Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 16, 1964
NUMBER 10, PAGE 8,16b

The Preacher's Library

Gordon Wilson

Many of our preachers live in metropolitan areas where they have access to a number of shops which sell used books. Often some fine bargains are found in these shops which make worthy additions to the preacher's library of religious books. Perhaps some suggestions concerning how to build up a library with used books as well as new publications would be found helpful by some.

The most important thing in developing a library is that it be usable. The preacher who must watch his pennies is foolish to fill his shelves with old, outdated theological tomes or, at the other extreme, with the light froth dished up by many popular modem authors. Books are the preacher's tools rather than his toys. The writings of Peale, Fosdick, and Graham may be popular and entertaining, but for the gospel preacher it is usually senseless to purchase such books because they really contain very little that is original or worthwhile. Their thoughts contained in their books do not offer much that can be used in a practical way in teaching others.

This does not mean that we should concentrate exclusively, or even primarily, on books written by our own brethren. I have been shopping with some preachers in the second-hand shops and have watched them as they looked for books written by Christians. In the first place, there will not be too many such books found at the right price. In the next place, on many important subjects there has been practically nothing written by our brethren. Outside the church of Christ there is a large number of authors with enough knowledge and ability to write on certain subjects such as Christian evidences, commentaries, rules of public speaking, etc. I am sure we all recognize this, for we depend on translations of the Bible made by scholars outside our ranks. Surely we shall want to include a fair number of books by the brethren, especially debates, sermons, and exposes of denominational doctrines Neither should we discount the value of some very old books. The idea that modern writers are always and necessarily better is wrong, As a matter of fact, during the last half of the 19th century some of the greatest books ever written were produced. That was the period when great efforts were being made by destructive critics to destroy Christianity, and even greater efforts were being made by the world's conservative scholarship to defend the integrity of God's word and His way. It was a time of religious progress in every area. It is wise then to give some attention to books of the late 1800s.

Test For Evaluation And Selection of Books First we should consider the subject matter of the book:

1. What is the subject or theme of the book? Do I need the information? The library can be divided in sections according to the subject matter contained in it. A few categories each of which could form a separate section are:

Bibles (versions and translations).

Biography (not including Lives of Christ) Catholicism (pro, con, objective).

Class Materials and Notes.

Criticism and Hermeneutics.

Debates and Debate Notes.

Denominational Works (pro, con, including creeds, manuals, etc.)

Essays (miscellaneous writing on unclassifiable subjects).

Evidences (including apologetic material of all kinds).

History And Geography (Bible, church, Lives of Christ and apostles).

Journals And Periodicals.

Philosophy And Science.

Reference (concordances, dictionaries, commentaries).

Restoration Movement.

Sermons And Outlines.

2. What is the scope of the book in relation to its topic? Complete or partial?

3. Is the book technical, scholarly, or popular? Do not be afraid of deep material. It does not hurt to have to think and the popular works are often of no real value.

4. What is the date of the book? Naturally on such a subject as Archeology in its relation to the Bible, or any subject where new advances are constantly being made, you will want the most up-to-date treatment, though some of the older books are still good and helpful.

Second we should consider the authority of the book:

1. What is the author's education, experience, and special preparation for writing this book? The title page will tell you his degrees and experience. The preface will tell you others of his qualifications.

2. Is the work based on personal observation, research, or source material? If source material is used, Is it reliable?

3. Is the author biased, fair-minded, conservative, or radical? Generally you will want the writings of conservative men but some extreme liberals give valuable information on specialized subjects. Do keep in mind that it is not necessary to agree with everything, or most, that a man says in order to benefit from his book.

Third we should consider the qualities of the book:

1. Are the ideas, or at least the approach, reasonably original with the author to justify owning this book in addition to others I already have on the same subject?

2. Is the literary style clear and readable without being light and easy? This of course will have to be judged from a casual and hasty perusal of its contents.

3. Is the work standard; that is, is it recognized as having peculiar merit (such as Gibbon's "Roman Empire," or Coneybeare and Howson's "Life of Paul")? Certainly some authors are worth studying even though they are obscure, but ordinarily a book of especially outstanding quality will have been accepted by students and scholars.

Fourth we should consider the physical features of the book:

1. Does the book have an adequate index? Are there any illustrations, maps, appendices, and particularly bibliographies? Do not refuse to buy a book just because it is lacking in these things, but where you have a choice between two books or between two editions of the same book, just remember that when the books are of otherwise equal merit, the index, bibliography, and other helps mark a volume as superior.

2. Is the book well bound, and is the paper stock in good condition?

3. Is the type suitable? Some people simply cannot study a book with very small print, but those who are not bothered in this way can get some occasional good buys by accepting otherwise excellent books which others will not buy because of the undesirable type.

This test for evaluating and selecting books on the basis of their subject matter, authority, qualities, and physical features, should enable preachers to build good libraries at smaller cost. The only thing I can add to this test (which incidentally is not entirely original with me) is the suggestion that you visit the used book shops as often as convenient; do not pay too much for any book against your better judgment; and become acquainted with the authors you should look for. Also certain publishers' names will become familiar as standing for high quality in religious books, while denominational publishing imprints will generally be avoided; there are exceptions of course.

I do not claim to be an authority on these things, but I have been a lover of good books for a long time, and I sincerely hope that something useful has been said here.

— 1364 Manzanita Ave., Chico, California