Sean Lucas has written a thought-provoking piece over on Reformation 21 about a person’s opinions in relation to his collection of books. I’d like to interact with this a bit. On the one hand, he definitely has a good point in saying that an eclectic library does not tell you what kinds of opinions a person has. I have plenty of heretical books on my shelf. I even have the Koran and the sacred books of Hinduism (though I don’t have the Vedas). He gave some good examples of books he had on his shelf that don’t even remotely express his opinions on various doctrines. However, what I’d like to point out is that his argument has limits. Let me demonstrate with, firstly, an absurd example, followed by an example closer to home.
Let’s say a Reformed seminary, calling itself Reformed, had the following as its exclusive reading list: the Koran, the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, I Ching, the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads. That’s all the students were required to read. Would this raise any questions in the minds of outsiders as to how Reformed such a seminary would be? Would it be prima facie evidence that at least someone at the seminary was very interested in non-Christian religions? Sean has certainly listed some ways in which circumstantial evidence can be done very badly indeed. But does this mean that all circumstantial evidence is useless? See Eileen’s very sensible comments on this issue (and don’t miss her additional comment in the comments section).
The next point I wish to bring up here is the logical question of personal versus corporate issues. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like Sean is aiming his comments at Wes White’s reading list comparisons of various seminaries. If Sean is not aiming his comments at those posts, I will happily retract my guess here. But is there a difference between the reading library of an individual versus a seminary’s required reading list that is intended to teach students about the Reformed faith? Is it unreasonable to suppose that a seminary’s complete list is in large part an indication of what they think defines the Reformed faith? This is circumstantial evidence, of course. The question is whether it is a good example or a bad example. What do the readers think?