This article is meant especially for the young man who asked last summer for help in choosing worthwhile books for his bookshelf. Here was a person who had not been overly conscientious in his studies as a youth, nor had he spent much time with books. Now as a husband, father, and office-bearer he felt the need for reading of literature that would provide growth in these various functions, that he might be a workman approved of God. His approach is correct. It is not too much to hope that there are many others who understand this.
Nor, I hope, is it overly optimistic to think that people still do read. It is certainly the case that we live in perilous times when men are lovers of self and pleasure more than lovers of God. It is true that at the present time as never before, other things clamor for our attention: sporting events, television viewing, endless programs. It is also true, in general, that the membership of our churches is not as well posted in ecclesiastical matters as it was, say, twenty-five years ago. Yet we believe there are still those who read. And perhaps these lines will serve as an inducement for others to forsake less worthwhile activities in order to take up this edifying pastime. Reading is more than edifying: in this day of ignorance, apostasy, and spiritual decline it is necessary. Besides, once reading is established as a habit, it is a joy!
Writing in the June, 1969 issue of Banner of Truth, John F. Murray asks, “Why are so many Christians disinclined to make use of the vast amount of Christian literature that is readily available and at a very reasonable cost?” His answer, in part, is that it has been estimated that only two percent of the population (in England reads any books at all after leaving school. He finds the reason for Christians not reading more in the failure of church members to have a real Christian outlook, or as Murray says, “uplook.”
Before we offer a concrete suggestion for the building of a home library, two points should be made. First, we ought to be aware that the art of reading, and the art of the teaching of reading, have come a long way in the last few years. Programmed reading in the elementary schools, a system which stresses sounds as well as the writing of newly learned words at a rate consistent with the individual child’s ability, has resulted in little first-grade students reading several hundred words after as little as two months of instruction. Many are the children who can read intelligently anywhere in the Bible after one year of school! This says much concerning the perspicuity of Scripture, but also tells us we have reading children in our homes. Surely the reading of the Bible and related materials is the basic aim of a Christian school reading program, and therefore is the basic skill to be obtained. Now that our children have made such a rapid departure at the starting gate, shall we allow them to wander aimlessly into that ninety-eight percent of the populace that does not read after schooling is completed? Clearly this advantage ought not to be lost, but every effort should be made in the home to provide our youth with reading material of a Christian content. In the second place, books are meant to be read! It is easy to buy books and place them on a shelf permanently, but what a waste. Interior decorators will provide the pseudo-intellectual with book-binding by the foot, turning the family room into an impressive “library.” But we are not interested in that, are we? A few, well-thumbed books are to be preferred over many shelves of shiny volumes. Buy carefully, rotate the switch of the television set to the extreme left position, gather the family together, and read!
The following suggestions are representative, not exhaustive. All the books mentioned are not recommended with equal heartiness. Admittedly, in many cases, preference has been given to those books found on my shelf. It is suggested that a few books in each category be purchased at the outset. Further growth will be determined by an individual’s preference.
Also, further recommendations, as well as addresses, prices, etc., can best be obtained from your pastor.* Happy reading!
I. Books that Aid in Studying the Bible. Since the Bible is the ultimate source of all truth in this world, the study of the Word of God itself may not be neglected. In addition to reading at the table and preparing for society, we ought to read from the Bible large sections at a sitting, whole books at a time. A further suggestion is that whenever we begin to read at the table a new book of the Bible, it might be advantageous to first read from an introduction those sections which describe its place and purpose in the Canon. If you are of a mind to study a particular book in depth, or if your society is doing so, you will likely wish to purchase a commentary; by all means consider the commentaries of that “prince of exegetes,” John Calvin.
