June 6, 2020

Purchasing Books With Wisdom

study.jpgWe’ve had a bit of an income shift this year ***ahem*** so I need to make some changes in my book-buying habits. I’m one of those fish caught in the ease of the Amazon “One-Click” purchase system, and I’ve got a lot of books on my shelves that I will never read because of it. So I’ve developed a new system. We’ll see how it works.

My issue with books is the attraction I have to the intangibles, and the impulse buying that results. I have a lot of books on my shelves that it really made me feel good to buy. I like the idea of full shelves; a “study” atmosphere ought to have lots of books.

On the other hand, I’m at the point in my life that less really sounds much more appealing than “more,” most of the time. I’ve given away a lot of books. Shelf space is always an issue.

The bigger issue, however, is being supportive of the new budget, showing Denise my willingness to decrease a hefty monthly expense that isn’t necessary, and hopefully applying principles of good wisdom and stewardship to this area of my life.

Here’s the system so far:

1. I’ve deactivated one-touch purchasing.
2. I’ve activated a “Wish List” at Amazon.
3. When I come across a book that I might want to purchase, I move it to the Wish List.
4. At least once a week, I review the list with the following questions in mind:

A. Will I read it? All of it? Will I use it as I should?
B. Would I rather have the money for something else?
C. Does it really contribute to my knowledge, or am I just acquiring it for status or accumulation?
D. Have I read everything in this book before?
E. Is the pleasure I will get from this book different from the pleasure I will get from a book I have, but haven’t read?
F. Is this a book I need or do I simply want the feeling of getting a new book? (No doubt, one of my favorite feelings in the world.)
G. Once I have it, will I wish I hadn’t purchased it?
H. If a visiting third world pastor were living with me, would I still purchase this book?

5. I will trim the wish list accordingly.
6. The remaining books are reviewed again. Are any of them books that my employer will purchase for me because they are related to my work? (I’m fortunate that my employer is generous to purchase books if they relate to my preaching, teaching or leadership ministries.) If some can be purchased by my employer, I send an order for those books to purchasing.
7. I look at the other books to see if they are available through Amazon used, Half.com or other discounters. I find the cheapest possible prices, which means the order may be split between several sellers.
8. On one day, I purchase the books that remain, and record the purchase as one debit from the budget. (Keeping track of my expenditures is another aspect of my purchasing that needs to improve.)

For example, right now I’m adding Roger Olson’s new book on Arminian theology to the list. I don’t have a book on Arminian theology. As a reformation Christian, I’ve often used Arminianism as a whipping boy. I need to know more about Arminianism than what I read on reformed web sites and from reformed books. This looks like a good purchase.

The book is currently $20 from IVP. I anticipate I’ll see it on Amazon Shops for a bit less, maybe $18. Do I need to know more than I do about Arminian theology to the point that I would spend $18? Is this information in other books in my collection or in the school library? I have a lot of Southern Baptist theology books that I haven’t read. Maybe I should read them.

The idea of this book appeals to me, but I have to decide if the book is really a necessary purchase. I could spend an hour on the web accumulating mp3s and articles from Arminian teachers. If the information isn’t out there, however, or turns out to be poorly presented, the book may be an important purchase.

We shall see. Check back with me in a few months and let’s see if I have been able to reduce my book purchases in the family budget.


  1. Monk,

    If you’re looking for a good book on Arminian theology, I’d recommend Walls and Dongell’s book “Why I Am Not a Calvinist.” While I’m a convinced 5-pointer, I found it to be the most thoughtful and irenic book arguing for Arminian theology that I’ve ever found. They demonstrate that they are carefully reading Calvinists and not simply throwing the same old straw-men. Plus there’s not the out and out hatred of Calvinism that you find in some places. Plus, it might be cheaper than Olson’s.

    I also had a question. I’ve been thinking of getting a book by Capon because you’ve mentioned him repeatedly, but I wasn’t sure which one to get. The book on the Parables looks good as does the Fingerprints of God. As I’m on a limited budget as well, I can’t get all. Which would you recommend? (On the same note, have you ever put together a bibliography of books that have impacted you over the years. I know you’ve mentioned authors, but I’d be interested to see which works in particular have helped you. Just a thought.)


  2. On Capon, Get the “Big” Parable book. It’s cheap at Amazon used or…. The Fingerprints of God or The astonished Heart.

    I read the book you mentioned and saw the authors debate two Calvinists from SBTS. I found the book’s Biblical side to be, frankly, horrendous, and the polemical side to be better but unsatisfying. I think Olson has a better ship in the battle, or at least I hope so. This “unanswered” Calvinism isn’t a good thing for theology.

  3. I can appreciate the dangers of impulse book buying. Just recently, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the unread books on my shelves, most of which were bought with little more thought than “this should be good to read!” Your system of moving items to a wishlist and periodically reviewing is good–I especially like question H.

