Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a five-part series that will appear every Wednesday for the next five weeks.
Archives and libraries are known from manuscript and archeological evidence to have existed in the Ancient Near East long before the time of Abraham, and they clearly played important roles in the Greco-Roman world.1 Although many biblical texts seem to imply the use of libraries,2 direct references to libraries or archives are limited to Ezra 5:17 and Esther 6:1-2 (referring to collections in Babylon and Persia, respectively).3 With libraries scarcely appearing in the biblical record, a casual reader of the title of this piece might be inclined to think that the biblical worldview has little, if anything, to say about the contemporary institutions that we refer to as libraries. Through a series of posts that will follow this one, I hope to provide abundant evidence to the contrary.
My passion for integrating Christian faith with the theory and practice of librarianship4 is based in part on the influence of Carl F. H. Henry, who wrote 35 years ago:
There is not a sphere of learning and life that should fall outside the Christian vision. . . . The current condition of the secular milieu calls insistently for an exhibition of evangelical culture that confronts contemporary human alienation from God and man with a vital alternative. Never has the need for a culture enlivened by the moral law of God been more urgent than in our generation when social tumult obscures the very patterns of normalcy, and in fact champions the normless.5
If Henry was correct about the inclusiveness of “the Christian vision,” then there is a warrant for followers of Jesus to consider intentionally what the Bible’s teachings may imply for the sphere of library science. In this post, I describe a recent project undertaken to achieve progress in this area.
A few months ago, I made a brief presentation to the faculty and staff of my library, asking them to consider how a particular biblical doctrine—creation—might impact their approach to their work. I concluded by calling for volunteers who might be interested in forming a discussion group to explore more thoroughly the connections between the biblical worldview and librarianship. Seven of my colleagues expressed interest and we convened on a near-weekly basis for much of the spring semester.6
The Bible is an extensive book—a miniature library, in a sense. Clearly, it would have been impossible for us to consider the entire biblical record as we sought to discern its relationship to our line of work. Nevertheless, I thought it important to ensure that our reflective processes took account of the essential elements of the biblical worldview. As a result, I decided to guide the group’s discussion by using four common “frames” of the biblical narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.7 Following is an overview of this model:
- Creation: Drawing on the Genesis account and numerous other biblical references, this frame encompasses the full spectrum of God’s creative work. Areas of focus include the creation’s properties, its revelation of God’s attributes, and its implications for a proper understanding of human society.
- Fall: This frame addresses the nature, extent, and consequences of humanity’s plunge into sin, as described throughout the Scriptures.
- Redemption: Focusing on God’s salvific purposes and acts, this frame includes themes such as covenants, Israel, the kingdom of God, the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and the mission of the church.
- Consummation: This frame encompasses eschatological themes such as the millennial kingdom, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, final punishment of the wicked, and God’s eternal dwelling with the redeemed.
I led the group through two weeks of structured reflection, writing, and discussion concerning each frame. The process generally followed this sequence:
1.Individual group members read from carefully selected reference sources to help them identify biblical texts relevant to the frame.8
2.Individual group members drafted theological propositions that might hold relevance for libraries, each accompanied by supporting scripture references.9
3.Group members voted anonymously to identify the most useful propositions formulated in the previous stage. An example from the Creation frame read as follows: “God granted humans dominion over the living world (Gen 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Ps 8:6-8).”
4.Individual group members drafted potential implications of the theological propositions for libraries.
5.Group members worked individually and collectively to refine the implication statements. One output from the Fall frame was this: “Because the world has set itself up in rebellion to God, libraries may be expected to encourage and celebrate the sinful actions and attitudes of the culture around them.”
6.Group members voted anonymously to identify the most useful implication statements.
The repetition of this process for the four frames led to the production of nearly 8,000 words of output, comprising theological propositions, supporting biblical texts, and implication statements. To aid in achieving practical value from the group’s work, I organized the implication statements under five themes derived from published definitions of the word library:10
- Library Users
- Library Resources
- Library Programs and Services
- Library Roles
- Library Personnel
The group concluded its work with two weeks of oral discussion in which we examined the five themes in turn, in each case seeking to integrate findings from the four frames. The overall process proved to be rewarding and allowed for meaningful contributions from participants who differed as to age, extent and type of library work experience, and educational attainments.
Kurt Lewin is credited with stating that “there is nothing as practical as a good theory.”11 Over the course of four coming posts, drawing on insights from the discussion group’s work, I will share how the biblical worldview provides remarkably practical theory concerning libraries, accounting for their existence across diverse cultures worldwide; plausibly explaining virtues, flaws, opportunities, and challenges; and prescribing principles through which Christians can advance God’s kingdom through library work.
- For a broad introduction, see Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra and Olof Pedersén, “Archives and Libraries,” in Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009), 2:676–87, https://doi.org/10.1515/EBR.archivesandlibraries.
- See, for example, 2 Chr 17:9; Eccl 12:12; Luke 4:17; Acts 7:22; and 2 Tim 4:13.
- If one includes the Apocrypha, 2 Macc 2:13, referring to a library in Jerusalem, can be added to the short list.
- Outworkings of such passion have included editing a book, Christian Librarianship: Essays on the Integration of Faith and Profession (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002); compiling a bibliography of about 600 resources that address connections between Christian faith and the world of libraries and information; contributing various posts to this blog; and other efforts.
- Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift toward Neo-paganism (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 123–24.
- I am grateful for each participant’s contributions to the discussion process. Those who consented to be acknowledged in this piece were Abigail Sattler, Andi Molinet, Angie Thompson, Anne Foust, Cole Laing, and Tami McDowell.
- The first three frames are generally consistent across various proponents’ models. The fourth is alternately labeled as New Creation or Restoration. I introduced the four-frame model to the group by way of this source: Robert Robinson, “Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation,” video, September 30, 2015, https://prezi.com/xmds-bf9r1tw/creation-fall-redemption-consummation/. Reading two other resources informed my thinking as I undertook the role of discussion leader: Phyllis Crosby, “The Kingdom Story,” https://www.christianunion.org/images/content/pdf/NYCU/kingdom-story.pdf; Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014).
- Sources used at this stage included the following, among others: Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Topical Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000); Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996); Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020).
- The goal was that resulting statements be consistent with historic Christian orthodoxy and broadly acceptable within the evangelical Christian community.
- One brief definition that touches on all five themes is found in Michael Levine-Clark and Toni M. Carter, ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science, 4th ed. (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2013): “A collection . . . of materials in various formats . . . organized to provide physical, bibliographic, and intellectual access to a target group, with a staff trained to provide services and programs related to the information needs of the target group” (p. 151; emphasis in original).
- Kurt Lewin, “Psychology and the Process of Group Living,” The Journal of Social Psychology, 17, no. 1, 1943: 118, https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1943.9712269. Ironically, Lewin did not claim the saying as original, but attributed it to an anonymous businessman.