It seems as if the priests of humanism’s academia have finally claimed victory over what passes for scholarship today. They have successfully filled both public and university libraries with so much junk it is almost impossible to tell one lie from another. Among too many modern Christians the topic of scholarship, serious research, and the importance of books is one of the furthest things from their minds. Scholarship seems to be a thing of the past. Even books themselves have lost their allure, being replaced by superficial Internet surfing, iPhones, iPods, video games, and anything that can easily distract modern man from serious reading and study.
Instead of serious reading and research material, our modern age has filled American libraries with more computer terminals, audio books, and videos than with actual books. Libraries are becoming a thing of the past as a result of scholarship becoming a thing of the past. Even most church libraries (if they even have one) are seldom used, if they are ever used at all.
There seems to be a direct correlation between a nation’s reading level/scholarship capabilities and its national prosperity and ethical integrity. Before the collapse of the Roman Empire, reading was at an all-time low. Scholarship was replaced with 365 days each year of bread and circuses at the Coliseum. When the Visigoths finally sacked Rome in A.D. 410, the citizens didn’t care because they were drunk on entertainment. It wasn’t until the smoke cleared that the people realized what had happened: they had been destroyed. Yet that destruction didn’t suddenly come upon them in A.D. 410. It was a slow death, destroying them intellectually for years until the culmination of their academic and moral sloth finally took its toll.
The Library at Alexandria
The Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was founded by Ptolemy I Soter1 and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the third century B.C. until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C. when the Romans set fire to it, almost completely destroying it. The library housed a collection of thousands, if not millions, of works, and had an array of lecture halls, meeting rooms, and gardens as part of its construct. This was to create an atmosphere of relaxation so as to encourage reading and study.
Here at Alexandria, many of the most famous and influential thinkers of the ancient world studied. The library was a symbol of wealth and power and was a cultural center for the ancient world. This tells us something about how the ancients viewed wealth. Wealth was contained in knowledge. It was contained in their books. The destruction of the Alexandrian library was, and probably always will be, a symbol of the destruction of cultural knowledge.
Historically, libraries always went hand-in-hand with serious scholarship and cultural advancement. After the destruction of the Alexandrian library, the scholars of the day, mindful of the cultural need for a standing resource of scholarly books and scrolls, built a smaller version called the “daughter library.” It was housed in the Serapeum Temple but that, too, was destroyed in A.D. 391 by Pope Theophilus.
The problem with the library at Alexandria and its successor is that it was primarily filled with pagan works. It was not a theological center of truth, and it certainly did not have as its ultimate goal the reconstruction of the culture God-ward. For this reason, the destruction of Alexandria’s great storehouse of knowledge may have really been a blessing.
Monasteries and the Modern University Model
During the Medieval age, books were very expensive and sought after by scholars like never before. In them would be found all the treasures of wisdom. Monks would painstakingly copy out manuscripts and build extensive research libraries to satisfy their passion for knowledge and truth. Scholarship was honorable and something to be desired by all who understood its importance.
During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, European academies and universities were established at an ever-increasing rate. These too, like Alexandria, were centers of cultural and academic knowledge. Out of these schools would emerge the leaders of the next generation. For example, the University of Salamanca, Spain, with its impressive library, was founded to be the “General School of the Kingdom.” While the idea was commendable, and its affiliation greatly desired, Salamanca (as with other universities of that era) was steeped in scholasticism (in which rationalistic philosophy often argued against Biblical truth).
The Academy at Geneva
It was not until the dawn of the European Reformation that academies, along with their libraries, were founded with an explicit focus upon the doctrines of Scripture and the application of Biblical theology to every area of life.
