Thank you for all who participated in the CTI Essay Contest. We received over 125 essays from many different states and from different countries around the world. The winners have been notified. If you did not receive a notification, your essay was not one of the finalists.
Please know that each essay was read carefully and prayerfully by multiple people. It was not easy to pick the winners but it was inspiring to read your thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to think more deeply about the next chapter of your life story.
The image is of an essay submitted by my co-worker’s son. His son is six years-old and doesn’t qualify for the contest, of course. But I think his words are helpful and true. Here’s what he wrote:
“Even though you have to listen to a lot of things at college, there is someway to follow him (Jesus) there.
When you have been thinking about a question for 10 minutes, you could always pray for (not) the answer but for the courage to keep trying even if you are wrong.”
Well said. And Amen! (He’s six?!)
May you continue to walk with Jesus and courage into this next phase of life. Blessings on your journey!
It’s March, do you know what your seniors are doing next year? That’s an adapted title of a previous post explaining groundbreaking research about the popularity and effectiveness of taking a “gap year” between high school and college.
This past week major media outlets also discussed the value of gap year programs. In fact, many “elite colleges” are not helping students pay for taking a gap year. Why? During a recent interview on NPR, higher education consultant, Mara Dolan, explained the rational to reporter Kirk Carapezza this way:
MARA DOLAN: A lot of students need a gap year. They’re not ready to begin college.
CARAPEZZA: Mara Dolan is a higher education consultant. She doesn’t find it ironic that more schools are telling students to take a break and then overseeing their experience.
DOLAN: It’s certainly consistent with the idea of what a college education provides, which is something more than a degree. It’s developing the whole student so that they can become higher functioning individuals, when they go out in the world.
“Gap years are becoming a bit more common in the United States… Colleges tend to love it when students defer admission to take a gap year because those students arrive with more maturity and less propensity to spend freshman year in an alcoholic haze.”
Taking a gap year between high school and college is not for every student, to be sure, but it is a good option that should be considered, especially for students who are not quite sure what they want to do after high school or what they hope to accomplish in college.
We study in order to
understand God’s good creation
and the ways sin has distorted it,
so that, in Christ’s Power, we may
bring healing to persons and the created order.
As God’s image-bearers we are preparing
to exercise responsible authority
in our task of cultivating the creation
to the end that all people and all things may
joyfully acknowledge and serve
their Creator and true King.
We have enjoyed fabulous fellowship on a number of different college campuses since the release of the first edition of this book. Both of us have had the opportunity to visit with students, staff, and faculty at many colleges and universities, and we connected with students from all over the place at the CCO’s annual Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. Most of the students whom we’ve talked with are Christian students, and here is what we’ve been noticing:
1. While church involvement does not appear to be a high priority, these students do gather to sing, worship, and learn about their faith in other venues. Many have no strong commitment to a particular Christian tradition but rather are “generically” Christian and are earnest about their faith.
2. Few of these students have been discipled in any vigorous or consistent way. Their youth groups were lots of fun but without much substance. The vast majority of these students have not read a substantive book about Jesus, theology, or the Christian life in the past year, if at all. Nevertheless, many of these students yearn to go deeper, if only they could find a mentor (one of their favorite words) who would help them.
3. Almost none of the students that we’ve encountered can articulate a clear connection between their faith and their academic discipline, unless of course the student is a Bible or ministry major, and they are pursuing that calling precisely because they discern the obvious connection.
4. Most of the students whom we’ve talked to don’t just want to get a job to get by. They want to find meaningful work, ideally work that will enable them to connect their faith to their investment in their jobs.
We could add a few more observations to our list, but this is a good start. And we think this short list helps to explain why students have responded with curiosity and hope when we have presented the brief motto or mission for the Christian student above. Students are unfamiliar with church creeds, but having some kind of statement is appealing to them. They haven’t read much theology, but this sounds biblical and comprehensive and world-engaging. They can’t articulate the link between faith and field, but they sense that that is exactly what they need to do in order to integrate their often fragmented lives. These students want to live with purpose, and they know that the purpose has to be big and that it has to be pursued for the well-being of others.
We encourage you to begin to frame your life as a student according to the themes of this motto—creation, fall, redemption, image of God, responsibility, healing, culture—so that you will be equipped to frame your entire lives by these themes. It won’t make your life easy, but it will make it rich and challenging and ultimately fulfilling. We think that is what students are really looking for.
