My fellow young Calvinists, what I have not mentioned yet is that there was a third part to Rev.Herman Hoeksema’s editorial in that issue of The Young Calvinist (Vol. 3 No. 6, June, 1921), titled “Collecting a Library”. Here, “to create a new interest in the study of good books”, Hoeksema encourages the Young Men’s Societies in the churches to start a library. Such a library will help young men prepare for their discussion essays in the societies (what we used to call “after-recess program” in our Young People’s Society – something that has sadly dropped by the wayside, I believe), and for that reason also stimulate them to read more and better books.
In this follow-up article to my previous one, I am going to give you a few brief quotations from that editorial and tell you about some of the books he recommended in his day for such a library, most of which are still excellent suggestions and readily available.
My hope is that this may once again serve to encourage our Young People’s Societies to collect good Reformed books and start their own Young Calvinist libraries for the benefit of the whole society, as well as for personal growth in their Reformed faith and walk. I realize that many of our churches already have a library. Perhaps the young people can strengthen these libraries with their own section, or supplement them with their own section of books. Just a thought.
Now, here’s “H.H.”
For this purpose (to prepare for society and for their own essays—C.J.T.), to remove all obstacles and every excuse for not being prepared, the Young Men’s Society ought to possess a library of its own. Instead of spending the money that may be found in the treasury at the close of every season for a social or ‘blow-out’ (Wouldn’t you like to know what a 1920s “blow out” was about?—C.J.T.), it ought to be devoted, at least in part, to the building up of a good library of books that shed light upon the subjects discussed in the meetings of the Society. And, of course, the Society ought to urge upon the attention of the members that the purpose of the library is not to adorn the room where the Society meets, but to be used by the members. In this way the Society may be a powerful means to create a new interest in the reading of good books.
If work is made of this, we may perhaps succeed in creating a new interest in reading, and many of our young men may probably be roused to set themselves the task of studying different problems of the day. Then only may we expect that in the future they will take a stand, a Reformed stand, in the various spheres of life in the world (pp.173-74).
A good, practical suggestion for our Young People’s societies, don’t you think? With a lofty but attainable goal, wouldn’t you agree? But is such a proposal still relevant for today’s young Calvinists? Some, perhaps many, would argue that it is not. With a pointed, pessimistic perspective they would say, “You can’t bring back the glory days of reading and physical libraries, especially for today’s youth. You will never get young people interested in reading and starting a library.”
But I am not convinced. When I look at the young Calvinist men and women of our churches, I see young people who can read and who want to read spiritually more and better. I see an interest in good books and magazines, and I believe these young Calvinists would also be interested in starting a personal/family library or helping to develop their church library. Am I wrong, young people? If I am, please prove me wrong!
But how shall we move forward? To start gathering books for a library (personal or society or church) you need more practical help. You need concrete suggestions for books. Rev.Hoeksema gave such suggestions in that editorial to which I have referred. Some of them are now dated, but others are still good ones. What I like are the broad categories he mentioned, for that in itself is helpful in getting started with a library. Get a pen and paper (or your laptop, tablet, or smartphone) and start jotting down some broad areas in which to collect books. Here are some of the ones he mentioned:
- Commentaries: Yes, if you are going to study the Bible together, you will need some good works by others on the Bible. “H.H.” mentions Matthew Henry, J.Calvin, C.Hodge, and F.Godet. These are still good, but there are many newer ones readily available too. Visit your local Christian bookstore, or better yet, visit Monergism.com’s website (bookstore part) or Reformation Heritage Books (heritagebooks.org), or the RFPA (rfpa.org). Click on the category commentaries and browse a bit.
- General Bible Study: Again, if the main object of our reading and study is the word of God, personally and as a society, then you want to grow this part of your library. Here “H.H.” includes books on OT and NT history, books on the miracles and parables of Jesus, and meditation and devotional works. We might add Bible surveys, handbooks, and atlases here as well. You can find many older, helpful Bible study aids in your local thrift stores.
