From childhood I have loved reading and loved books. And so too has my wife, Caroline. As a result over the years we have amassed not just hundreds of books, but thousands of books. In almost every room of our house books are to be found – we even have books in the utility room and the kitchen. Somewhat unusually we have two studies at home – Caroline has her study-office with a large area of book-shelving on two sides of the walls. And at the top of the house I have my ‘library’ with floor-to-ceiling shelving lining all the walls. In addition we both have offices at work – Caroline has only two book-cases in her coroner’s office, but I have floor-to-ceiling shelving on three walls of what is a large minister’s office.
But now with my impending retirement in March a crisis has arisen. I will have to give up my office at church, which in turn means that I have to take my books home – but I haven’t got room for all these extra books. So I find myself with the heart-breaking challenge of having to ‘weed’ out my books, and in the process get rid of a good number. That has been a tough experience, and all the more when it has involved saying ‘good-bye’ to books I have had for years.
Certain categories of books have taken precedence over others. As one who many years ago did a PhD in New Testament studies, it is perhaps not surprising that I have kept the vast majority of my Old and New Testament commentaries. I am, however, not keeping some of the older commentaries: for instance, I am parting with my five volumes of The Expositors Greek Testament published in 1901, in spite of the fact that James Denney was superb on Romans! All my Moffatt New Testament commentaries have gone, and almost all the old International Critical Commentaries have gone. With reluctance too I have dispensed with the great late 19th century commentaries by Lightfoot and Westcott! In addition, I have decided not to keep all the ‘popular’ commentaries – these include not just the dated New Testament commentaries by William Barclay, but also the latest ‘Everyone’ series of New Testament commentaries by Tom Wright.
Other categories of books which have only been lightly culled have been books on church life and growth, leadership, mission, pastoral care, and worship (including works on baptism and the Lord’s Supper). These are areas in which I hope to do some further writing myself.
On the other hand, most of my many books on evangelism have gone as also most of my books on the Holy Spirit. It is amazing how these books really date. Evangelistic methodology has radically changed for our world has changed. And all those paper backs on the work of the Holy Spirit likewise reflect another era – one of the few books I did not throw away was Tom Smail’s influential Reflected Glory.
This ‘weeding’ of books has been difficult – and all the more so that many of the books I have decided not to keep are actually good books. Fortunately, I have been able to give several hundred of such books to my ministerial colleagues – all three of my colleagues now need extra shelving. Others in the church have also been blessed: for instance, last Sunday I gave the latest Harper-Collins’ one-volume Bible commentary to a young couple; while last night I gave to an Alpha enquirer a couple of books on the relationship of the Christian faith to science. But sadly many of the remaining books will have to be thrown away. Although many of these books still have sentimental value to me, the fact is that they have little value to anybody else. They have served their purpose.
The truth is that there does come a day when books reach the end of their shelf-life. All the more amazing that the 66 books which form the Bible still retain their worth centuries’ later. In a way which ultimately defies understanding, God by his Spirit did indeed move men and women to speak his word, not just to people of former generations, but also to us today.