I’ve spent a long time building up my little library … for a minster, your books are your toolkit, but they rapidly take on a far more significant role than that in your life.
As a trainee and then as a young minister, you do what you have to in order to get some books on your shelves to inform your mind and fill out or to enhance the usefulness of your preaching and teaching. But then they start to interact with your battles and struggles and crises. Marx could famously point to his books and declare ‘these are my slaves’ … but my books had become my buddies, my travelling companions, my dearest of friends.
Here were books that accompanied me through some of the trials and traumas of those formative years of my ministerial life. Books that taught me things no-one else had been able to. Books that I’d scrimped and saved and missed meals for.
And because we’d moved to a place to follow a vision and pursue the call of God these books had been ‘temporarily housed’ in a portacabin seven years and one month ago. And the passage of time and the inclemency of the seasons and the presence of climate-sheltering vermin that chewed their way un-noticed up through the portacabin floor wreaked a terrible havoc on those precious books.
When I came to move my friends out into the sort of home they should always have had, the full horror of the situation revealed itself. And I felt bad.
Today … wearing gloves … I binned boxes of books that have marked turning points, crisis highs and lows in my formative experience – books that changed the course of my life and di s more than many times. Packer on the Puritans. Spurgeon on lots of things. Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards (ouch!) The biographies of Sadhu Sindar Singh (I missed dinners for that one!) Tozer, Grubb, Amy Carmichael … oh, it’s getting ridiculous! Let’s not go there …
And as I peeled a particularly poignant and significant rat-gnawed volume from the damp soup that had welded its pages into a unified papier mache mass … remembering wistfully the specific moments it had called forth in my earlier life in Christ … it occurred to me that the importance of this book lay not in words on pages.
It’s importance lay in the fact that it lay written on my life, my personality … my character.
And that was a more challenging thought.
The significance of a Christian book is surely not to be measured in conventional literary terms (copies, editions printed, revenue generated) nor in terms of personal history (the help afforded at turning points in life) … but in terms of the person that book caused me to become.
A Christian book, then, is not significant in itself … except in so far as it makes you someone a little more in the useful image of God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. And the fact that this book is now papier mache floating in a sea of toxic micro-organisms is nowhere near the point. A Christian book has no value at all if it is simply written on paper … because it finds its proper place neither in a portacabin nor in a valuted theologiccal library, but when it is written in human character on blood-bought hearts.
I’ve always shied away from writing a Christian book.
Until today, perhaps?
Because the rats and the rain damage have shown me today that I’d be far happier about writing characters than pages.