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Entries in Books (84)


"Dreary" modern books?

I have a built in book case in my living/dining room. Every time I come to sit down at my desk, I see it. On the top shelf, there is a 10-volume set of the writings of B.B. Warfield. I love sets of books where each volume looks the same. Beyond looking pretty, I have enjoyed partaking of those books over the years. There is still much which I have not read, but I have found everything I've read by Warfield worth the effort. 

I was reminded of the value of reading older books as I read Nasell's How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. In a chapter discussing historical-cultural context, he quotes C.S. Lewis's God in the Dock:

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve  pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadquate and things he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern book on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.

This past year in Church History, we were exposed to a large volume of primary source writings, and I enjoyed that immensely. I was introduced to theologians I'd never read before, and had been hesitant to read from. Karl Barth was a fascinating read. It really is true that going to the source first is helpful. And that applies to the primary source of the Bible. How often do I spend time reading what people say about what the Bible rather than finding out for myself? 

This summer, I'm moving my books, shelves, and desk to my new study. The books on the built-in shelf will remain where they are so that I may see Warfield up there regularly, and be challenged to read widely, and not neglect those older books.


A note to Christian publishers: what if I don't like flowers?

I'm reading Andy Naselli's book How to Study and Apply the New Testament. There are no flowers on the cover. That means one thing: it was not directed specifically to women. I have read a few books on Bible study written by women, and none of them go into the depth this one does. In the introduction to the book, Naselli says his book is for thoughtful men and women.

When I see a book by a woman, and the cover is decorated with soft colours and flowers, I know it is directed to women. And there is a good chance it is softened somehow for women. I read a book about Bible study a couple of years ago written by a woman, and it was full of "womany" type illustrations. I don't like such illustrations, and when the book opened up with one, I knew what to expect.

Friends with the author?

I have a friend who confessed to me that she was less likely to read a book by a Puritan author than she was one written by a populalr female author, because she liked to feel that she could possibly be friends with that contemporary author. There is no hope for being friends with John Owen other than figuratively. However, because some Christian authors generate the whole "fan girl" phenonenon, there is a possibility, even if all it is through is Twitter, to feel like we're friends. We may even get a few minutes to speak with her at a conference, and take a selfie. Voilá! My friend!

Is this what drives a lot of women in choosing the books they read? And are publishing companies promoting that feeling? Are publishers going to market a woman writer because she is the type who seems like she'd be your best friend if you knew her? I can tell you right now that I'm halfway through Naselli's book, and I don't know if we could be friends nor do I care; I'm just enjoying his expertise. I don't choose to read books because the woman seems appealing. I want to see what she knows, how she thinks, and what wisdom she can give. Are Christian publishing companies selling an image when they promote various female authors? When they determine what the cover will look like or who will recommend the book?

What do publishers advertise?

I recently had a routine dental check, and when I expressed to my dentist that I had some tooth sensitivity, and I told him which toothpaste I used (Arm and Hammer Whitening, for the curious) he told me not to use it anymore. He said it isn't good for my teeth, because it's too harsh. I had no idea; clearly, I had bought into advertising and purchased what I was told I needed. What is the Christian publishing industry advertising when it consistently publishes books by women with flowery covers, more practical content over the more theoretical, and "soft," womany illustrations. What is it telling women they need? Or worse, what they can handle?

One thing I think women should be encouraged to do is stop thinking that they must be taught by women alone; that men can't possibly have anything to say to them. There are issues for which I would seek a woman's view first, but theology isn't one of them. I want the best person for the job, whether he's a man or a woman. I think this division between men's books and women's books is a larger issue of division within the local church, but that's a separate topic. And ultimately, women as book consumers need to read beyond their comfort zones.

All of that ranting to say this: publishers, if you put out a book with pretty flowers and it's supposed to be about a deep theological matter, I won't buy it. Some women may buy it, but I won't. I prefer my flowers on my kitchen table, the patio, or my back yard.


What makes a book timeless?

Yesterday, in my theology class, we were discussing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and specificallly, the debate between continuation and cessation of gifts. Part of our assignment was to engage with a chapter from Charismatic Chaos and Showing the Spirit. Both of these books were published more than twenty years ago; Charismatic Chaos in 1992 and Showing the Spirit in 1987. I was curious if there had been any works that were more recent, and while I didn't spend a whole lot of time on the matter, I didn't find much. In fact, Carson's book is one of the Leader Recommended books at Westminster Books. My prof said that he thinks it is still one of the best books on the subject. John MacArthur, however, has written another book on the topic, Strange Fire.

I was perusing my book shelves this week, making space for books which had previously been beside my bed, and wondering what I could remove from the shelves. I noted that there were many books I purchased in response to some controversy or issue I'd been interested in. I think I can safely say that while I don't think I'd throw them out, the books on the Emergent Church (I have about four of them) can safely be tucked away in the Rubbermaid bin until such time as I have more bookshelves. Does anyone talk about the Emergent Church anymore? I don't think I'll read those books again.

There are other books on my shelf that I know I will read again. Books by Lloyd-Jones, David Wells, J.I. Packer, the Puritans, church history, and biographies by Iain Murray. The commentaries I have by Karen Jobes have been utilized more than once, and will no doubt be again. Yet there are other commentaries I have purchased which have made their way into the Rubbermaid bin because what I want from a commentary has changed over the years.

