By Jerry Riendeau
I recently asked a student, who is a fairly new believer, what Christian books he has been reading. He replied that he was not much of a reader. This surprised me. This young man had gained a great deal of knowledge about his faith in a relatively short period of time. So I asked him how he had managed to accumulate so much information without reading.
“TikTok mostly”, he replied.
I am guessing his response will elicit at least three reactions from those reading this post. Those over 35 will probably ask, “what is TikTok?” (Answer: it is a social media platform where users post short videos.) Those between the ages of 25 and 35 will probablys ask, “there is Christian content on TikTok?” (Answer: Apparently.) Those under 25 will probably not find it all that surprising.
Praise God that quality Christian content is available on so many platforms these days from social media, to Youtube, to podcasts, and yes… even TikTok. With so many sources of content available, it begs the question, why read Christian books?
This is supposed to be a post about what you should read, not why you should read. But let me give a brief apologetic for books themselves before getting to my list. And to be clear I am not saying that you should only read books. By all means, absorb truth from any platform available. I am humbly suggesting that you include a healthy serving of books in your media diet.
Reading books forces us to be reflective in a way that consuming content on other platforms does not always accomplish. In my experience, watching or listening to Christian content is like a nice relaxing bath. I just sort of soak it in. Reading Christian books on the other hand feels a lot more like a wrestling match. I read an assertion and find myself saying (sometimes out loud) “Prove it!” And so the battle is joined. The author makes her case in the text of the book and I present my counter arguments in handwritten scribbles in the margins. Sometimes I find myself bested, and other times I leave unconvinced. Either way, I understand the issue better than when I began.
Though a relaxing bath has its place in a healthy lifestyle, no human body remains healthy and fit for long without some strenuous exercise. Reading provides for the mind what exercise provides for the body in a way that other media forms often fail to.
Another reason that books are important is that they are, by their nature, more thoroughly vetted. This does not mean that they are perfect. In fact, many aren’t even good. However, the process of publishing forces at least some degree of reflection, editing, and correction. CS Lewis would argue that reading old books provides an even greater degree of vetting, but that is a topic for another day.
So, college student, here is a list of books that I want to challenge you to read before you graduate. I chose books based on a few criteria: 1) I selected books to fit 7 different topics I thought were important, including apologetics, biblical theology, and evangelism. 2) I emphasized brevity. Let’s be real, college students already have a lot to read for their classes. Short books are more likely to be read. 3) I emphasized practicality. I picked books that could be directly applied to your life.
A disclaimer: I am not claiming that these are the ONLY books a college student should read. I’m not even claiming these are the most important books you should read. I humbly propose that these are 7 books you should make sure you read among others.
So, without further delay, here is the list:
Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin
McLaughlin identifies and responds to the twelve most prevalent and powerful objections to the Christian faith in our culture today. The chapters are short and readable, yet her arguments are compelling and powerful. This book accomplishes two things at once. It helps the reader wrestle with his own doubts while simultaneously equipping him to engage with his friends on these topics.
For further reading on apologetics: The Reason for God by Tim Keller
God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts
Hopefully you have heard someone explain that “the Bible is one unified story”. But honesty, how does the book of Numbers or the weird second half of Daniel fit into that story? Roberts provides a framework that can be used to insert whatever text you happen to be reading into the story of scripture. For visual learners, he provides a very helpful diagram.
For further reading on Biblical Theology: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence
What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Thabiti covers an incredible amount of ground in just 117 unusually small pages. You could read it in an afternoon if you wanted to, but it is better absorbed over time and, if possible, in the context of community. Consider reading this and discussing it with your Bible study or a group of friends. Thabiti succinctly explains how a Christian can be an expositor of scripture, a Biblical theologian, and an evangelist. But, most importantly, he explains the absolute necessity of being a committed member of a Bible preaching local church. If you were only going to read and apply one book on this list, pick this one. If you get your commitment to the local church right, most everything else will follow in due time.
For further reading on Ecclesiology (the church): How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Waters
Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, reading this book in college was borderline life changing for me. Cloud explains the importance of both bonding with others and separating ourselves from others (boundaries) and the consequences of failing to do so. In recent years I have reached out to several trusted Christian counselors to confirm that they would still recommend this classic. The response I received is that many of the truths in this book are indeed, timeless. One criticism I have is that Cloud sometimes ventures out of his area of expertise into Biblical exegesis with mixed results.
Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman
Do you worry that you would not know how to respond to questions if you were to share your faith with friends or classmates? If so, this book is for you. Newman explains the importance of asking questions, not just answering them when doing evangelism. I guarantee that if you read this book you will feel far more comfortable having spiritual conversations with anyone. I should note that this book was originally published in 2003, though it has been updated since then (purchase the 2nd edition). As a result, some of its content, including how to handle questions about sexuality, is in need of a revamp.
For further reading on evangelism: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by RC Sproul
Pressure Points by Shelby Abbott
Walking with Jesus in college is not easy. How are you supposed to navigate issues such as dating, alcohol, loneliness, and new dynamics with your parents? Shelby asks, and answers, the question: how does the gospel apply to these and other “pressure points”? Frankly there are not many books out there written specifically for Christian college students or written by people with decades of experience working with said students.
For further reading on walking with Jesus in college: Seated with Christ by Heather Holleman
A book about Justice and Race within the Church
Ok, so I am cheating here. I am not recommending a specific book. For various reasons, my old “go tos” on this topic need to be updated. I am in the process of trying to find a new favorite book to recommend. Perhaps you could join me in that search. Here are the next two books I intend to read about justice and race in the church. Perhaps when I finish them I’ll write another post.
- The New Reformation by Shai Linne
- The Beautiful Community by Irwyn Ince
This is an incredibly important topic. I would recommend you read broadly and with a generous heart. Warning: if you choose to read a book on this topic you are almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Jerry Riendeau is one of the directors of Cru at James Madison University. He is married to Katherine. Together they have three children, ages five years and under. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on twitter here.