If someone were to ask me for a book recommendation, there are several factors that I would take into consideration. But if that person was a college student (or college-aged even if they weren’t currently attending a specific school), there would be an even more specific set of criteria that I would apply. You see, college is an incredibly important and formative time in any person’s life. The decisions that you make during this time have the potential to impact the rest of your life and shape your future in very tangible ways. And what you read influences-at least to some extent-how you go about making those decisions.
So I’ve complied a list of ten books that I would immediately recommend to any and all college students. Wait a second, you might say. TEN books? Isn’t that a bit much? My answer is no: if you just read one book a semester and one during your summer breaks you’d still have to come back for more recommendations from me before you finished your degree! But I’ll limit myself to ten here for now. Before actually getting to the list, a disclaimer and then the set of criteria I applied to this particular listing.
The DISCLAIMER is that I personally did not read most of these books until after completing my four years as a student at CSULB. But I wish I had! So if you are reading this and have already graduated, keep reading! Although the list is aimed at college-age students, it’s still a great list no matter who you are if there are some you haven’t read.
The set of QUALIFICATIONS that I used in selecting the books were as follows. The books had to be:
- Short/Accessible. No overly technical or academic volumes here. Why recommend something that people might read 10 pages of and lose interest in just because of the form or style of the book and not the content?
- Comprehensive as a group. The ten books couldn’t all be on one subject. Instead, I tried to compile a list that included fiction, personal finance, theology, and a whole host of other subjects/focuses.
- Rereadable. A test of how valuable I consider a book’s contents to be is whether or not I would spend time rereading it. There are books that are just worth reading once and there are books worth reading a half dozen or more times. Each of these books on the list I have already reread or plan to reread.
- Sharable. If you came over to my home and I found out you hadn’t read any one of these books, it’s almost certain that you’d leave with my personal copy in your hand to borrow OR to keep! These are books to buy multiple copies of so you can give them away and bless others with!
So what books made the list? Here they are (ordered alphabetically by author):
1. The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn. Why does God want me to give him some of my money? And how much should I give? Alcorn makes the Scriptural case for joyful giving in this book. One of the best books on managing money God’s way I’ve come across.
2. Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. When it comes to explaining theology in a gentle, easy-to-understand, and straightforward manner, I don’t know anyone who does it better than Jerry Bridges. The book is really an extended meditation on Romans 8, verse 28 in particular: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Really, all things? Bridges answers yes: because God is good, faithful, and sovereign, yes. He is worthy of our trust.
3. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman. Sadly, our concept of “evangelism” in the American church is all too often limited to “invite my neighbor to church and hope the pastor preaches on the gospel.” In The Master Plan of Evangelism, Coleman breaks down Jesus strategy of investing in and sending out his disciples during his time here on earth. In print for over 60 years, this book on evangelism and discipleship is a classic for a reason.
4. Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. God’s will: everyone wants to find it and do it, right? But how do we do that, exactly? Too often we are either paralyzed by fear of missing out on God’s will or not concerned enough with finding it. DeYoung’s no-nonsense approach is grounded in the Scriptures and overall encouraging, liberating, and edifying.
5. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. Discipline is not a good word for most of us. Instead, it has negative connotations. So how could “spiritual disciplines” be a good thing? Foster answers this question ably, both laying out the “how to” and they “why” for each discipline he covers. The chapters are divided into the Inward Disciplines (Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study), the Outward Disciplines (Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service), and the Corporate Disciplines (Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration). I found myself continually challenged and stretched in the best way possible. This is a book to read slowly and savor. Time and time again I found myself setting the book down to reflect or pray. Both a helpful book to read straight-through and also to serve as a reference in the future as a refresher.
6. The Reason for God by Tim Keller. Or anything by Keller. Or EVERYTHING by Keller. While I was tempted to recommend Prayer instead, I chose The Reason for God instead because it will only become more and more important to be able to share the gospel with an increasingly secular society. Keller is one of the authorities on the subject and the book is worth reading and reading through with your friends, both believers and non-believers.
7. Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey. Here’s one that is largely inspired by the mistakes I made in school. I did not handle money well or wisely during my college years. This book comes with Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course (which everyone should take. seriously.) but you can also get it by itself. You don’t have to agree with 100% of what Ramsey says to recognize the wisdom of saving, giving, and paying down debt. This book and the FPU course has changed the way I handle money and I’m incredibly thankful for that!
8. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Gilead won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2005. The story of a small-town preacher written in the form of his memoirs written to his young son, Gilead drips with the aching beauty of grace. John Ames’ reflections on his family and faith will make you laugh, cry, and set down the book to meditate on the goodness of God and the mystery of life.
9. The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” says Tozer in chapter 1. If that is true, then this book is an invaluable reminder that I don’t know God as well as I should (YET) and that He’s there and waiting/wanting to be known. Tozer paints in both broad and delicate strokes the beauty and majesty of God’s attributes, stirring the reader to a deeper knowledge of and love for God Almighty. This book is packed from start to finish with keen insights and a sense of reverent awe of God.
10. Any Spiritual Biography. If someone asked you “Who is one of your heroes?” what would your answer be (aside from “Mom” or “Dad”)? I’m cheating with this last recommendation, but I wanted to allow some room for “customization” in this list. Pick an era of history that (at least slightly) interests you and find a biography of a hero of the faith from that time. The stories of Hudson Taylor, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce, William Carey, David Livingstone, and others are simultaneously fascinating, inspiring, and challenging.
So what did I miss in this list? What is a book you would argue deserves to be here and would give to a college-aged student?