There comes a point when you shift from randomly collecting books that catch your eye to intentionally gathering resources to form a working library. For me, this point came during my last semester of seminary. Partly because I didn’t know where I was moving when I graduated, and partly because I knew that being a teacher would necessitate some kind of decent personal library (key word is “decent” which is different than “exhaustive”), I started getting strategic in what kind of books I sought and bought.
I thought I’d start sharing my strategy as well as give you the rundown on what I’m assembling in my own library. I’m hoping it helps those of you who are in a position to build a modest theological library. But not only that, I hope it helps those of you who probably won’t build a library, but would find knowing what I think is the best go-to resource on a given topic or book of the Bible.
Since there are plenty of resource lists out there, I’m trying to give you more than just a list of books. Part of that means categorizing books based on whether they are more useful for pastoral applications or technical information. In doing that, I’m borrowing to some extent from the categories used on Best Commentaries.
The other part involves tailoring recommendations to different kinds of libraries. Not everyone who is interested in reading theology books is intentionally building a library. However, I imagine theological bibliophiles would like tips on books regardless, and hopefully those of you in this category you can benefit from the posts in this series. Because after all, once you get a certain number of books, you’ve got a library on your hands even if you haven’t been strategic about it (so at least make sure they’re good ones!)
For me personally, the kind of library I am building is suited toward teaching OT & NT Bible survey, hermeneutics, biblical theology, apologetics, and church history. Because of that, I may want more resources than a typical pastor would, but I definitely wouldn’t want less. However, I do lead a small group and a couple of bible studies, so outside of my in-class teaching time, I very interested in pastoral application and my library reflects that.
In that light, I’ll probably offer first what I’m personally doing, and then offer suggestions for how to tweak that strategy for different library paths. I’ll be roughly following my class divisions (3 bible classes split into four quarters, as well as the apologetics class) and move quarter by quarter starting in fall of freshman year all the way to spring in junior year (don’t worry, it’ll make sense when I lay out the table of contents).
In the end, I would this helps you make wise book choices regardless of what kind of library you’re making. If you’re on a tight budget like me, you can’t just buy every book that looks interesting, nor can you buy everything you think you might need. But you can put together a pretty decent theological library over time that will not only benefit your ministry, but your wallet as well!
Here’s what we’re looking at as a rough table of contents:
- Overview (what you’re reading as we speak)
- Old Testament Backgrounds
- The Pentateuch
- The Former Prophets
- The Latter Prophets
- The Writings