For a parent, there’s nothing scarier than sending a high school graduate out into the world—and in fact, the world looks pretty scary these days. Not to mention confusing, even in matters that used to be taken for granted. Up until about ten years ago, for instance, it was a given that high-school grads eyeing a long and successful career would go to college. Today there’s growing doubt about that (I have my own doubts, expressed here). There’s also less certainty about the career landscape, which could mean more openings for alternatives. Those alternatives are worth considering before your son or daughter starts packing up the desk lamp and beanbag chair in anticipation of dorm life.
Whatever a Christian teen packs for college, whether the school is sectarian or secular, had better include a good study Bible and some encouraging Christian books–because the typical college campus today is at least indifferent to Christianity, if not actively hostile. I’ve seen too many young relatives and friends lost to a secular worldview because their faith was not sufficiently grounded. And even if your son or daughter is not college-bound, but emerging into adulthood via or internship or entrepreneurship or practicing life skills at home, they’d better have the verities in order. There’s no better time than that hinge between dependence and independence to focus on what matters most.
With that in mind, we’ve put our heads together and come up with personal suggestions for titles new and old that could help fledgling adults in your circle navigate the rough waters ahead. And if anyone needs a new Bible, be sure and see our post on the subject.
In an interview with National Review, Eric Metaxas (biographer of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), was asked what he hoped to accomplish with 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, his most recent book (Thomas Nelson, 2013, 210 pages). “I wanted to begin a cultural conversation on what men are and what they ought to be.” There’s no one style or template for male virtue; all the men described in these short biographies excelled in different areas with different gifts, but all shared devotion to a higher purpose and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for it. Some sacrificed their very lives, others their reputations, others their pleasure. All of them are worthy models of manhood: George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles W. Colson. Metaxas does not claim to present any new information, but in short, engrossing chapters he hopes to introduce these heroes to a new generation. 7 Men is great for sons who may not be headed for the academic life, but need inspiration and role models (and don’t we all).
Mark Driscoll, dean of the new nitty-gritty urban preachers, can be somewhat controversial, but his latest is comprehensive and helpful. Who Do You Think You Are? (Thomas Nelson, 2013, 256 pages) is a primer on Christian identity, an invaluable resource for the new Christian or a refresher course for the youth steeped in theology from birth. In his accessible, upbeat style, Driscoll discusses facets of the Christian life, all related to who we are in Christ. All the chapters begin with “I am . . .” followed by such attributes as a Saint, Blessed, Reconciled, Forgiven, Adopted, Loved, and more. I especially appreciated the endnotes. Usually endnotes are just references to primary sources for the reader who would like to check them out and make sure the author knows what he’s talking about, but here they’re almost a short course in theology. Not wanting to break up his narrative to discuss doctrinal points, Driscoll expands on these in the appendix, giving alternative thought on controversial passages and providing extensive biblical cross-references.
I discussed The HCSB Apologetics Study Bible For Students on Tuesday, so there’s no need to add much here—except to reiterate that a young man or woman emerging from a Christian home into the wider world will probably hear arguments against God and Christianity that will be new to them. The Apologetics Study Bible discusses all the common objections and scriptural distortions that they’re likely to come across, right in the context of the Bible itself. And if the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation is new to them, this edition is a good opportunity to get to know a reliable and conservative rendering of the scriptures. (If you want to skip the student edition and go to the “grownup version,” check it out here.)
For those of you with creative-types who will be headed into college-level arts and humanities, I’d recommend two books. First, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown & Covenant, 2012, 153 pages) by Rosaria Butterfield (reviewed here). Through this book you can peek into the prejudices of the secular mind, as well as be encouraged by the story of how the Lord used ordinary believers (not some formula!) to bring “the enemy” to Himself.
My second recommendation isn’t for every English Major; but for kids who will be thinking at the highest level and really wrestling with existentialism and the Spirit of the Age, D.A. Carson is my go-to guy. In The Gagging of God (Zondervan, 2002, 640 pages), you’ll find him taking on French philosophers (which he has read in their language) and really delving into literary theory in a way that only an English or Philosophy Major could appreciate. (For those with less time and need to go deep, The Intolerance of Tolerance—also by Carson–is a good intro to the same cultural trends.)
The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges (NavPress, 2003, 199 pages): Jerry Bridges has a knack for writing about deep spiritual truth with clarity and simplicity that engages both new and seasoned believers. The Gospel for Real Life is no exception. Bridges sums up his book in the preface as this: “It is intended to answer three questions: (1) What is the gospel we should preach to ourselves? (2) Why do we, who are already believers, need to preach it to ourselves? (3) How do we do it?” This book is a helpful refresher for our Christian students as they head away from home and a familiar church; it is also an excellent reference for how to explain the gospel (particularly some of the heavier doctrines like justification, reconciliation, the scapegoat, etc.) to those just being drawn to the Lord.
Megan looks to the classics:
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis effectively used his gifts as a Christian, thinker, communicator and creative writer to express not only what he believed but why. Young people facing transitions in life may find his conversational style refreshing to their faith, or strengthening them when they doubt whether what they have been taught about God is true. Essential on a limited bookshelf.
Got five minutes over breakfast? Need something to mull on during the day? A Christ-centered thought to fall asleep on? Spurgeon was entrusted with a remarkable gift for gleaning marvelous truths out of phrases in Scripture that on the surface seem minor. Morning and Evening is a deep, rich and brief devotional by C. H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers. Perfect for any believer on any occasion.
Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is one of my two all-time favorite works of fiction. I have given away over twenty copies because every time I read it I think, “She’s writing about me!” and am eager for my friends to have this same encouragement. Mrs. Prentiss’s semi-autobiographical story about Katherine’s spiritual journey from sixteen and up is real, amusing, and greatly edifying. Highly recommended!
Gene Edward Veith had some meaty thoughts about educations and vocation, here and here. Last year, Alex Chediak shared his tips for Thriving at College. Here are last year‘s ideas for graduation gifts, and if you still can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, Marvin Olasky has some ideas; also the staff at Truth for Life.