Learn more about Learning for the Love of Godhere.
College transition is a hot topic in youth ministry circles. More and more parents and churches are recognizing that students are not prepared for the challenges that college often brings. Anecdotal evidence is easy to find. There are many stories of students who have grown up in the church, have made commitments to follow Jesus, but have walked away from the faith during the college years. There have been numerous research projects that support these stories as well, making a strong case that the college years have not been good to those raised in the Christian faith.
The research is important and worth reading, to be sure, but I’m not sure it matters all that much. We can debate the statistics, trying to convince ourselves that it is not as bad as some say it is; or tell personal stories to make it seem even worse; or we can recognize that the challenge for students to make the faith their own is a perennial one. The challenge will always be with us. As the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” This verse gives perspective. In all times and in all places, at some point, young people have to take ownership of their faith. This is not new.
I was reminded of this recently when I read Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, the member of the British Parliament who worked to abolish slavery. Written in 1797, Wilberforce makes keen observations about why young people often walk away from the faith. We can learn much from his insights regarding the human condition:
“Think about what happens to many young people who are raised with all the benefits of prosperous parents who are cultural Christians themselves. As children, they are taken to church, where they hear the parts of the Christian message that their particular church embraces. Although it is rare in our times, maybe they even receive some measure of religious instruction at home. Eventually, they leave home, and launch out into the world. Some go to work; some go to college. They face temptations that they have not faced before and give in to them. Their lives might get out of control with the use of alcohol, and they might give in to sexual indulgence. At the least, they never read the Bible or make any attempt to develop a spiritual life. Most don’t even attempt to take what knowledge is at their disposal and form their own beliefs and convictions. They don’t learn to think.
Maybe they travel to a foreign country. Things are even worse there. They begin to embrace the ideas to which they are exposed. By the time they return home, they are further away from faith than before. Along with their previous frivolous way of life, they now begin to be consumed with the demands of making a living in the workplace and the desire for a career and success. Most of what they hear about Christianity is in a negative context. If they go to church at all, they hear things that either make no sense to them or that they find offensive to the way they live. They have no grasp of the Bible to compare with what they hear.
The result is an attitude toward Christianity that is not only negative but also one that is rooted in a faulty sense of intellectual superiority. The young also have a way of seeing right through the charade of those who profess the faith but don’t live the life. What began as a vague, almost imperceptible doubt soon grows. By slow and steady degrees, the doubt becomes most fixed in their minds. In a twisted kind of way, the young men and women begin to hope their doubt is well founded. Any reason that reinforces it is welcomed. Doubt becomes greater, not based on evidence, but merely by dwelling in the mind. This is certainly not always how it goes, but in general you could think of this scenario as the genesis of unbelief. This is not always the process, but generally speaking, it is the natural history of skepticism. If you have carefully observed someone you know drifting into unbelief, you have probably seen something like this occur.”
Wilberforce perceptively describes the process by which young people walk away from the faith. His hypothetical scenario may not be true for everyone who leaves the faith, but I think his words offer four “timeless” truths concerning those who walk away. Being attentive to these areas can help us as we prepare students for the challenges ahead.
First, students who walk away from the faith succumb to temptations they haven’t faced before. Many students may have been exposed to the temptations of alcohol and sex in high school, but in college, being away from home and parents makes the challenges more difficult to withstand. As one student recently said to me, “I didn’t know it was possible to go to college and not drink!” Parents and youth workers must work diligently to remind students of the dangers of alcohol abuse and promiscuous sex, while also casting a better vision for what college can and should be. It is possible to find a caring community on campus that fosters a healthy social life, but it requires intentionality. Help students to make the needed college connections before they head off to college. Visit www.cpyu.org/collegegroups to see a listing of ministries available on campuses across the country.
Second, students who walk away from the faith didn’t learn to think. The problem that Wilberforce diagnosed over 200 years ago is still with us today. Many students lack critical thinking skills, failing to take what knowledge is at their disposal to form their own beliefs and convictions. We must continually create space for students to wrestle with the big questions of life. College should not be the first time that students engage in abstract or deep thinking. Critical thinking and Christian discernment are spiritual disciplines that need to be developed. Like anything worthwhile in life, the developmental process takes time and is difficult. A youth group devoted to these activities may not draw the biggest crowds, but if we are serious about preparing students for life after high school, helping student to “learn to think” will be a mark of our ministries.
