The Temporariness of Modern Books

One of the things I love about travelling (aside from coming home) is that I get some time to just focus on reading a good book. No distractions (email, Facebook, Twitter), few people talking to me… just me and my Kindle. On my way home from Nashville on Wednesday (March 14), I managed to finish reading a book that a number of folks are going to be excited about (and for good reason—it’s excellent). But as I was reading it, I starting asking myself a question:

Are we writing books that are going to last?

Here’s what I mean: Many of our modern books—even the best ones—date themselves very quickly. While there are a number of factors that come into play here, probably the one I notice the most is the use of pop culture references. Now, I love pop culture; I love good jokes and a writing style that has a touch of snark to it, but, with few exceptions, I can’t get further into a book than a few pages without seeing a reference to a current athlete, a TV show or musician that most people won’t be talking about in six months. While this is probably a bit of a straw man, when you see a book called something like The Gospel According to The Matrix, Lost, The Sopranos, Batman, or The Flintstones, you just know it’s not going to be a book that you’re going to read and look back in 30 years thinking, “Yep, that’s the one—it completely changed my life.”

I guess the next question is—does it even matter? Should it bother us that our books (again, even the best of them), are likely never going to be seen or heard from again within 3 years of release (and in most cases within 3 months)? My answer: yes and no.

Yes, it should bother us. There’s a sense in which this temporariness should bother us immensely. One of the things that we have to consider when reading any book is the reality that each is written within a specific cultural context and for a specific purpose. Whether it’s Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Ryle or Lloyd-Jones, each is going to be addressing a contemporary issue. There is nothing wrong with cultural context (indeed, it’s inescapable). But the risk for many of us today in our desire to appropriately contextualize the message of the Bible is that we may inadvertently allow our context to overshadow the message—to the point that the truth we convey appears forgettable. The TV show’s cancelled; the athlete’s in jail (or retired); the musician’s not cool anymore. Contextualization is a wonderful tool, but a terrible master.

No, it shouldn’t bother us. On the other hand, we ought not worry too much about whether or not our works will be alongside those of the men I’ve mentioned above. There are more important things to worry about than our individual legacies as authors. Our goal is to press on toward “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14) and to help others to do likewise. So it doesn’t really matter if our work isn’t going to be read in 50 years (or 50 days). What matters is that Christ is exalted in our writing, that people can see him clearly and rejoice in all that he is doing as they read our work.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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2 Replies to “The Temporariness of Modern Books”

  1. This is not a new phenomena… Working in a library I’ve cataloged thousands of theological books that were incredibly temporary.  It does seem that the changes in media have made the issue more pronounced.

  2. There is something to be said about books that last. i like new ones too but when the mission i work with, one that had for 50+ years supplied gospels & mainly evangelistic material (free) around the world, decided to help the growing demand in africa, india etc for solid Christian books it was quickly decided upon to go with books that last.

    For many in these countries books are pricey and each book is read by many. So we supply, at a price relative to them (cheap & affordable) books by Spurgeon, Ryle, Murray, Moody, Torrey etc. Getting books that will last; that have stuck around with an impacting message for the Christian, is a big deal when it comes to giving our brothers & sisters in poorer countries a book. 

    By the way – in less than a year since the first print, a second is just complete and are already in containers bound for various countries. And we’re continuing to add titles!

    [Sorry, rambled on a bit there, your post struck a nice chord]

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