Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Of Making Many Books

Yesterday, I received what promises to be the first in a fairly large number of academic book catalogs that fill my mailbox each autumn. This annual deluge coincides with the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and Society of Biblical Literature, both in which I have membership. I look forward to these catalogs, because they are filled with titles of recently or soon-to-be released titles. It gives me a chance to see the what academia considers important for the church to address. The professional discounts several of these publishers offer are also welcome.

Flipping through the catalog, I see titles that stir my interest. For instance, there is a commentary on Ecclesiastes, on of my favorite biblical books. Because of an interest in the early church, I am drawn to a title on apocalyptic thought in that era. And then there are subjects I have yet to investigate and look intriguing--philosophical hermeneutics, post-modernism, war v. non-violence to name some. One title that jumped out is written by a former Mennonite turned Catholic who posits that Protestantism fosters individualism, and this mentality needs to be unlearned and replaced by a new catholicity.

While descriptions of these new offerings are enjoyable, for every book that appears to be substantive, there are three or four others in the same topical category that appear to be written in order to sell the cover art. For instance, one description relates how the author relates the "virtues required to read the Old Testament well." Hunh? Or then there is the author who advocates Christians living a secret faith. Maybe these two have something real to offer, but the catalog entry leaves much to be desired. And do not get me started on the number of book series being developed and released. But I digress.

After all that one might wonder how many new books I purchase in a year. Very few actually. The level of scholarship in the 21st century is abysmal. There are few contemporary authors that I would recommend. And I still hold these words as some of the best:
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
Ecclesiastes 12:11-12
Someone might consider me inconsistent after my introductory remarks. No, it is simply keeping things in proper perspective: better to follow the rule of faith than the speculations of so-called teachers. Secondarily, there is simply not enough money for purchases. I simply do not want to throw money after poorly-written books so try to find reviews pro and con before buying one. For instance, I just read a post at Son of the Fathers concerning a book that looks worth my while. (Now if I can somehow get a free copy.)

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