I've been trying to sort through what I think it is about a book which guarantees that someone will be reading it in ten years or even ten months. These days, books come so fast and furious, the lifespan of the interest in a good book can wane quickly. What was yesterday's "Must Read!" may be gathering dust on the shelf tomorrow.

One thing I think which makes a book have a longer appeal is what its concerns are. Matters like holiness, righteousness, conversion, the atonement, the Trinity, and the Scriptures are examples of ones that have always pre-occupied the church. And yes, marriage and children are similar topics, but the way those concerns are approached have changed. I doubt very much that the concept of "biblical womanhood" was probed too deeply 150 years ago, but men and women like the Puritans gave a lot of thought to marriage and family. I think many of the contemporary issues we spend a lot of time on ultimately become non-issues in a few years, despite our fascination with them at the time. Those books can ultimately provide historical material about the times, but there are still books which are read for their content which endures.

The question about what makes a book timeless is a question I continue to ask myself. Hopefully, my thoughts on the matter will shape my book purchases. I have far too many books which are kind of "obsolete" in a sense. I'm asking myself more and more if the book I'm investing in is something which will guide my thinking over the long haul or if it's just satisfying a momentary pre-occupation. If it's the latter, then maybe I don't need to buy a book, but instead just partake of a few well-written articles instead.

Yesterday, I finally acquired the Battles/McNeill translation of Calvin's Institutes. I wanted a hardback copy, and I didn't want to sell a kidney to get one. I found one used. It was cheaper than the new softcover edition. The dust jackets are pretty worn and its previous owner has underlined, but the bindings on both volumes are tight. I'm confident these will be well used for many years. Now, if I can just decide which books will be put into the Rubbermaid bin to make room, I'll have space for them.


Everyone meditates on something

We all worship something. It may be God, and may not be God, but we all worship something. Apparently, we all meditate on something. That is one of the intriguing things I've read so far in David Saxton's book God's Battleplan for the Mind. Technically, I should be waiting to read until Saturday after my final exam, but everyone needs a study break.

Saxton says this:

Everyone meditates on something, whether it is right, wrong, or neutral. Some meditate on problems in life or offenses committed by others. Some consider how to make more money or how to complete home projects. Others meditate on some truth of the Bible. Universally, though, meditation is practiced by all. Thomas Watson explaiined, "The farmer meditates on his acres of land ... The physician meditates upon his remedies ... The lawyer meditates upon his common law ... The tradesman, is for the most part, meditating upon his wares."

I think there is room to meditate on more than just the Bible. There is nothing inherently wrong with meditating upon our work. It is part of doing our vocations well. I think his point here is that we all mediate; the point is on what? Do we make room for biblical meditation?

I'm afraid I am too prone to meditate upon my particular problems of the day more often than I am on Biblical truth. We live in such a rush-rush world.

I'm looking forward to reading this. It's not a long book, so maybe I can finish it before Christmas.


All bibles are not created equal

Less than a year ago, I decided to invest in a bible with a genuine leather cover. Other than my ESV Study Bible, which is very heavy and doesn't come to church with me, the other bibles in the house were either bonded leather or TruTone. I discovered that the inside covers of bibles, if not made of good material, crack at the bottom and then the whole binding could be shot. I figured I'd pay a little more.

I bought an ESV Single Column Legacy bible from Christian Book Distributors. I bought one with a flaw at a really reduced price. The bible had been stamped with the owner's name, but the embossing was unsatisfactory, so it was returned. When I received it, that piece was removed, but I didn't care. The cover was genuine leather and I put it inside bible cover, anyway. I was very happy with it.

A couple of week ago I noticed that the inside cover at the bottom was cracking, and again, the binding was coming apart, leather cover notwithstanding. I was discouraged by this. I'm already losing the first few pages of the bible.

I had some birthday money and some extra "mad money" in the jar where I hoard the $1 and $2 coins that I get as change or fish out from pockets before laundry time. I decided I would do some research and buy a bible with a better binding.

I was led through the vast twists and turns that I came across through Google, to Evangelical Bible.

Yes, the bibles there are expensive. You can get some really reasonably priced ones, or you can invest quite a bit of money. After reading reviews of their bibles from Bible Design Blog, I took the plunge and purchased one. 

Evangelical Bible carries Allen Bibles, which are excellent bibles from what I've seen. I didn't buy one of those, but with a leather lining, I imagine their durability might make them worth the money. They have a really large selection of KJV bibles. Had I been in the market for that version, I may have got one.

I received my bible earlier this week. It is goatskin, and feels soft and buttery in my hands. The inside cover is not leather, but it is much more durable looking than any other bible I've ever had. The print is 9.5, just a smidge larger than the single column one I put away. I am keeping my single column at my nightstand for night reading, but I am happy with this new bible, because it is lighter and easier for taking to church.

It may seem odd to invest in a bible when everyone seems to take tablets to church. My husband loves his because he can adjust the font size (younger people -- and by that, I mean under 40 -- may not think font size is an issue. All I can say is: just wait). As for me, I like my books in paper, and I will continue to use a regular bible. In the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge, "I cannot change!"

I highly recommend Evangelical Bible if you're interested and willing to spend a little money. Their service was excellent, the book well-packaged, and tracking is available so you can anticipate your purchase. I'm hoping this will be the last bible I buy for myself.