Third, students who walk away from the faith are consumed with the demands of making a living and the desire for success. It is so easy to get caught up in the world’s definition of success. It’s often difficult to understand how faith relates to day-to-day choices and career decisions. In contemporary American culture, the chief end of man is often expressed as: “He who dies with the most toys wins!” The temptation to live a life based on material possessions and upward mobility is pervasive, and many students find it too difficult to live a counter-cultural life based on following Jesus. The attitude becomes: “You can’t follow Jesus in the ‘real world.’” Once again, community is essential to withstand the challenge. College students need to be surrounded by other people who live life differently than the world around them. Teenagers need to be continually exposed to examples of what it looks like to be in the world but not of it. For Christians, calling is more important than career.
Fourth, students who walk away from the faith see right through the charade of those who profess the faith but don’t live the life. It was true in Wilberforce’s day, it is true in our day and it will be true until Jesus returns: the problem for most people who walk away from the faith is not Christ, but Christians. Students who are contemplating leaving the faith are longing not to be around perfect people, but to be around people who are perfectly honest about their own shortcomings and desire to change. Honesty must always trump superficiality.
William Wilberforce reminds us that the problem of students leaving the faith after high school is not new, and the reasons for why students drift away are unlikely to change. Learning from the past can help us in the present to ensure that our ministries are addressing the central challenges students face. If Wilberforce’s timeless diagnosis is correct, youth ministries that focus on community, discernment, calling and honesty will prepare students for life after high school.
Click here to download this article as a PDF handout.
The Jubilee Conference is, hands down, my favorite event of the year. It has been since 2001! Every February in Pittsburgh, the CCO gathers 2,500+ college students to think more deeply about their place in God’s world. It is a conference like no other, a time of deep engagement with the Biblical story; a time of personal commitment to follow Jesus; and a time of reflection for college students to consider their present and future callings in life. Byron Borger has already written wisely and astutely about all that the Jubilee Conference means and who the conference brings together, year after year. Read and listen, I say, HERE.
What I like most about Jubilee is its commitment to the Bible and the biblical narrative. The four main sessions are organized around the four chapters of the biblical story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. There are other ways to focus on the main themes of the Bible, to be sure, (in fact, Don Opitz and I offer a bit of caution about this in chapter 6 of Learning for the Love of God), but, wow, at Jubilee, when you see and hear and participate in The Story, through the lenses of these chapters… well, it is so helpful and inspiring and life-giving!
The Jubilee Conference is the best “vision of the Kingdom of God” that I have seen. It is a signpost and a reference point for so many staff and students. I don’t think it’s possible to leave the conference without being changed in a very profound way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a “vision of the Kingdom” as I work my way through Steve Garber’s profound and insightful new book Visions of Vocation. Steve’s own work has been shaped in tremendous ways by the Jubilee conference. In fact, Steve has helped to shape the conference itself over the many years of his own faithful service to the King. Steve knows that a life committed to following Jesus is not easy, and yet, and yet… He writes:
“The story of sorrow is not the whole story of life either. There is also wonder and glory, joy and meaning, in the vocations that are ours. There is good work to be done by every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve all over the face of the earth. There are flowers to be grown, songs to be sung, bread to be baked, justice to be done, mercy to be shown, beauty to be created, good stories to be told, houses to be built, technologies to be developed, fields to be farmed, and children to educate. All day, every day, there are both wounds and wonders at the very heart of life, if we have eyes to see.”
Indeed. And the Jubilee Conference helps us to see, year after year.
What if our Mondays are just as important as our Sundays?
What is our faith is supposed to connect to every area of our lives?
What would that look like?
My favorite event of the year is only one week away! The Jubilee Conference is about living faithfully in every area of life. For 37 years, the CCO has hosted over 60,000 college students in Pittsburgh, PA to help them “to talk, learn, think, and dream about the public implications of their personal transformation.”
I’ve been an emcee for the last 3 years and it is such an honor to have a small part to play in this big event. The speakers, the worship, and the conversations at Jubilee have been life-changing and inspiring for me and my family for the past 13 years! I can’t wait. The video above does a fantastic job of capturing the Jubilee vision and experience.
In yesterday’s Research + News, I highlighted a new, groundbreaking book by Josheph O’Shea Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs (Johns Hopkins University Press). Since I first heard of the concept and researched the many Christian Gap Year options, I’ve been an advocate for students and parents to consider taking “time-off” before going to college. It’s not for everyone, for sure, and there certainly are benefits to going to college right after high school. But I also think that a Gap Year should, at least, be on our “radar screens” as we make decisions about life after high school.
