Extracts from a letter to a pastor…
You were the second person this week to ask me for recommendations on how to spend money on books, which seemed odd to me-I’ve never had a problem doing this… Anyway, you got me thinking about what good advice for a pastor’s library might look like, so I’m afraid you get an essay rather than a shopping list-teach you to ask a theologian!
It is only in the last two or three years that I have taken to buying books because I wanted to read them; this is because we have both more money and more space than ever before in our lives. Before that I worked with a key distinction that I commend to you, between books I wanted to read and books I wanted to own. The latter I bought; the former I borrowed, unless I found them available very cheaply. (Spurgeon commends ‘a little judicious borrowing’ to his students somewhere, following it up with the sorts of dire imprecations about the morality of not returning books that can only come from long and painful experience.) There are a lot of books worth reading once; far fewer that you will want to return to again and again.
Whence to borrow? Well, my shelves are yours, to misquote the Bedouin, and you know some of our more established local pastors well enough to presume the same of them. Beyond that, you presently have the advantage of living in a university town with, perhaps, the fifth best theological collection in Britain-get the church to pay your fees as an occasional student each year, and that is a rich source, particularly of the formidably expensive commentaries and reference works. Further afield, the Evangelical Library in London offers a loan by mail service at a modest cost, and is worth knowing about. The National Library in Edinburgh won’t lend you books, but it is a copyright library and so has virtually everything-a half-day there browsing commentaries when planning a new sermon series, to determine which of them you might want to buy, will be time well-spent.
Which books might you want to buy? Let me suggest two reasons for buying books that should apply to a pastor: first, you will buy books to use repeatedly; second, you will buy books so that you can lend them to others. The first group consists of the standard reference works, commentaries, liturgical resources and the like; also of the particular pastoral manuals and theological and spiritual works that inform and sustain your life and ministry, and that you want to own so that you can read and re-read them regularly. The second consists of the sorts of books (and CDs and DVDs) that will benefit the people you are called to serve, and that you want to be able to place in their hands. (I think I am on my fifth copy of Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, a book I repeatedly lend to people, and occasionally receive back.)