In 1537, the Lausanne Academy was formed within the city of Bern, Switzerland, under the oversight of Pierre Viret. It would become the hub of Reformation scholarship for the express purpose of training ministers in the doctrines of the Reformation and applied theology. Viret’s academy later relocated to Geneva and, with the help of John Calvin and Theodore Beza, became the most influential university of the European world under its new name, The Genevan Academy. Its academic reputation was so great that, according to one researcher, Thomas Jefferson even considered bringing Calvin’s Academy to Virginia despite his open hostility to Calvinism.2
It is interesting to note that the proposal to transplant the Academy to the United States failed to carry in the Virginia legislature, but Jefferson’s 1795 letter on the subject shows the tantalizing prospect (for those of us who live in this commonwealth) of what might have been. Jefferson wrote the following to Francois D’Ivernois Monticello, on Virginia, Feb. 6, 1795:
Your several favors on the affairs of Geneva found me here, in the month of December last … Your proposition, however, for transplanting the college of Geneva to my own country, was too analogous to all my attachments to science, & freedom, the first-born daughter of science, not to excite a lively interest in my mind, and the essays which were necessary to try its practicability. This depended altogether on the opinions & dispositions of our State legislature, which was then in session. I immediately communicated your papers to a member of the legislature, whose abilities & zeal pointed him out as proper for it, urging him to sound as many of the leading members of the legislature as he could, & if he found their opinions favorable, to bring forward the proposition; but if he should find it desperate, not to hazard it…
While Jefferson (a secular libertarian) hated Calvin, Calvin’s theology, and the tenets of the Reformation, he nevertheless saw the glory in Geneva’s model and eventually established the University of Virginia with Geneva in mind.
In an effort to disseminate knowledge, encourage scholarship, and propagate a broad understanding of the world, books of knowledge later called encyclopediaswere written. Various types of these books were published since early antiquity, beginning with the collected works of Aristotle and Pliny the Elder. During the Middle Ages, encyclopedias were published both in Europe and in China. Depending upon the world-and-life-view of those that compiled the works, they would either be God-glorifying or pagan in their origin, purpose, and conclusion. These encyclopedias were a strategic attempt, either consciously or subconsciously, to impose a certain worldview upon their readership. For the most part such encyclopedia publications were humanistic at best, and blatantly anti-Christian at worst.
According to Herman Kogan, the Encyclopedia Britannica was the idea of Colin MacFarquhar and Andrew Bell of Edinburgh in the mid-eighteenth century. It was a conservative reaction to Denis Diderot’s encyclopedia, which propagated the anti-Christian sentiments of the French Enlightenment. Diderot’s work was not at all Christian since it deliberately based its presuppositions upon the humanism of the day and not upon Scripture. It is clear that his intention was to establish a humanistic form of dominion philosophy by virtue of an elaborate and comprehensive encyclopedia.
If Diderot could camouflage the humanistic epistemology he embedded in his encyclopedia, then everyone would consider it to be a reliable source of truth. Martin Selbrede rightly observes, “Diderot’s intention was to establish humanistic dominion with an encyclopedia: when the only codification of human knowledge is humanistic, then that’s the lens everybody will use to look through. The concept of the library as a tool of dominion is one used heavily by our opposition but neglected by us. When you look something up, you get the humanistic perspective on it, because it’s the only one available. This is due entirely to Christian dereliction.” Selbrede’s insight is eye-opening. What the Christian community needs is an encyclopedia source-book which is faithful to Scripture and one which can be used both as a defense against Diderot’s version and as a tool for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.
William Smellie’s version was also a manifesto of humanism. He was commissioned to produce the work, even writing most of the first edition by emphasizing the ideas and worldviews of Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Johnson: all Enlightenment-influenced humanistic thinkers exhibiting only a faint echo of Christian ideas and tradition.
Scholarship in the Truth
Modern Christianity doesn’t just lack sound theological libraries structured expressly for scholarly research for the defense and application of Biblical truths and strategies, it lacks any passion for scholarship. The admonition by the apostle Paul to “study” is taken far too lightly, if not ignored entirely. The “common pewsitter” expects the pastor or the theological professor to study, but they do not think it necessary for them to study anything for themselves.
When is the last time a cry was lifted up for a thoroughly Reformed, Biblically sound library to be erected in a local community? I deliberately use the term “local community” so that anyone can delve into the knowledge of God’s Truth.