And now, it appears, recent research is making a strong case as well! In his article for Inside Higher Ed, “Don’t Go to College Next Year,” Dr. O’Shea writes:
“The challenges of our time demand an educational system that can help young people to become citizens of the world. We need our students to be smart, critical and innovative thinkers but also people of character who use their talents to help others. Gap years help young adults understand themselves, their relationships, and the world around them, which deepens capacities and perspectives crucial for effective citizenship. They help students become better thinkers and scholars, filled with passion, purpose, and perspective.”
I also provide a growing list of Christian Gap Year programs here. And I have a 60-second radio show talking about taking a Gap Year here.
All this to say… the conversation is in the air! Students and parents are beginning to re-think “life after high school” in some creative and helpful ways. The video above is from Gap Year Now, a website that “exists to educate and resource students considering a gap year. Gap Year Now is sponsored by Focus One, a Gap Year program located in Rockford, Illinois.
It’s exciting to be a part of this conversation. The years between 18-25 are formative. I think taking a Gap Year can allow time for God to form and shape students in the way the world needs!
The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness, coauthored with Don Opitz, was published in 2007. Our hope was to provide a resource that would equip college students to be faithful to God in their academic pursuits. Thanks to the good folks at Baker Publishing Group and Brazos Press, we are releasing a 2nd edition with a new title: Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness. It includes updates throughout, two new substantive appendixes, personal stories from students, a new preface, and a fresh interior design. The new book also comes with a fresh new endorsement from one of our favorite philosophers and theologians James K.A. Smith of Calvin College:
“What does discipleship have to do with learning? How do I follow Jesus as a student? What does the Lord require of me at university? This marvelous book answers just these sorts of questions. It’s one of a kind, an expansive vision of Christian learning written not for professors but for students. Best of all, this is a book that can profit students in any educational context, secular or religious. Buy a box of these and give them to every high school senior you know.”
Wow. Thank you Dr. Smith.
Just in case the release of a revised edition of a previous book with a different title is confusing, here are a few FAQs:
Why does it have a new title? Good question. (Thank you.) The old title was connected to a very important book by George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. While we really liked the idea of making the connection to that book, it was lost on most readers. Learning for the Love of God better describes the book’s content.
What is different about the new edition? Another great question! (Just doing my job.) There’s a new, short preface where we tell a few stories about how the first edition was helpful students. We didn’t want to change too much of the integrity of the original, so chapters 1-8 are very similar, with a few needed corrections and updates, making the text even more accessible to students. The interior design and layout make it easier to read, including a few pull-out boxes to highlight key terms and concepts.
Can you tell me more about the two new substantive appendixes?Of course I can. I’m glad you asked. The first appendix, “Deeper,” is an annotated bibliography, suggesting books for students looking for the next step. It’s also fun and a little funny, we think. A little different from most bibliographies we’ve read. The second appendix, “Liturgies for Learning,” was inspired by Jamie Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom. Smith argues that deep learning is never merely cognitive. When our emotions and our bodies get involved, learning tends to sink in and stick. Turning on the emotions and tuning in the body can happen in the classroom, but it sure helps to practice good liturgies of learning outside the classroom. So, we offer six learning exercises to put into practice!
If I already have a copy of The Outrageous book, should I buy a copy of Learning for the Love of God?Yes, in fact you should buy 5 copies of the new one.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the new book? Just this… the new book includes this dedication:
“For our friend and favorite bookseller, Byron Borger, whose love for God and learning exemplifies a life of faithful service to the King.”
Thank you Byron for your friendship and encouragement in this project! And thank you to all the readers who have made a 2nd edition possible!
Most of the time I cringe when I hear someone offer this advice: “You have to do what makes you happy.” I’ve seen too many people follow this counsel to its logical conclusion, only to be hurt and lost. Happiness is fleeting. What makes us individually happy is rarely a way to measure a good life. When we offer advice like this, I wonder if we are more concerned that the person needing the guidance avoids pain and feels better about him or herself. Are you happy in this relationship? Are you happy in your job? Are you happy in your $50,000 convertible? Is happiness really the issue here?