    One question I’ve been asking myself recently is, “Can I get this at the library and read it for free?” My gut reaction to reading “serious” books from the library is “what if I want to make notes?” I realized that was not a very good excuse to automatically buy. So, I’ve decided that I’ll check the library’s online catalog, and if they have it, look at the book in person before making a decsion. I may check it out and start reading at home. If I decide the book is so important to me that I must have my own copy to mark in, then I can feel more confident that I’m making an informed decision.

    I’m going to print your post and keep it near the computer so that the next time I’m tempted to buy online, I can slow down and consider the costs. Thanks for posting this!


  4. Michael,
    What a great story for your new phase in life. Some of those questions are dead-ringers for me, too. When I was at TEDS buying books was a little more of a status thing because so many students filtered through the home and everyone had big libraries. College kids don’t give a rip how many books I have, and my colleagues in general are not big book buyers. So, that has led to more sanity for me. Overall, I buy what I need,what I will read, and what is more convenient to own than to check out of the library.

  5. aaron arledge says

    Michael, I have found walmart.com the cheapest place to purchase books. They do not have the current book you are seeking but do have a bunch of others that I never expected they would have. They might charge more for shipping but the base price of a book is usually better.

  6. Wouldn’t it be useful if we could cultivate an ethic is GIVING books away when we no longer use them? If I knew you were looking for a certain book and I had it on my shelf (not all that likely, but still) and it was headed to the thrift store anyway, I’d much rather stick it in the mail to you! If the Christian community/church community/blogosphere/local community/whatever parameter you want to talk about had an ongoing discussion going about which books we’re looking for and which books we’re bailing on, we’d all benefit.

    All that to say….I think you should add one step to your list. Let people in your various circles know WHAT is on your list, just in case. You never know….


  7. You’re lethal to idolatry. At least to my idols.

  8. “When I get a little money I buy books, and if any is left over I buy food and clothes.”
    ~Dessiderius Erasmus

    At least I heard him quoted as saying that before. 🙂

  9. leifrigney says

    I can appreciate what you’re going through, with a variation: I rarely buy new books. In fact, I prefer used books. Sure, it’s thrilling to get a package from Amazon, but I have thus far resisted its siren call for the most part. Of course, most of the stuff I like is readily available used, whereas the theology and things you like are probably not as easy to find except new. But it’s not just that — I love a book that’s a little tattered and used.
    I admit to being very impractical about books. The whole idea of “can I USE this book” does not resonate with me. I admit that I love books simply because they are books, and their “bookness” attracts me in ways I can’t explain. I am happy when I am around books. Yes, I read them, but I have trouble thinking I am “finished” with a book because I have read it. Sometimes I like to just take a book off the shelf that I have read and that I loved (or was challenged by) and just caress it and flip it open and read a short passage.
    Anyway, you’ve made me think a lot, as you always do. But I can’t say I will be getting rid of any books soon (unless I cull the herd a little to make room for new ones). In fact, I have been trying to psyche myself up to try my hand at building built-in shelves all along the walls of my home office.

  10. Like so many bibliophiles, I have this very same problem. But in a effort to save money, I now frequent the local college library. It has been a great deal for me, especially since I work right next to the library. It keeps me honest and I read the books I check out in the four weeks allotted and then I get a new one. I did, however, purchase two books yesteray from Amazon, but they are the sorts of books I like to scrawl in the margins with a pencil. Some are worth pruchasing. We need to be wise!

  11. leifrigney says

    Yes, the library is a wonderful thing. I keep them in business with late fees, because I scatter the books all over the house, picking up a different one and reading it depending on which room I am in. And here in Lexington, I have access to five or six public libraries and several college libraries (although I can only check stuff out of the community college where I work and the University of Kentucky).
    I think that’s where Michael may have trouble — I have lived in Oneida (roughly a fifth of my life was spent there) and I know full well his feasible library choices: none and noner. That must make it tough. And the “books” they give away at the local thrift shop are comprised mainly of books he himself has donated or books that are as obsolete (even for a bibliophile like myself) as the Brother portable word processor I had in college.

  12. Good move, Michael. I’m sure your wife (and your wallet!) will appreciate it. 🙂

    It will be interesting to see if using the wish list helps. I wonder if it might counteract some of the impulse nature of many book buys. (I.e. you still get to click a button and choose the book you want.)

    Wordsworth, I agree on the giving of books. In fact, if there was much interest, I’d gladly set-up and host an online database of books that people were willing to give-away. (Maybe there could also be an option just to lend it out.)

  13. Michael,

    Yeah, I had the same problem. Then I solved it. I became a Librarian. If I can’t buy the item out of my meager professional growth allowance, I buy it for the university’s library. With a budget in excess of 6 figures, there’s little I can’t have. I truly feel like a kid in the candy store. And the best part is, we’re a religious institution so Theology is one of our major collections.

    Maybe you can get a part-time appointment as a Librarian somewhere, preferably at a religous university with a little bit of money. Then just go wild. The wife won’t mind because it’s not your money. My wife couldn’t be happier about my recent career change. All I do now is buy and collect books. It’s part of the job.

  14. This plan sounds like something I need to try. I swear I support at least one Amazon exec single-handedly.

    Mary, mom to many