If you had to rebuild your library, where would you start?

rebuild-library

Imagine for a moment all your books were gone, fellow book hoarders.

Terrifying, I know.

Perhaps some sort of disaster befell your home, leaving everyone in your family perfectly fine, but all your books were destroyed. Or perhaps you were moving a long distance, and the only things lost in the move were your books.

How would you start over? If you had to rebuild your theological library from the ground up, what would be the first books you’d include?

A number of years ago, I was asked this question by an acquaintance online. It’s something I’ve thought about a great deal—and continue to do so—in part because I’ve had to do it. When I became a believer, I rebuilt my library because I found I had far too much that conflicted with my newfound faith and weren’t helpful for me to read any longer. As I developed my theological convictions, I had to rebuild my library again as I increasingly found the books I once enjoyed to be problematic (thankfully at that point my library was still quite small so it didn’t hurt too much to get rid of a number of books).

Today, my library is always in flux. Books are always coming and going. The last time I purged, I found somewhere around 300 books I had to get rid of. And if we ever move houses again (we’ve been in our current rental home for almost four years as of this writing), I’ll probably have to get rid of even more.

So what would I do if I had to start over again? Here’s how I’d probably do include:

Start with a good study Bible. Although they’re limited in terms of depth and focus, study Bibles work well as a commentary in a pinch. And for the average person, really, you don’t need more than that. I’d recommend the HCSB Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible.

Add at least one book on Church history. For a single volume edition, I’d go with Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. However, this is probably the most necessary (yet neglected) category, so it’s unwise to stop with one (I have a few more recommendations here).

Then include a biography. We should have lots of these, but if you’re looking to get started, I’d recommend pretty much anything from Reformation Trust’s Long Line of Godly Men series. Douglas Bond’s volume on John Knox is wonderful.

Follow that up with a classic or three. In my opinion, every Christian should own a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Augustine’s Confessions.

Don’t forget a book or two on the disciplines of the faith. Tim Keller’s Prayer would be one I’d want right away, as would Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Finish it off with a systematic theology. These are really helpful tools to have available. Frame’s Systematic Theology is one I’d lean toward adding if I could only include one, though Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian is nice for those who want something a little more accessible. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is very nice as well if you want to go a little older.

There are lots more I’d add, but if I were starting from scratch, those are the books I’d most likely include right from the get-go. At least this week. Ask me again and you might get completely different answers.

What would you include if you were starting from scratch?

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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2 Replies to “If you had to rebuild your library, where would you start?”

  1. When the Lord saved me I was 19 years old. My Future Father-in-Law (who was also my pastor) encouraged me to purchase a Thompson Chain Reference Bible. I didn’t want that though. I purchased a Wide Margin with a good Leather cover. I’ve had that Bible for 39 years now and I had it rebound once. I would’t trade it for a single “Study” Bible on the market. I encourage everyone to get a wide margin and make your own notes. Fill the pages up.
    As for other books; The first 5 should be Theologies. Calvin’s Institutes, Horton’s, Beeke’s, etc. Then, a Devotional Commentary on the Psalms and Proverbs such as Charles Bridges on Proverbs and Spurgeon on the Psalms. Next, a Prayer Journal then Pilgrim’s Progress and Knowing God by Packer.
    Now go and make your own notes.

  2. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, but probably Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God too. I’ve returned to these more than once.

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