Published on November 21st, 2013 | by Josiah Batten
How to Build a Theological Library (On a Budget)
A good theological library is something no Christian minister or leader should be without. In fact, I believe all Christians should have some form of theological library, though not all Christians will need a library to rival that of a seminary professor or scholar.
Even so, unless you are wealthy and can purchase books at will, you’re going to need to think seriously about what books you buy, and how you buy them. These are my tips for building a good theological library on a budget.
This should go without saying. You may want to own ten systematic theologies at some point. But let’s be honest, you can’t possibly read all of them right now. Buy the text you most need, and add the others as you are able to devote the time and resources to them. Also, contrary to the glowing endorsements you will always find, not every book is the most important book ever written. Focus on books of important ministerial and personal relevance first.
This follows from the first point. You should prioritize, and as you do so you should concentrate. Devote 80% of your budget to the 10% of topics that are most important. For example, I’ve devoted substantial resources to books on self-injury. Of course, this doesn’t mean books on eating disorders are irrelevant, but for the time being I can’t study both with depth. Ministerially, I want to concentrate my limited buying power on those topics that are of greatest importance. Most of the budget should focus on the one or two topics you’re studying now. Move on to other topics when you have time, and redistribute your resources as you do so.
3. Buy Used
The most affordable books are often used books. Check out Goodwill, local thrift stores, and used bookstores if there are any in your area. You may not always find books here, and you may not find many books here, but if you look carefully the payoff can be substantial. I once found Leonard Ravenhill’s “Revival God’s Way” at a used bookstore and bought it for about a dollar or so.
Also, check out library book sales. Libraries often have academic books that they will weed from their collection. You can often find concordances, Bible dictionaries, and other such tools at library book sales. Checking out the used books on Amazon or Half.com can also lead to some great buys. Use bookfinder.com to compare prices of used/new books online.
4. Buy Old
Too many people focus on buying all the new books that come out. Find some old dead authors and search for their books. The Dover Thrift series includes such classics as Augustine’s “Confessions” and Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” These books are cheap because they are old, they don’t have a copyright on them, and they are popular. Find old books and purchase paperback reprints at very affordable prices.
5. Buy Closeout
I happen to live in the vicinity of an Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. They have an eclectic assortment of goods, including a packed-to-the-brim aisle of Christian literature. You never know what will be in stock, but if you take the time to look you can find some real gems. For instance, I found Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard’s “Introduction to Biblical Interpretation” for $10. It retails on Amazon for $26. I’ve also found Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology,” Bruce Waltke’s “Old Testament Theology,” and books by Michael Horton, Al Mohler, Paul Copan, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Darrell Bock, Norman Geisler, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few. The majority of standard-sized (200-300 pages) books are $4-5. Textbooks and Study Bibles are normally $10-20.
6. Buy Damaged/Slightly Imperfect
Every so often I check CBD (christianbook.com) for slightly imperfect books. These books are discounted because they have some form of damage, often the bottom of the spine is crushed or a corner is nicked up. I’ve found volumes from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary for $4 this way. I’ve also found gems like Wayne Grudem’s “Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism” for $1.99. Quite often, the damage is hardly noticeable, and you can get good books at a great price. Go to their website, look on the left-hand side of the screen under “Browse” and select “Slightly Imperfect.” You can further filter the search from there.
If you are looking for a specific book or product, CBD will list “Other Formats” on the product’s page. If slightly imperfect copies are available, they will be listed there along with the discounted price.
7. Buy On Sale
This should go without saying. Keep your eyes open and look for sales. I know every year that Canon Press is going to have a fall sale, and I always check it out. Many websites have a “closeout” or “discount” or “sale” section on them, and you should always search these.
8. Get Free Ebooks
Amazon regularly drops the price of certain Kindle books to “$0.00”, often only for a day. I follow ministries like Apologetics315 and Hope’s Reason which alert me to such events (hint, WV4G will also often share such information, so follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page). I also have friends who give me a head’s up, and I do the same for other people.
Beyond Kindle, websites like Project Gutenberg, Monergism.com, Desiring God, and CCEL offer thousands of electronic books absolutely free. While I don’t like to sit and read from a computer screen for extended periods of time, if I read one or two chapters a day I can normally finish the book in a week or two.
9. Know Who to Know
This one will take a little explanation, but the idea is simple. You want to know people who are in the know. You want to know people who can connect you with the right resources at the right time, people who will tell you when a sale is going on, when Ollie’s has got a new shipment of books, or when the library is having a book sale. Connect to such people, at least through social media, but in person if possible. This way you can seize on good opportunities when they arise.
10. Check for Book Give-a-Ways
Many websites give books away through contests, promotions, or just for the fun of it. Granted, your odds are not always good, but if the entry is free you don’t lose anything for trying. I can’t say for certain, but there may be some book give-a-ways coming to WV4G, so you’ll definitely want to stay tuned for that.
Soli Deo Gloria,