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Building a Theological Library while in Seminary

February 27, 2009

There are plenty of resources out there on building a theological library, which generally include lists of books on various topics such as New Testament, Theology, Commentary lists, etc. This is not what this post is, because I haven’t read enough to do that well. I’d recommend Dr. Akin’s list, Desiring God’s, or a few other sites here and here.

However, I thought I could offer insight into how I’ve gone about beginning to build a theological library while in seminary. A few tips:

1. Budget and Spend the money

Seminary is a difficult time to spend money on extra expenses like books you don’t need at the moment. But I’ve realized that once we move away from SEBTS I’ll no longer have access to the library, and it will be just me and my books. At that point, I’d be foolish to think I’ll all of a sudden have the resources to spend hundreds of dollars to buy books. I’ve found free online resources to be lacking, and something like Logos is crazy expensive.  So I buy books this way:

– I buy almost all my assigned books for classes. These are the books that professors are presenting as the most useful resources in their field. If I’m not buying the book because I feel that I won’t use it again I take the money I would have spent and put it towards books that I know I will use in the future.

– I budget money for books. It’s not much, but knowing that’s in our budget means it is not financially stressful to make the purchase.  Even if you budget $25/month that’s a couple of books you wouldn’t have had or a nice commentary. Have you ever thought about how the money spent on a few trips to Starbucks could instead purchase a book (I don’t like coffee, so maybe that’s me just being self righteous.)

– If I get paid for anything like preaching or teaching at a church I save half the money, give a quarter to Megan (since she’s as much a part of this as I am), and spend a quarter on books.

– I buy almost everything online from,,, or Amazon and Desiring God do free shipping for all orders over $25.

– Buy books used – Dr. Akin once said this: “the good thing about used books is that they’re cheaper and they work as well as new books.” I completely agree. and used bookstores are the way to go for great deals. I don’t buy used books if they have highlighting or a bunch of writing in them, though.

2. Buy Intelligently

– Always ask the question, “will I really use this again?” That doesn’t mean just get dictionaries and commentaries. I’ve been surprised at how often I’ve used certain books. For example, I’ve referenced C.S. Lewis’ lesser-known work on prayer, Letters to Malcolm, many times. I never would have guessed that.

– Don’t only buy books that you need right now. I don’t have the time to read all the books I have right now on top of my normal reading load, but I’m gradually buying books I know I should read for upcoming breaks from school and even for when seminary ends. I also buy reference works that I believe will be helpful in the future like commentaries, even if I’m not necessarily doing an exposition paper that needs that book at the moment.

3. Always be on the lookout

Go to used bookstores – I know and have been to almost every used bookstore in the Wake Forest/Raleigh area, and if I see a used bookstore while out of town, we’re going in. When we went on vacation to West Virginia last summer I found three editions of the Anchor Bible Dictionary for a total of $12. If I had gotten those off Amazon they are about $80 each! I also occasionally browse amazon,, and ebay to see if there are any great deals.

4. Keep a list

People are always recommending good books they’ve read. Almost anytime you go to a conference the speakers will say their own top five books they’d recommend reading. Write it down! I’ve got a spreadsheet I’ve put together organized by topic with recommended books and who recommended them.

In conclusion, let us have a passion for reading, learning, and loving the Lord with our minds. Our faith is one that stresses the intellect. In light of a love for reading, I always found it interesting that Paul’s final words seen in Scripture include this request to Timothy:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (2 Tim. 4:13)

Commentators feel that this was a request for his Hebrew Bible as well as other writings. This is a good reminder that the only book we need is the Bible. It is also important we remember that Paul was a reader, as we also should be.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    February 28, 2009 5:15 pm

    Coach BB,

    I just found a reference to you on Dr. Black’s blog…you stud!

    I had no idea you had a blog, but now that I do know, I’ll add you to list of “must reads.”

    Keep up the good work my friend. You’re my hero!


  2. February 28, 2009 8:45 pm

    Some of us need those trips to Starbucks for our own sanity, sir. Especially on youth trips!

  3. mbarley permalink
    February 28, 2009 9:04 pm

    wait…do you mean 25 cents or 1/4?

  4. February 28, 2009 11:08 pm

    Josh –

    Glad you found me! Awesome seeing you last week and hope we can get together soon.

    J.P. –

    Quit your whining, and buy some more books!

    Meg –

    It means 1/4th… mad money for you!

  5. Andy Metzger permalink
    March 2, 2009 1:20 am

    great entry. i feel the need to go buy more books right now. ha.

  6. March 3, 2009 12:01 pm

    I’ve been collecting books for 30 years. Used bookstores, especially in University towns, are a great resource. I still prize the Latin edition of the Summa Theologica I bought about twenty years ago at a great used bookstore.

    I also find that I am dispersing books I no longer need. I am still on the lookout for new books, but I am trying to keep on my shelves only books to which I will need to return. I have been giving some of my books to younger students.

  7. March 3, 2009 12:05 pm

    Sorry, I had to add another comment:
    One of the best sources for books to collect on the subject is Old Testament Books for Pastor and Teacher (1977) by Brevard Childs. I only wish he had been able to update it before his death.
    I agree you can get some bargains online, especially in used books; but I still like to support my local brick and mortar bookstores.

  8. March 3, 2009 12:11 pm

    Mark – thanks for those tips. I’ve never read anything by Childs but my Old Testament professor referenced him almost everyday! I also prefer going somewhere local – it’s just hard to find a lot of books (especially the commentaries) in local bookstores. Every once in a while you come across a gem.

  9. reformedsteve permalink
    March 14, 2009 12:30 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts. It was exactly the kind of advice I was looking for. Like you stated, I have come across tons of lists of other people’s theological libraries. This is the first article that I found that actually talked about a plan to acquire them.

    Grace and Peace,

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