The New Geneva Initiative
I have always loved books. I saw a wisdom in them that was beyond my intellect and a purpose that far exceeded my wildest imagination. Perhaps it was my father’s love of books that influenced me. He cherished them more than any other possession. Whatever the case, God had instilled in me a love and passion for books.
When God first called me in 1985 to learn more of His will and His theology, I began buying books: good, solid Christ-centered books along with some books that were useless. I read everything I could get my hands on. Along with the reading and studying Scripture, I was reading other books incessantly. In the first year of my introduction to Biblical Christianity I read almost one book a week. I began selling many of my personal belongings in order to buy even more books. Without consciously knowing it, I was building a personal library that would impact many generations and that would ultimately launch the Theological Library at The New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy.
At the time I was called to the pulpit in 1992, I had more books than my home could accommodate. Remembering the work of the great Reformers and the importance of scholarship and study, I decided to merge all my personal books with the books that our Theological Institute had already purchased in order to recreate The Genevan Academy library that Calvin, Viret, and Beza must have had at their disposal. It was time to make all those books available to anyone with a passion for truth and Biblical learning. It is this new collection that now comprises the library being used at our Leadership College and Seminary.
I believe every city, county, town, and/or village should have a Biblically sound theological library available for its citizens, for those with a thirst for truth. This is the first step in Christian education and Christian Reconstruction. Without the knowledge of God’s Word and the practical application thereof, cultural revitalization God-ward is impossible.
This type of library can be set up by anyone within or without the church, but it must first be established in the homes of every family. The love of great Christ-centered books should be inculcated in every home and within the heart of every child. A passion for scholarship must be impressed upon each family if Christendom is to take its place of honor in the world. With his dry wit, Selbrede admonishes all of us in the battle for the Kingdom, “With teeny libraries comes 90-lb.-weakling faith that deserves to have sand kicked in its face. A book will be important to you if you expend resources to purchase it, and especially if you esteem books at their true value. And expositions of God’s law are worth more than much fine gold.”
As a college, New Geneva is mandated to house a wide range of study and research material, but you do not have to start a college to build a family or a local theological library. All you need is passion and a will to see it through.
What New Geneva has established in a very small community is an extensive Biblical library which includes not only theological works, but also works of history, philosophy, economics, counseling, education, art, music, science, leadership, and business. With more than 100,000 books and documents (including periodicals, PDF files, and thousands of micro-prints from America’s founding) Geneva is a well stocked resource. As the saying goes, “You can’t beat something with nothing.” A library is a good place to begin to regain Christian scholarship and formulate a plan for Christian Reconstruction.
The Tactics for Local Promotion
To further promote Geneva’s library, we advertise that it is also an “Academic Café.” We host special speakers and conferences, offer library memberships, and have installed a modest coffee shop with snacks and free WiFi for its members (hence the name).
We invite members of the town and county government to hold some of their meetings in our conference rooms, which are stocked wall to wall with books. Part of our promotion is offering free coffee to the local Sheriff, his deputies, EMTs, and firemen, just to get them introduced to our project. Local Christian schools are invited to tour our facility, which we converted from a broken-down tractor repair shop by making incremental improvements over the span of fourteen years. Geneva’s Café foyer hosts a bookstore with some of the best Reformed and Puritan books dealing with every topic imaginable (while focusing predominantly on Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction).
Libraries like Geneva’s can undermine and eventually replace the local public library. It is one of the tactical tools for Christian dominion and cultural reconstruction. This should be a fundamental cog in the area of educational resources so that the only knowledge that men can access is the knowledge of the truth, used in its fullest cultural application, for then they will see God and glorify His name.
Tillinghast, William,Ploetz’ Epitome of History (New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1883), 191.
Hayes, Carlton J. H., Ancient Civilizations: Prehistory to the Fall of Rome (New York: MacMillan/New York University, 1968).
Kogan, Herman, The Great EB: The Story of the Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958).
1. Ptolemy I was referred to as Soter (lit. Savior) as a result of his military victories and his aid to allied kingdoms.