And truly, they are! Paul says to us concerning the importance of the written word: "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction..." (Rom. 15:4). Likewise, when he was in prison and needed comfort, encouragement, and strength, what did he so strongly request that Timothy bring him, but written wisdom: "bring...the books, and above all the parchments" (2 Tim. 4:13).(1)
While Scripture was certainly important for Paul, there was also great gain for him in reading the works of others (sometimes even the works of non-believers, as is evidenced in Acts 17:28).
Likewise the wise King Solomon instructs his sons continually throughout the book of Proverbs to go after knowledge and wisdom - more so than precious jewels and gold (see Prv. 8:10-11). Yet that same Solomon also warns us with the following: "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh" (Eccles. 12:12).
So there is an ambivalence here; and that brings me to the discussion at hand...
The Joys of Book Reviews
As I said, I love books. But since it is so clearly true that "of making many books there is no end" (Eccles. 12:12), how do we decide which books are worth pursuing in helping us grow in wisdom and knowledge (those things that are to be desired more than silver and gold - Prv. 8:10-11) and those that are not?(2)
Book reviews are so crucial in helping with that decision.
They provide an amazing service in helping us in so many ways. Whether in whole or in part in each individual review, collectively they provide a vast amount of information concerning the book for which we're deciding its value in our growth in wisdom and knowledge.(2)
Among other things, book reviews do the following:
And there are many more reasons in which book reviews are helpful, which is why in addition to loving books, I so very much love book reviews. With this information I can decide which books are worth pursuing and which books are not worth the time to read (as again, we simply do not have the time - or energy - to read every published work - Eccles. 12:12).
Book reviews are a great help, and a great joy!
But unfortunately, at least for me (although I suspect I'm not alone) that is not all they are...
The Distractions of Book Reviews
With all the wonderful things book reviews do, very often for me the sum impact of them is that they get me super-excited about the book!
And I wish it went from super-excited to reading the book.
But alas (for me), all too often, I simply read and re-read the review, get more and more excited about the book, purchase the book (or put it on a wishlist through which in due time it will be purchased for me)...and that's it!
I have accumulated a vast amount books but can only read so many of them. And my time on this earth is so short too (Jas. 4:14). As much joy the reviews have brought to me in bringing me such excitement to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of the Lord, with them they have also brought much distraction. For I cannot begin to get through all those books and so grow in wisdom and knowledge as I planned. But I get through a portion of them - and that with the distraction of knowing I will not get through all of them - even the ones with some of the greatest reviews.
So what does this mean?
I do have a lot of books. And I most definitely read a lot of them (and yeah, I really do hope to read them all, even as I keep putting more and more on my wishlist).
But these book reviews that cause me to get perpetually excited about the next great book have taught me a valuable lesson in my own personal life.
The books that I do read - the commentaries, theologies, philosophies, histories, etc. - they all serve a great purpose. But they, like the reviews themselves that caused me to acquire such a wonderful treasury, although having a very great and wonderful purpose - they too can become a paralyzing distraction.
They can become a distraction to the main true Book to which they all point - the very Word of God.
Yes, not for a moment would I ever downplay the great books written by the great and gifted Christian theologians, philosophers, ethicists, historians, and all the rest. And truly, God has given us these men and their works as gifts to the church (Eph. 4:11-12ff), for which we should be immensely grateful.
But for my part (and I suspect I'm not alone), I would do well to not allow myself to be distracted by these great works to the point that I never (or rarely) spend a great deal of time with the one true Book to which they are all "reviewing."
Let's look at that list again. These wonderful works that point us to Scripture, what do they do?
Commentaries, theologies, philosophies, histories, etc. do the following with Scripture:
These books are truly, absolutely a very great and wonderful - indeed, necessary - gift to the church.
However, just as I need to remember not to get so excited about book reviews that I spend more time reading the reviews and getting "excited" about the books themselves, rather than reading the books themselves; likewise, I need to remember that while these supplemental works have values untold, I must never let these works themselves get in my way of spending my time reading the one true Book to which all these others so clearly point.
I need to remember: these books are the valuable "reviews" (with a great purpose to be sure); but the substance is the very Word of God.
Again, I have no idea who else has this struggle, if anyone. But this is good for me to remember. And although I truly don't know, I do suspect I'm not quite alone in this very thing.
May God grant all of us who have a similar circumstance the grace and strength and wisdom to not simply read the "reviews" of His Word - to the point that we spend less and less time with His Word ourselves - but that we would continue to read those "reviews" only so that they might point us to a stronger, fuller, richer time of devotion with His very Word throughout all our days.
To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.
(1) In this context the books could refer not simply to Scripture (although it could refer to Scripture), but also to other works, even commentaries on Scriptures or uninspired writings of other men of the faith. The parchments could mean something similar, or perhaps something that Paul intended to use in writing things himself (maybe he was writing non-canonical book reviews ;). And I say non-canonical simply because 2 Timothy is the last recorded inspired Scripture we have from the Apostle Paul.
(2) Of course it would do us very well to remember that the "wisdom" and "knowledge" of which Solomon was speaking is the wisdom and knowledge that has its very foundation (at the outset) in the Christian God, Jehovah the LORD (Prv. 1:7, 9:10).