Behold He Cometh, Rev. H. Hoeksema, Reformed Free Publ. Assn
Bible Dictionary, M.Unger, Moody Press
Commentaries, ( especially John Calvin’s) Eerdmans
Cruden’s Unabridged Concordance, A. Cruden, Baker
Introduction to the N.T., H.C. Thiessen, Eerdmans
Introduction to the O.T., E.J. Young, Eerdmans
The New Bible Commentary; Revised, Eerdmans
The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Eerdmans
II. Books of a Doctrinal, Confessional Nature.Although there are many study guides available for the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster and other confessions, there is a need for a book on the Canons of Dordt. Perhaps the R.F.P.A. could investigate the possibility of putting into book form the thorough analysis given the Canons of Dordt by Prof. Hoeksema about twelve years ago in the Standard Bearer. It is assumed that the Standard Bearer, Beacon Lights, and our Sunday School paper are received.
Absolute Predestination, J. Zanchius, Sovereign Grace Union**
Calvin’s Calvinism, John Calvin, Eerdmans
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Eerdmans
The Reformed Confessions, The Psalter, Eerdmans
The Triple Knowledge, Rev. H. Hoeksema, RFPA
Reformed Dogmatics, Rev. H. Hoeksema, RFPA
III. Books that Reveal God’s Hand in History. If the maxim “those that refuse to study history are doomed to repeat it” applies to the arena of worldly affairs, how much the more is it true of the Church as she battles a foe that is common to every age.
A History of the Christian Church, W. Walker, Scribners**
A History of Christian Missions, S. Nerill, Eerdmans
The Church in History, B. K. Kuiper, Eerdmans
The Reformation of the 16th Century, R. Bainton, Beacon Press
The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, Rev. Hoeksema, RFPA
IV. Books that Aid in the Defense of the Faith. If the city of Athens came daily under the bombardment of new ideas, the American church scene more. And we must have an answer; not only concerning the hope that is in us, but also concerning false doctrines and heresies that would destroy the Christian’s hope.
In the Beginning God, H.C. Hoeksema, RFPA
Roman Catholicism, L. Boettner, Pres. and Ref. Publ. Co. (Baker)
The Bible, God’s Word, T. Van Kootem, Baker
The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther, Revel1
The Flood, A. M. Rehwinkle, Concordia
Thy Word Is Truth, E. J. Young, Eerdmans
The Four Major Cults, A. Hoekema, Baker
What About Tongue Speaking, A Hoeksema, Baker
V. Biographies and Autobiographies. The reading of this type of material is not done as much in our country as in England and Scotland where the Puritan fathers especially are held in high esteem.
Here I Stand (a life of Luther), R. Bainton, Abingdon Press, (Mentor, ppbks)
The Confessions of St. Augustine, Augustine,***
The Journals of George Whitefield, G. Whitefield, Banner of Truth.
The Man God Mustered (Calvin), J. Cadier, Eerdmans
Therefore Have I Spoken, G. Hoeksema, RFPA
VI. Devotional Reading. There are times when the mind is not up to the rigorous pursuit of some doctrine, but when the soul needs the gentle leading of the Word as it has been explained by some man of God. There is an abundance of material of this nature, good when Biblical, worse than nothing when not. These can be recommended.
Pilgrim’s Progress, J. Bunyan ***
Preaching and Preachers, D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Zondervan
Rejected of Men, Rev. Hoeksema, RFPA
Ruth, the Satisfied Stranger, P. Mauro, Baker
The Mystery of Bethlehem, Rev. Hoeksema, RFPA
The Sermon on the Mount, D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Eerdmans
There is another category that ought to be included here, one that would contain books for children. We hesitate to make a listing of children’s books because, aside from the Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos (Eerdmans), there is not much that is very good. Let the parent choose wisely at the local library, and let the parent decide the merits of such children’s series asJungle Doctor Series, etc. Until the child can discern for himself, we ought to be careful on what we allow him to unleash his reading appetite.
* The Bookstore Manager, Prot. Ref. Seminary, 1145 Franklin S.E., Grand Rapids, MI, 49507 may also be contacted for many books at various discounts.
** Out of print: used copies available.
***By various publishers: paperbacks available.