- Church History: A vitally important area of knowledge that is often neglected, this ought to be a key part of your reading and library. Hoeksema lists W.Walker’s History of the Christian Church and Great Men of the Christian Church, as well as G.Fisher’s History of the Reformation (Yes, these are still available Check on Amazon.com.)
- American History: This may surprise you a bit, but “H.H.” actually included it, and I hope you can see why. The history of the church goes hand in hand with the history of the country in which we live (as well as world history), and therefore we ought to study our own country’s history to see how God was at work more broadly for the sake of his church, e.g., during the American Civil War. Hoeksema suggested some general U.S. history books, suggestions for which you can get from your high school or college teachers. I would include a study of the lives of our key presidents by gathering some good biographies. Again, you may find such books cheaply at your local thrift store.
- Social topics: Here is another area you might not think of, but “H.H.” has in mind especially the social/moral problems that plague each generation. In modern terms, he is suggesting that you ought to collect books on abortion, homosexuality, marriage, etc. There are some very good Christian books that cover a wide variety of contemporary ethical subjects in one volume, e.g., those by Norman Geisler or R.C.Sproul.
If you will, allow me to expand on Hoeksema’s suggestions for collecting books for a library. What I would like to do is give you a list of the top books I believe you should have as young people for reading and for your personal library. I mean, of course, for your spiritual growth, both in the knowledge of the truth and in godliness. Obviously this list is going to have my personal perspective/opinion attached to it, but I hope it may be of some guidance to you in knowing where to start. Also, obviously I could make this list a lot longer, But for now I will limit myself to my top dozen titles, reserving the right to add to the list in the future.
I am going to put these in alphabetical order by author, except for the first one, which I place at the top of the list deliberately (And you will see why.).
- A good study Bible I recommend the Reformation Study Bible (available new only in ESV from Ligonier, but you can find the older NKJV edition as well). A good study Bible is a must. Please avoid the Arminian, dispensational study Bibles, even if they are KJV (such as Ryrie, Schofield, etc.).
- Augustine’s A classic of the Christian faith. Many editions are available. Make sure it is a complete and not an abridged version.
- Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. A classic. Get it, read it, and then re-read it every five years or so.
- Calvin’s Calvin’s Calvinism (ed. by R.Dykstra, RFPA). This work includes his major, mature writings on providence and predestination. A “must have” to understand the full Calvin.
- Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is his great systematic theology of the Christian faith from a Reformed perspective. Every young Calvinist ought to make this a matter of his study. There are many editions, including single volumes in paperback. I suggest you get the full McNeill/Battles edition in hardcover (2 vols.).
- Hanko’s Doctrine According to Godliness: A Primer of Reformed Doctrine (RFPA). One of the finest summaries of the Reformed faith around, and from a PRC perspective.
- Hendriksen’s Survey of the Bible: A Treasury of Bible Information. A solid summary of all the books of the Bible from a Reformed perspective.
- Hoeksema’s Wonder of Grace (RFPA). A wonderful summary of the doctrines of grace (God’s plan and working of salvation).
- K.Kuiper’s The Church in History (Eerdmans). A classic textbook for Christian schools and readily available; get the latest edition if you can, but the older ones are good too. This work surveys the history of the Christian church from the beginning and includes Dutch Reformed and CRC church history.
- I.Packer’s Knowing God. A classic on the attributes of God, applied well to the Christian heart and life. Another title to read and re-read.
- W.Pink’s The Sovereignty of God. This summary of the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty has been used by God to lead many to the Reformed faith. Be sure to get the full edition with the chapter on reprobation (old Baker ed.).
- C.Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Now 25 years old, this work too has become a classic of the Reformed faith.
If I may mention one more encouraging thing for you to do regarding reading and starting a library, watch and listen to Rev.B.Huizinga’s recent speech (Sept.19, 2013) at the annual RFPA meeting. The topic was “Encouraging the Next Generation to Read” and the presentation was excellent. You will find the links for it at rfpa.org (go to the blog). Do it soon!
So now, get started on collecting that library! Only remember, these books are not for show and dust-collecting. They are for reading!
“Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim.4:13). “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter.3:18).