Best Books for Undergrads?

urbana09-posterIn a mere 12 days(!), Tom and I will arrive in St. Louis for Urbana 09, InterVarsity’s triennial student missions conference. Most of the 20,000+ conference delegates are undergraduate students, and we’ll be talking to them about ESN, vocation, and loving God with your mind.

It’s impossible for me to talk to students about ESN without recommending at least half a dozen books. I have my favorites, but enough about me — what are your favorites?

What books do you recommend to undergraduates, on God, on academia, or just about life in general?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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    MIke Schutt commented on December 14, 2009 Reply

    Optiz and Melleby, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness
    Budzizsewski, How to Stay Christian In College
    Baldwin, The Deadliest Monster
    Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness… See More
    Guinness, The Call
    Pearcey, Total Truth

    Before they graduate:
    Lewis, The Abolition of Man
    Wolters, Creation Regained: The Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview
    Veith, God at Work
    Bonhoeffer, Life Together
    Tozer, The Pursuit of God
    Willard, Renovation of the Heart
    Greene, The Power and the Glory

  • Tom Grosh commented on December 14, 2009 Reply

    On Facebook a friend recommended to me Richard Light’s “Making the Most of College” and Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture.” Note: ESN has several posts which refer to Randy Pausch,

  • Miller Peck commented on December 18, 2009 Reply

    you asked for reading list suggestions…here’s some of my favorites

    (1) The Christian in Complete Armour..three volumes, small paperback abridgment of the Puritan classic by William Banner of Truth Trust…stirs me to prayer and repentance

    (2) Long Journey Home, Os Guinness, pub. Doubleday Waterford Press…directs serious seekers through stories of those who struggled…Bertrand Russell searched for love in a universe he declared to be without point or “A Free Man’s Worship”, he asks us to create our own meaning since there is no God…late in life he said he was a coward when he wrote this book.

    (3) “Reason for God”, Tim Keller…if you haven’t already heard him speak, or read this book a good introduction would be to watch this youtube of his university talk in CA: he wants skeptics to learn to “doubt their doubts”…his spoken presentations are better than his written… … the influence of CS Lewis and Francis Schaeffer are evident.

    (4) “The question of God: CS Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, love, sex, and the meaning of life”…Armand Nicholi..this is the textbook for Prof. Nicholi’s very popular class at harvard. PBS produced a television series based on this book, … the DVD is available.

    (5) Henri Nouwen, any of his journals that search our hearts deeply…he taught spiritual formation at harvard and yale before he found a home at L’Arche community in Toronto, where he cared for the profoundly disabled Adam, who became the Christ child to him….he’s often painfully confessional…

  • Tom Grosh commented on December 18, 2009 Reply

    Below are some suggestions passed along by a few Carnegie Mellon University alum, faculty, and students via email. Thank-you!

    Even though I don’t think that we can have all the growing list of books at ESN’s Urbana09 table, please keep the recommendations coming as we can provide provide a handout with ‘additional recommendations’ on specific topics AND refer those who swing by the table to the blog 😉

    1. Henri Blocher’s “In The Beginning.” Comment from a friend, “Evangelical enlightenment starts with Blocher.” I also find Blocher’s work excellent, particularly “Evil & the Cross,”

    2. Greg Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation,” “The Myth of a Christian Religion,” “Satan and the Problem of Evil,” “Letters from a Skeptic,” FYI: “Letters from a Skeptic,”

    3. Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” as part of an apologetics class. FYI: “The Dawkins Delusion,”

    4. J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God,” — mentioned 2x. One alum noted as “most influential book for me in college.”

    5. John Piper’s “Desiring God,” available on-line at

    6. John Polkinghorne,

    7. Ben Witherington,

    8. N.T. Wright,
    PS. Here’s a few books which a friend wanted to make sure we didn’t miss …

    -Waging Peace on Islam, Mallouhi,

    -Economics as Religion, Nelson,

    -Technopoly, Postman,

    -Neither Poverty Nor Riches, Blomberg,

    -Paradigms on Pilgrimage, Godfrey & Smith,

    -The Christian in Complete Armor, Gurnall, Note: mentioned above by Miller.

    So many books, so little time! 🙂

    Amy commented on December 18, 2009 Reply

    Oh, and for the evangelistic-minded undergrad, I find myself referencing over and over again C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” in my conversations with agnostics, particularly super-rational engineer agnostics.

  • David Suryk commented on December 20, 2009 Reply

    James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Baker). A must read to rethink what a worldview has been (primarily cognitive) and what Calvin College Philosophy Prof thinks it should be (primarily affective). The shaping of the heart takes place at the level of the affective and cultures typically shape people that way. A primarily cognitive worldview conception ignores the pre-cognitive ways culture shape the heart. Smith advocates a better, more biblical conception of the person (humans as lovers/desirers of ends). Smith then shows how Christian worship is what God intends as the countercultural shaping of hearts for the kingdom. This book is aimed for undergraduates and beyond. Smith is after FORMATION and not simply INFORMATION. I think this is a seminal book in helping us rethink the worldview question and help one another be formed as Christians who desire God and his kingdom. Our Christian students go off to college with disordered loves. And the typical worldview emphases don’t typically help reorder these loves but merely content to get right ideas into the heads of college students. But too many–way too many–Christians (even at Christian colleges; Smith cares about his own Calvin College a lot) leave the university with right ideas but disordered loves. Smith’s book goes a long way to helping Christian educators and formation communities (churches and IV’s witnessing communities) do a better job of discipleship.

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