I read a lot of books. Perhaps to a fault. When I took a semester off, I read over 50 books. I thought I would compile a list of what I think are the best books for Christians to read while in college. College is naturally a time of exploration and learning and that should not be limited to the classroom. We should also explore our faith. These are not necessarily my “14 favorite books”, though I do love them all. I tried to include many different subjects and categories and a variety of authors. This list is in no particular order.
The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott – If you have not read this book, I am not exactly sure what you are doing with your life. I am not kidding when I say this is by far my favorite book of all time. This book takes the cross and analyzes it from every angel you knew possible and then a few more. Stott draws from many different Christian traditions, so the book is balanced. It is also the perfect balance of being well researched and “scholarly” in nature, but also very readable to a popular level audience. Subject/Category: The Cross
Knowing God by J. I. Packer -Another “modern classic”, this book is about the character of God. Chapters include “The Majesty of God”, “The Grace of God”, “The Love of God”, and “The Wrath of God”. If nothing else, chapter nineteen “Sons of God” is worth well more than the price of the entire book for its excellent analysis of the tragically neglected theology of adoption. I agree with Packer when he says that “our understanding of Christianity cannot be any better than our grasp of adoption.” You can read why I think adoption is the greatest Christian doctrine of all here. Subject/Category: The Character and Attributes of God.
Creation Regained by Albert M. Wolters -If there is one thing I have noticed when discussing theology with other college students and people in general is that in general people have an insufficient view of the goodness of creation and the cosmic scope of redemption. When I hear people try to explain the gospel it is always limited to individual salvation. While that is certainly an indispensable part of the gospel, the gospel and redemption are cosmic in nature. This book provides an excellent overview of the biblical narrative of creation, fall an d redemption. Michael D. Williams’ book Far as the Curse is Found, covers many similar themes through the lens of covenant theology. Subject/Category: Creation and Redemption
Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R. C. Sproul – There is no one and I mean no one better at teaching complex topics in a simple and understandable way than Sproul. Sproul goes through nearly 400 important Christian ideas and gives a very brief explanation of them. It is a very good book to reference when you have a question on a particular subject such as the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, heaven, hell, or predestination. Subject/Category: Basic theology
Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller – This is the first of three books by Tim Keller that I am going to include on the list. I wanted to keep it to two, but I could not find any books to replace them. I am very interested in the theology of vocation at the moment and believe it is of utmost importance. Too many people that I know feel that if they really are to please God, that they must go into professional ministry or at the very least non-profit work. Keller responds to these thoughts with a resounding “NO!” Dorothy Sayers is right to say that “in nothing has the church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation.” Sayers’ essay, “Why Work?”, which is available online for free, is a great introduction to vocation. Subject/Category: Work and Vocation
Issues Facing Christians Today by John R. W. Stott – As Christians we need to know how to think through the big issues of our day. Stott does an excellent job at providing a framework to think about everything from war to creation care to abortion to sexuality to ethnic diversity. Subject/Category: Ethics
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark A. Noll – Hopefully your college experience will include deep thought and intellectual investigation. Noll grieves the loss of emphasis on the pursuits of the mind in this wonderful book. He starts with the statement “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind…American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking and have not been for several generations.” While this is one of my favorite books, I will warn you that it is kind of dense and boring at points and certainly will be controversial for those who have grown up with very conservative backgrounds. If you would rather read a briefer and less technical introduction to the same ideas, John R. W. Stott has a book called Your Mind Matters. Subject/Category: The Mind
The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan K. Dodson – If you are involved in a campus ministry such as Cru or The Navigators, you really need to invest in this book. I have not read many other books on evangelism, but this book is great. If you don;t want to sound like those people on campus who ask if you are registered to vote, you need this book. The gospel is offensive by nature, but you don’t have to be annoying. Subject/Category: Evangelism
Prayer by Tim Keller – I am sure that I am not the only one that struggles with prayer. In fact I know that I am not because I have talked to many people who have. This is the only book that I have read specifica1lly on prayer and I do not see myself reading any on the subject in the near future. It is that good. Subject/Category: Prayer
Ordinary by Michael Horton – There is no shortage of books by either Christian or secular authors about how to be “different” on the market. This book offers a much needed antidote to these books for those who are seeking to live faithfully where they are. I know I have said that a lot of things are either neglected by college students. Well here are two more: the local church and the sacraments. CAMPUS MINISTRY IS NOT AND NEVER WILL BE A CHURCH. If i could give one piece of advice to incoming freshman, it would be this: find a church and get plugged in and THEN AND ONLY THEN think about getting involved in a campus ministry. I did not regularly attend a church my first two years of college because I thought that campus ministry was enough. That is one the greatest regrets of my college years. Campus ministry is great. The church is essential. You can read more of my thoughts about this book and related issues here. Subject/Category: Christian Living
The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler -This book is essential for anyone who grew up in a law based or legalistic church. I have read a couple of books that introduce the basics of the gospel. This one is by far the best because it is heavy on the reformed doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide and incorperates both the individual/personal and cosmic aspects of the gospel. To get a taste of Matt Chandler watch his sermon jams on the love of God and forgiveness. Subject?Category: The Gospel and Grace
The Reason for God by Tim Keller – In college you will no doubt be presented with many ideas contrary to those of Christianity. Having a basic understanding of apologetics is crucial. This is the best introductory book on apolegetics that I have read. Keller answers questions about science, relativism and a lot more. Subject Category: Apolegetics
The Confessions of St. Augustine – I was not a huge fan of this book, but I think it is important to read classics, and that is what this is. Augustine is one of the most influential theologians in history. This book chronicles his conversion. I read the modern English version which is the one that I linked to. I would suggest that version if you don’t like thou and thine and all that type of talk. Subject/Category: Classic
Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer – Tozer and I have our differences, but I think it is important to read books by those who you differ with. I actually do agree with probably 95% of this book, but Tozer is a mystical Arminian, while I am very Reformed. Tozer is the only author on this list other than Augustine, who is not Reformed, though Augustine believed in much of what is today considered Reformed theology before it was systematically explained. Anyway, this book does an excellent job at laying out the basic attributes of God, from His holiness to His grace to His mercy to His wrath. Subject/Category: Attributes of God
There are at least two books that I am sure many people think should be listed on this list that aren’t: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis and Desiring God by John Piper. I am just going to be completely forward and say that I do not understand all of the attention C. S. Lewis gets. I will go as far as saying he is the most overrated Christian figure of all time. I mean he is alright, but nothing he wrote really does all that much for me. As for Desiring God, I just find this book far too introspective. I know many people who love it, but I did not find it very helpful for me. Piper likes Jonathan Edwards far too much and relies on the affections for too much.