David K. Naugle is professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University and has written about shallow attempts to define happiness. His important book Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans) helps readers make the connection between happiness and love. The book is instructive for those who desire to pass along Christian faith to the next generation. Naugle writes, “Scientific, economic, and cultural forces have produced a paradigm shift in the way most people understand happiness. It has morphed in the minds of many Americans into a promise of sustained pleasure and painlessness.” According to Naugle, Christians must develop an understanding of happiness that is countercultural: “The happy life consists of learning how to love both God supremely and the world in the right way at the very same time.”
Dr. Naugle is also the author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans), selected as a 2003 Christianity Today Book of the Year. What follows is an interview with him about Reordered Love, Reordered Lives:
Naugle: Over the years, I have become convinced that people don’t necessarily do what they say they will do, or behave according to their beliefs, or act on the basis of their thoughtsor ideas. However, at the end of the day, people will do what they love!
Augustine put it like this in his book Enchiridion: “For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves.” We are motivated to do what we do by the things we love, care about and desire. Our lifestyles follow our loves; our loves lead to our lifestyles.
It seems to me that this has been the missing element in various Christian programs of moral and spiritual formation. We can’t just impart biblical information and expect much to happen. Our deepest loves, affections and desires must be reordered for lives to change in a Christ-like way.
But our loves and lives remain severely disordered, especially because of cultural influence. No one knows this better than CPYU! In light of the biblical teaching on love which is the nature of God, at the heart of the greatest commandments, and is the chief of virtues (1 John 4; Matthew 22; 1 Corinthians 13), a book on love and the necessity of reordering our loves, seemed like a good idea.
Derek: On the surface, it does seem obvious that love is related to happiness, but what is the deeper meaning? Where do we often get love and happiness wrong in our culture?
Naugle: If we follow the main outline of the biblical story, we discover that God intended for us to enjoy the deep meaning of happiness (or shalom, as it’s called in the Hebrew Old Testament) rooted in rightly ordered loves for God and for everything else under and in Him.
When we sinned, however, we lost this deep meaning of happiness found in God and in his good creation, rightly related. However, we did not lose our love or longing for happiness; in fact, it may have even deepened, even if it was distorted and disordered.
As extraordinarily needy and ignorant people in search of a fulfilling life in a deeply fallen world, we attach our loves in intense ways to whatever we think will make us happy, whether it be people, places or things.
But these people, places or things that we love for happiness’ sake fail us every time. They promise the satisfaction we have been longing for, but they fail to keep their promises. They simply are not made to do so. We end up frustrated once again. As Bono famously sings: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for!”
Out of this disordered love in search for happiness, our lives become a mess, a wreck, especially because of our idolatries, vices, habits, and addictions. We will turn to crime, violence, and even warfare, if that’s what we think it will take to get what we want, since our deepest sense of self and overall well-being depends on it. See James 4:1-2, for example.
Not only our own ignorance, but the false, misleading messages of our culture through music, TV, films, and advertisements also misdirect us and lead us into a big, ugly ditch (to put it mildly) … all in search of happiness! As Augustine once said, “… what am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?”
This is precisely where the Christian gospel enters the picture. When we believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and we are reconnected to God. He then enables us to love God and everything else in God in reordered ways. We don’t reject the world, but worldliness; we don’t reject creation, but its corruption. In other words, we seek to love the created world in a reordered and right way in God as its creator and redeemer.
This, I believe, is the key to discovering the deep meaning of happiness both now and forever! Reordered love and reordered lives and the discovery of the deep meaning of happiness are the primary benefits of the Christian faith and God’s good news about Jesus Christ!
Thus, the connection between love and happiness, as I try to develop it, follows the major points of the overall biblical narrative, and I can summarize the story like this:
The deep meaning of happiness in God as He intended at creation rooted in rightly ordered loves and lives;
Happiness lost in the fall of humanity into sin and replaced with devastating ignorance and disordered loves and lives;
The deep meaning of happiness already redeemed and one day fully restored in Jesus Christ who graciously reorders our loves and lives through the Christian gospel.
Derek: This is from the review of your book in Publisher’s Weekly: “Many Christians will enjoy this book and be renewed in their quest for true happiness. Others will not, given the author’s insistence that accepting Jesus is the only way to real happiness. In a religiously pluralistic world, the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.” How do you respond to this?
Naugle: Well, actually, though PW (Publisher’s Weekly) didn’t intended as such, I take their criticism as a compliment. I didn’t cave into politically correct religious pluralism! Furthermore, my goal was to do what PW said I should have done, namely to show how “the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.”
