Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Which five books?

I've got too many books. Some of you think there's no such thing, and I once thought that myself. But listen: I'm never going to get them all read; I no longer even want to. And I think it's time for winnowing.

Seeing a multitude of books in boxes before my move reminded me of something that the novelist Flaubert said. He wondered something along these lines: How educated might a person be who knew just five books well?

We've had to read a slew of books in seminary, and part of me thinks that's good. Seminarians need to be exposed to a wide range of thought both old and new. But it's hard not to feel like most of our reading, because there's so much of it to do, remains superficial. Flaubert was onto something. It could be better to read five books well -- if they're the right books -- than to skim dozens.

So I'll put the question to you: What five books should we all read and know well? Sir Francis Bacon said some were to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and a few to be chewed and digested. Which five merit our chewing and digesting?

Don't list the Bible or Shakespeare. Let's assume we've got those already. Don't list Calvin's Institutes or Thomas Aquinas' Summa either. Assume we've got those, too.


Anonymous Eric Pyle said...

I typically think that even if I don't read the books, I could always let others borrow them. But how do I know whether a book is worth someone else's time unless I read it?

Raises another related question: If I should read only five blogs, whose should I read?

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't come up with five but here's a few:

1.Confessions - St. Augustine
2.An arrow pointing towards heaven (biography of rich mullins)
3.The Contemplative Pastor - Eugene Peterson

6:02 AM  
Blogger Nick Steffen said...

Awhile ago, I tried to formulate an answer to a similar question, what books could constitute a 'complete' education (not complete as in finished, but one with foundational integrity). Here were my answers at that time.

1. Shakespeare: for the study of the individual
2. GK Chesterton: for the study of society
3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes): for the study of things
4. Bible: for the study of God and the relationships that bind the rest

Though you might be asking about theology in particular. Here I am much farther from my comfort zone. Perhaps Pilgrim's Progress, James Jordan's "Through New Eyes" (if not just to shake us up in our reading), Pascal's Pensees (maybe?), the last volume of NT Wright's Christian Origins and the People of God series (which he will probably begin writing in another dozen years or so), and probably Augustine's most august Confessions (though, to my confession, I have not read it yet). Oh, and GK Chesterton's Everlasting Man couldn't hurt. That's all I've got for the moment (notice my woefully inadequate knowledge, and appreciation, of 'real' theology).


3:02 PM  
Blogger Nick Steffen said...

Also, the Book of Common Prayer should probably be included as well.

2:06 PM  
Blogger RJS said...

1. Thomas Watson's "The Godly Man's Picture, Drawn with a
Scripture Pencil"

2. Robert Hawker's "Poor Man's Morning and Evening Portions"

3. William Romaine's "The Life, Walk and Triumph of Faith"

4. J. C. Philpot's "Daily Words for Zion's Wayfarers"

5. John Gill's "Exposition on the Song of Solomon"

3:08 AM  

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