thank God, many of them wrote autobiographies; we also have their sermons and letters. They have told us in detail how they conducted themselves and what they did, and their words are invaluable to us.”
Praise the Lord we have partners in our journey to know God, love God, worship God, and proclaim God to others. And, praise Him—those partners often show up in the form of books with bindings that we can reach for on study shelves.
Building a theological library can be as expansive or simple as you want, but let me encourage you: it’s worth it. It’s worth curating a library of resources that you can pull from as you study and learn, grow and teach. As you do, here are a few things to consider:
Buy for immediate use and longevity
There are some books that I need right now. When I’m studying a particular book of the Bible or theological topic, I’m intentional to purchase one to three books of good repute that speak to that topic. When I’m studying a theology of the body, I want to have a couple of good resources that speak to this particular, unique, narrow topic (and not much else).
However, it’s easy to get carried away on a single topic, and important to keep the longevity of ministry in mind as well. There are some hallmark books that are great to have on hand at all times. These are books I don’t often find myself in any immediate need of, since they cover more general discipleship topics. But they’re also the ones I reach for when I’m counseling a woman in the church or suggesting a first read for a new believer. These are the Tozers, Blackabys and Lewises that we never tire of, and that no library is really complete without.
Buy contemporarily and historically
I always keep my eye on new releases. It’s one of the ways that I am able to keep a pulse on the theological currents of our day. Did you notice that in the last few years there have been dozens of books written on a theology of technology? That tells us something about what is going on in the Western church. Buying contemporary writers on these theological topics keeps us up-to-date, and helps us engage the world of ministry in which God has called us to make disciples.
At the same time, we don’t do faith in a contemporary vacuum. We must resist what C.S. Lewis referred to as “chronological snobbery”—the belief that we know better because we are further along in the timeline. Church history is full of familiar struggles and questions. Think we’re the first ones to ask about gender dysphoria? We’re not; just ask the desert fathers of the Middle Ages. We do well when we build up a library of historical-theological reads as they allow us to stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants in the past.
Os Guinness puts it better than I can:
“Mere lip service to the importance of history will not do. We each have to build in a steady diet of the riches of the past into our reading and thinking. Only the wisdom of the past can free us from the bondage of our fixation with the present and the future.… I enjoy the classics immensely, but take in my main understanding of history through reading biographies. In tackling a major or minor biography every two or three books I read, I have found my awareness of history steadily expanding along with my appreciation of the colorful throng of men and women who make the human story so fascinating. Whatever the means you choose, the diet must be steady and the goal clear.… It is essential that we rise above the limitations of being children of our own age.”
Buy theologically and exegetically
All of my books fall into two categories: theology and exegesis. I try to maintain a balance between the two categories as I purchase books throughout the year. Theological books are books that address a particular topic or series of topics; these are the systematic theologies and books on theological topics like Adoption or Justification. At the same time, since theology is rightly pulled from the Word of God, I also want my library filled with commentators who will help me understand the semantics and historical settings of difficult passages throughout the Scriptures. Exegetical works will always be your go-to when putting together teaching on a passage of Scripture, so having one or two quality commentaries for any given book of the Bible you’re teaching, writing on, or studying will take you a long way in preparation.
Buy comrades and challengers
It’s easy to fall into the habit of buying books from authors we know and love. It’s like adding friends to our libraries, isn’t it? But we don’t want to get into the unfortunate habit of only reading those we know we agree with. We do well to read those we don’t agree with—even if only to better understand their perspective and to be able to articulate it clearly. Fill your library with trusted voices and read them often, but don’t neglect to challenge yourself to read outside of your theological circle. You’ll learn so much more as you do.
Buy selectively and curiously
Six bookshelves may sound like a lot, but as my husband and I are in ministry together, real estate in our study is still tight. This means that we don’t buy every book we want to purchase because we don’t always want to find it a spot on the shelf. We are selective about what we purchase (and we use our local library whenever we can). I ask myself: Will I use this book as a reference in the future? Does this book serve a need beyond this single project? Will it serve those in my ministry down the road? When the answer is no, I will consider buying a digital format of the book, and saving my shelf space for more selective reads.
That said … there is also something to be said for fostering curiosity. There are times when a new title and the back cover of the book are so gripping to me that I can’t help myself. And, I want to foster that inner hunger to read and study. I don’t want to get into a rote habit of finding an intriguing new read, and always removing it from my cart because it’s not practical. If I do this too often, I’ll never get into the habit of reading new works and exploring new topics. So sometimes, I give in to the impulse buy. Most of the time, it pays off.
Savor the Process
Building a library is a long-term process. Don’t rush it, but savor it. The end result is bound to be a shelf (or a room) full of resources that God will use to further His work in the lives of others (and yourself). Theological library building is not just a task—we’re not just setting about the arbitrary work of amassing for ourselves Instagram-worthy shelves and large sums of pages to read. It’s a gift. We have the joy of opening up great deposits of insight; and, as we do, opening ourselves up to be shaped by God in the process.
Meet the author:
Amy Gannett is a Bible teacher and writer with a passion for teaching women how to study and teach the Bible. She is also the founder of Tiny Theologians, a line of discipleship tools for women. Amy and her husband, Austin, are church planters in eastern North Carolina. You can find more of Amy’s writing and resources on her blog.