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When I was in college and the Lord called me into ministry, I was reading all sorts of ministry blogs and books, going to every Christian conference I could afford, and listening to megachurch pastors via podcast on the daily.
I was beginning to discover my theological identity, and I was consuming all of the content I possibly could in order to better understand the Scriptures and teach them to others. It really was a worthy pursuit. I was working hard to learn what I believed and how to teach others to do the same. I truly was inundated with a seemingly endless amount of evangelical content of all kinds.
In large part, learning from popular evangelical authors, bloggers, and theologians has been a blessing. I am more sure of what I believe, why I believe it, and how to share it than I have ever been, in large part because of what these men and others like them have written and spoken. Since college, I have been discipled and mentored primarily by my local church and through the relationships within them. But I, like many 25-year-old evangelicals today, am discipled from afar through the digital means of content delivery we all enjoy, and through blogs like you’re reading now. I also purchased, and read, a lot of books in this time, and even to the present. But recently, I asked myself a difficult question:
Moving is awful.
I should clarify: moving isn’t awful. Packing is awful.
When Susie and I packed up our apartment a couple of months ago, I got rid of a lot of books, many of which were duplicate copies I’ve received over the years from conferences and such. When we packed up, I got rid of a lot of books, but not a ton. Why? “Because,” I said to myself, “In the new house, I’ll finally start to build up my personal library like I’ve always wanted.”
When we got to the house and I started to set up my home office, the book unpacking process began. I kept a lot of books. Right now, I only have two, standard, pretty cheaply-made Target bookshelves. They can probably hold somewhere between 75-100 books a piece, depending on what kind of books they are, obviously. In order to keep all of the books I boxed up and moved to our new house, we would have needed probably two more of these two bookshelves I already have, and that’s when it occurred to me:
I don’t need all of these books. I want all of these books so I look important.
This isn’t an indictment on personal libraries. Someday, in five or 10 years, I may have enough books I genuinely want to keep to reference that I need two more crappy Target bookshelves. When that time comes, Susie and I will decide what needs to happen. But right now? Right now, at age 25, I don’t need to line my home office with four or five bookshelves of Christian living books to make it look like I’m more well-read than I actually am.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen the libraries of famous theologians or pastors and drooled at how pretty they are. Solid oak bookshelves holding thousands of volumes make my particle-board Target twins look pitiful. Friends of mine, even, not even just “famous” people, have gorgeous personal libraries I would love to have. They’re awesome, and I wanted to get them for our new house.
But then I checked my heart, and I realized that I don’t need all of the books I want to put on those bookshelves, let alone the bookshelves themselves. I just wanted them to look and feel important. Having a ton of books and really cool personal spaces for them isn’t wrong unless your heart is in the wrong place about it all. I think a lot of seminarians like myself need to be reminded of this.
Maybe you’re in the same place I am and you need to remind yourself that no seminary student needs Al Mohler’s library, as awesome as it is. Most of you probably aren’t like me, but you’re like my wife, who just makes fun of me for the number of books I have. That’s fine, too.
I like books. And, liking books as OK. Collecting books is OK. Just don’t collect them to try to keep up appearances and look more important than you actually are, like I was doing. After I sold off a few boxes of books I didn’t need anymore, I used the money to buy a Kindle. For books I want to reference, I prefer a physical copy, but for novels or other books I want to read, I plan to buy them on my Kindle so that I’m not tempted to expand my physical library for silly reasons.
Don’t keep up appearances. Don’t spend the money to buy books and bookshelves for a library unless they’re serving your ministry more than your ego.