Christmas is just around the corner. Ho Ho Ho. People are always asking me for book recommendations. The problem with books for Christian teens is that many assume teens somehow need concepts to be dumbed down into a teen version of a popular book. I rail against this! Teens, especially the readers, don’t want good books for teens. They want good books. Period. The following list contains books I know have helped other teens and I pray they will help yours as well. Give one or more of them as Christmas gifts. Make your teen read them. If you can’t make them, bribe them. Words have the power to change lives. We invest so much energy and effort into our teens’ education. These books (and others like them) will be an investment into their spiritual development.
1. Mere Christianity - CS Lewis
I read this book when I was 21, but most of the older teenagers I work with can handle the material. For me, it came at the perfect time. I was questioning everything. I was going through the stereotypical faith crisis. Some things had gone horribly wrong in my life and I was somewhere between wandering and searching. A dear friend recommended this book, and i can honestly say it changed my life. Even though I didn’t completely agree with everything in the book (something common to all of these books), I loved the way he said the things. I read Mere Christianity at a time when I really needed to know you don’t have to check your brain at the doors of the church. After working with teens for more than twenty years, it is evident to me that Christian teens are going through faith crises much earlier than mine. If there is a junior or senior living in your home who loves to read and is at all spiritually curious, I would give them this book for Christmas and tell them they can’t have any of their other gifts until they’ve read it. It might even be good if you read it with them as it could spark some really profound spiritual conversations in your home.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
2. The Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning
I love this book. It is one of the sweetest descriptions of a radical and transformative grace I have ever read. If you want to understand the reckless nature of grace, read this book. If you want your teen to feel fully loved, completely accepted and deeply connected to God, give them this book. There is a humility in the way Manning talks about God, and a gritty realism to the way he talks about walking with God. I grew up thinking of God as a policeman who is following me who hasn’t turned on his blue lights yet, just waiting for me to mess up. For those like me who continually feel unworthy, Manning jumps fully into our embarrassment, guilt and shame with words that paint you a picture of how Jesus changes everything, how grace changes everything and how both will change you. Good stuff.
“And Grace calls out, 'You are not just a disillusioned old man who may die soon, a middle-aged woman stuck in a job and desperately wanting to get out, a young person feeling the fire in the belly begin to grow cold. You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted.' Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.” ― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
3. Searching for God Know’s What - Donald Miller
I have a tendency to become consumed with justifying my position on the lifeboat. I grew up in a culture where everyone had something to prove, and if you didn’t prove yourself every day, you would somehow be left behind. Miller claims we look for our own redemption in places that definitely don’t have redemption to offer. Many times we try to find redemption in ourselves; we find our identity in the things where we are the strongest. They become the very things that keep us from God. Searching for God Knows What will be a difficult read for some parents. In some ways it is a post-modern book (though not as much as Blue Like Jazz), meaning - you can start on any page and read in any direction and it still make the same about of sense. This may bother some parents - it won’t bother your teens. Even though it’s difficult to find a defining point, for me this book was about identity and finding that identity defined by God. It helped me realize that a life well lived is a life that has nothing to prove. Everyone belongs on the lifeboat.
“Christ, in short, asks us to give everything, all our false redemption in the lifeboat, all our false ideas about who God is, all our trust in something other than God to redeem us. In so doing, we die to our broken natures in exchange for His perfect nature, and find unification with Him that will allow God to see us as one.” ― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What
4. Do Hard Things - Alex and Brett Harris
In some ways, this is my least favorite book on the list. It is, however, one of the books that has made the biggest impact on some of the students I know. While Christians, the two young writers of this book come from a different philosophical place than me. Still, they are completely right about the main premise of the book. Adolescence, as a concept is completely man-made, historically brand new and specific to more developed cultures (for a more detailed, academic look at this idea see TEEN 2.0 by Robert Epstein, Ph.D., which is thicker than my Bible). This concept is empowering to teens who feel like they can accomplish big things, but feel held back by their age and by how society views teens. Many who have read Do Hard Things have chosen a hard thing to accomplish as a result of reading the book. A friend of mine who lives in Colorado decided to take up riding a mountain unicycle - yep you read that right. Some may not life the conservative political tone of this book, but most young readers get the overall point. No matter your age, this book makes you feel like you can accomplish the unexpected as a result of your faith. It is an attack on inaction, especially for teens.
“Our uprising is against a cultural mind-set that twists the purpose and potential of the teen years and threatens to cripple our generation. Our uprising won’t be marked by mass riots and violence, but by millions of individual teens quietly choosing to turn the low expectations of our culture upside down.” ― Alex & Brett Harris, Do Hard Things
5. Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
If you give this book to your teen, read it first - or at least at the same time. I have to admit this book messed me up for a while. His view of scripture is both completely foreign to how I grew in and surprisingly conservative (although he may not appreciate being described as such). This book is about making our lives consistent with scripture, especially in the way we view those who are different than us, and those who society has forgotten. This book is about viewing everything through the glasses of love and justice. It’s about caring for our world and the people around us with the tenderness and pathos of Jesus himself. It is about a revolution that pushes through all of the clutter we’ve added to following Christ and pares it down to it’s irreducible minimum. Sometimes his politics shine through a little too much for some, but you cannot call him a hypocrite. He moved to India and interned with Mother Theresa. He traveled to Iraq where he holed-up with Iraqi Christians as America began to bomb their country. If you have a teen in your home who is struggling with the hypocrisy they see in the church, this book may help them understand there are radical ways of following Jesus that are more congruent with the life Jesus actually lived.
“I asked participants who claimed to be 'strong followers of Jesus' whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question, I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time with the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” ― Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution
Honorable Mention Books:
Any book by the authors mentioned above / Love Does, Bob Goff / Radical, David Platt / Crazy Love, Francis Chan / Gods at War, Kyle Iddleman (our children’s minister says the teen version of this one is actually good) / The Pilgrim’s Progress - John Bunyan (Edited by CJ Lovik)
From the youth minister
From time to time we will post updates on here for you guys.