My love affair with books arrived at an early age. I read early and read often. Its kind of surprising really that I was never a better student, especially considering I read everything I could lay my hands on. Books opened new worlds and new thoughts to me and my young appetite was insatiable. I remember the excitement of the visiting Bookmobile, bringing home books from school, and earning money to buy books from the school’s book service.
When our older girls were very young someone recommended a book to me. At the time I was having a crisis of faith. Having been raised in a Christian home I was trying to make sense out of some of the things I thought I believed, and my efforts seemed futile. I couldn’t make sense out of some of what I’d been taught and every question raised only seemed to raise another. A wise friend recommended a book. At the time it was a very expensive book and for a young family it would have surely been ill-advised to waste money on such extravagances. Knowing my conflicted thoughts and doubts my friend said, ‘Buy the book. It may help.’
In the days before the Internet and Amazon Prime books were much harder to find. I asked at the library and a local Christian bookstore and found myself only to be met with vacant stares. The response from the Christian bookstore was predictable. They had all kinds of ‘Christian’ trinkets, art, music and books, but this book was nowhere to be found. It so happened that there was no market for the book I was looking for in a Christian bookstore. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to look up the title on the microfiche. I’m really sounding old now, but a microfiche was a machine that magnified very small print from a sheet of Mylar and transposed it to be read upon a screen. On these Mylar sheets were printed hundreds of book titles and publishing information. The search began and as we scrolled through the titles there it was - L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 1981, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids. I went home and saved my pennies and ordered a copy. After weeks of waiting it finally arrived.
Within the pages of a dry and dusty book on systematic theology God began to use an old Dutch Calvinist seminary professor to help frame my thinking. The pieces began to fit. I was able to make sense out of my Christian faith and out of the world I found myself in. Louis Berkhof became a familiar friend, mentor, and an ad hoc counselor to a young man in need. I don't think it's too strong to say, an old book written by an old man saved my life. I can walk into my study now and see the book on my shelf, soon 35 years later, weathered and watermarked from carrying it to work in my lunch pail and dragging it along on vacation’s past. There within its pages are penciled notes, underlining, and highlights from years gone by. I’ve returned again and again to that book. Professor Berkhof has become one of several counselors of whom I make frequent inquiry. The Internet may have its advantages but it will never replace this book. This single volume, like a few others, have become faithful and trusted friends over the years.
Friends, never underestimate the power of a book.