10 Books Every Christian College Student Should Read

Monday, November 24, 2014

I've often heard from young people asking me what my favorite books are, or what books I would recommend.  The answer is complicated because it depends on someone's position in life.

But if I have to say something, here's what I say:


There, I said it.  Don't keep reading something over and over just because you can.  (Unless of course, you're a PhD student, and in that case you're off the hook.)  Try new books.  Read about a subject that's foreign to you! That's how you'll learn to stretch your horizons.

The more I've considered my role as a Christian college student, the more I'm seeing the college years as a chance to explore ideology, to discover what I think and to be able to defend it.  These books are for anyone who is in a similar situation.  They've helped me immensely.  And maybe you've already graduated — perhaps you'll find that some of these books could bring a new perspective to you, too.

The top 10 books every Christian college student should read:

1. Letters To A Young Progressive

I discovered this book only yesterday, after arriving home for Thanksgiving break and looking for something to read. I've already flown through it.  Mike Adams' writing is both humorous and deeply insightful. His target audience is me: a young Christian college student who would have previously labeled herself as "socially progressive" because of a cultural ideology that is deeply embedded in higher education. It's known as the enlightenment mentality, where we often feel proud of a desire to pursue a broader range of ideas, to be openminded to political differences and to uphold progressive policy because of a desire for equality.

I'm here to tell you that this book has drastically shifted my worldview in just 250 pages.  Every young Christian college student should read this book and wrestle deeply with issues such as feminism, Marxism, gay rights, gun control, abortion, crime rates and federal subsidies. 

2. Do Hard Things

During the summer before my junior year of high school, I had the great opportunity to volunteer with the Do Hard Things Rebelution conference tour that was coming to Orlando. As the Hospitality Coordinator, I got to meet and serve as the liaisons for the authors Alex and Brett Harris.  

Their book and ministry is incredibly powerful.  They encourage young people to value their youth and pursue challenge simply for the sake of pushing themselves and striving for excellence. This book combats the apathy that so commonly reigns and "Do Hard Things" has become the foundation for my personal outlook on work ethic.

3. Steve Jobs 

Any Christian college student would do well to step outside their campus bubble and (dare I say it) breathe in some culture now and then.  Steve Jobs was hands-down one of the most influential individuals of the 20th century in terms of art, technology and innovation.  His ambition and ingenuity to reimagine and reshape product design led to the creation of one of the largest tech giants in the modern world.  This biography by Walter Isaacson illustrates the complexities of the life and work of Steve Jobs in a way that can both encourage and motivate any young dreamer.

4. Blue Like Jazz

I've written about it before and I'll write about it again.  Blue Like Jazz beautifully explores what it means to be a young Christian in a postmodern world.  Donald Miller goes beyond the bounds of typical Christian nonfiction, considering many aspects of an evangelical's life such as community, college, love, writing and fitting into a church.  His style is conversational and easy-going and his points are poignant and will prompt you to consider the "why" behind what you arbitrarily consider to be normal.

5. Economics In One Lesson

I was once studying in our school cafe — my favorite place to be both alone and in public — when one of my friends sat down next to me with a thick Economics text book.

"Are you in an Econ class?" I asked, knowing that she was studying International Relations.

"No," she shook her head.  "I just don't understand fiscal policy. I know nothing about economics, and so I want to learn."

She proceeded her independent study on taxation and tariffs, leaving me both impressed and thankful that people like her still exist!  She was reading because she wanted to learn and knew that economics was a subject she knew little about.  I believe that every college student should have a rudimentary understanding of both economics and politics because it's practical knowledge for life.  Economics In One Lesson by Hazlitt does just this.  It equips anyone in the basics of contemporary economics and is a crash coarse to free market capitalism.  It's a must-read (and it's a light, easy book to get through).

 6. The Confessions of St. Augustine

Few books have been so influential in the Christian historical tradition.  St. Augustine paved the way for the Reformation through his theological studies.  His personal testimony is surprisingly relevant today and even convicting.  He will prompt you to examine your own life and also challenge you to address deep theological questions, such as the role of the Trinity.  In our introductory theology class at Wheaton, this was a required text and I would recommend that any young Christian student should be well acquainted with St. Augustine, one of the most instrumental theologians. 

7. The Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation refers to the individuals who grew up during the Great Depression and went off to fight in World War 2, or who stayed back on the home front and redefined the American workforce.  Brokaw claims "it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced."  His reason for this is that the Americans of the '40s fought and worked hard not for recognition but out of responsibility, because it was the right thing to do.  This discussion on "rights vs. responsibilities" is instrumental in determining civil roles in a local and national context.  What is the role for our generation?  How are we going to lead and leave a legacy?  These questions are crucial to consider during the formative years before entering the workforce and accepting formal social responsibilities.

8. The Screwtape Letters

C. S. Lewis has written many insightful, compelling works of literature.  He's so revered at Wheaton, that hardly a day goes by without some reference to Lewis.  But I assert that his most effective piece is The Screwtape Letters.  The fictional letters are a collection of correspondences between a head demon Screwtape and his young pupil Wormwood, a junior tempter.  Lewis provides a series of lessons for the life of a Christian by exploring temptation from the devil's point of view — the result is a commentary on human nature and how the faith is commonly undermined.  

This novel is sure to strike a chord with any young Christian who is facing the developmental time of making the faith a personal commitment.  It's the kind of book that helps shape spiritual discernment.

9. Common Sense

It's just common sense to recommend this book.

This short piece represents the needs, desires and political ambitions of the American colonists.  Thomas Paine's sensational work, which was widely distributed and actually read to all of Washington's troops, made a significant impact.  He argued the need for independence in a way that the people could understand, basing his work on both Enlightenment era philosophy and Scripture.  One historian Gordon S. Wood called Common Sense "the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era."  This book is an important tool to understand and appreciate our country's history and the principles on which we were founded.

10. The Universe Next Door

Want one book on what it means to develop a worldview?  Look no further!  The Universe Next Door  systematically goes through various world religions and philosophies in a concise and clear manner.  You'll walk way understanding nihilism, existentialism, deism, theism, postmodernism, naturalism and more.  Basically, all the -isms get explained.  This will help you decide what you believe and it will allow you to keep up in conversations on contemporary philosophy.

It's vital to read widely and comprehensively in a range of topics and disciplines.  Push yourself to explore new fields of study because the liberal arts mentality goes far beyond the classroom.  And even if you aren't in school, perhaps you could benefit from this mindset, too.  How can you read deeply?

What would you add to this list?
What books have impacted you?


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  1. All of these books sound very good. I'll definitely be looking into some of them.
    I attended a Christian college for a semester and The Universe Next Door was one of my textbooks. I think if I had to add a book to the list, I'd say The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I sincerely hope I didn't butcher his name... Lol.

    1. You know, I almost put the Bonhoeffer biography in place of Steve Jobs. ;) In addition to Lewis and Tolkien, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is probably the most talked about person on Wheaton's campus. We had to read excerpts of The Cost Of Discipleship and Life Together as freshmen. Great reads!

  2. I've sadly read none of these but aim to change that. This list is great, there are some books with great topics here. Love what you said about reading something you know nothing about, that's how I've discovered new genres. Nice post!

    1. Thanks, Alise! These books are really helpful for broadening a worldview. I hope you enjoy them. And I feel the same way about genres, too!

  3. Even though I'm not in college, all of the books on this list sound great. I've read Do Hard Things and it's one of my favorite books because it had such a refreshing perspective that I rarely see and it was also inspiring at the same time. I loved how it encouraged teens to rebel against low expectations. I really want to read The Screwtape Letters because I love Lewis's writing. If I'd add one book to this list it would have to be The Hiding Place, which is a memoir by Corrie ten Boom. It was so well written and really inspiring-definitely a recommendation for everyone.

    1. Oh, great choice! I actually considered The Hiding Place. That's one of those books you never forget reading. You should definitely read The Screwtape Letters - it's a pretty short book, very witty and incredibly powerful.

  4. All of these books sound very interesting! I'll have to check them out!
    By the way, I nominated you for two awards over at my blog. Here's the link:

    Alexa S. Winters

    1. Thanks for reading, Alexa! And thank you for the blog award nominations!