PW thinks I failed at this, but I think I succeeded (Lord willing), especially by appealing to various expressions of popular culture that show how our disordered loves can disorder our lives and make us miserable. For example, Alan Jackson’s C&W song — “Everything I love Is Killing Me” — hits the nail on the head! And Johnny Cash’s return to faith shows how his reordered love for God reordered his life, and brought him into an experience of the deep meaning of happiness. And what happened to Cash can happen to us as well.
In this sense, then, my book is a form of cultural apologetics, showing how Jesus Christ is the sweet fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires as we search and find the genuinely happy life in Him (I am employing Charlie Peacock’s thoughts from his endorsement on the back of the book).
Derek: What are some practical ways that parents and youth workers can help teenagers “reorder” their loves?
Naugle: In many ways, this is what the seventh and last chapter in the book are all about. There I point out that the deep meaning of happiness we experience now is not perfect and never will be. Presently, we live between the cross and the consummation, at the “hyphen” between the “already” but the “not yet.”
Consequently, at this time in God’s narrative plan for history, we must enroll in the school of Christ for the ongoing mending of our hearts. In Christ’s school of followership, the Christian practices make up the curriculum for life change and consistency. It’s unnecessary to reinvent the wheel on this subject of the Christian practices since so many good books are already available by authors like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. I recommend them highly.
However, what may be of particular interest to parents, youth workers, and students is my own autobiographical description of “The Disciplines and Me” on pages 193-203. Here I talk about the Christian practices I learned from my mentors early on as a student that have served me well over the years. I talk about the Bible and books, church and community, prayer, the enemies of the Christian life, virtue and vice, thinking, loving and doing, and so on. Hopefully a portion of my own story may be of inspiration in the “how to reorder our loves” department.
I haven’t always been a reader. My high school self would probably raise his eyebrows and chuckle a bit at the thought of his “mid-30s-self” offering a list of the 10 best books of the year. I don’t think I had read 10 books (maybe 5? maybe!) until my senior year of high school. (You can read the rest of that story here: “How to Fall in Love… One Book at a Time.”) But now I do read regularly and enjoy talking about books.
My list will be limited to the books I read this year that were published in 2013 (listed alphabetically by author). And, for the most part, they are books that are at the heart of the mission of the College Transition Initiative: to be a resource for those preparing students for life after high school. Enjoy!
Early Decision: A Novel Based on a True Frenzy by Lacy Crawford (William Morrow). The is probably the book I’ve talked about the most this year! I’ve read passages to friends. I gave a few copies as gifts to people who care about teenagers and higher education. Here’s Lacy Crawford explaining her motivation for writing: “Somewhere along the line we’ve failed students. We haven’t listened to them enough… I began to write Early Decision to understand how thoughtful, dedicated parents can be so driven by fear of their children’s futures that they are willing to place enormous value in a system that is reductive with regard to character, and that is, if taken to its current extremes, harmful to a child’s development.” Read my full review here.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, A Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher (Grand Central). Rod Dreher is a journalist who moved back to his small, hometown to be with his sister, Ruthie Leming, while she was dying of cancer. This is a very moving memoir about family and community, grace and forgiveness, and faith in the face of death. Popular writer Elizabeth Gilbert offers this warning: “If you are not prepared to cry, to learn, and to have your heart cracked open even a little bit by a true story of love, surrender, sacrifice, and family, then please do not read this book. Otherwise, do your soul a favor, and listen carefully to the unforgettable lessons of Ruthie Leming.” Watch a video of Dreher talking about his book here.
How the West Really Lost God by Mary Eberstadt (Templeton Press). Confession: I haven’t finished this book yet. But I’ve read enough to know that it is (1) very important and (2) right at the center of my work and passions. It is a book about secularization from what the author thinks is a neglected angle: the breakdown of the family. In a nutshell, Eberstadt argues that living in families, especially having children, is what drives people to church. If you think this is obvious, you might be surprised to learn that this isn’t obvious to most secularization theorists, as the book points. But even bigger than that, Eberstadt makes the case that the biblical narrative and an understanding of biblical faith itself depends on people “experiencing” family life. Watch Eberstadt discuss her book on BookTV here.
The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler (William Morrow). I didn’t think I’d like this book. The premise made me uneasy. Feiler travels the country learning innovative business strategies, finds families who have applied them to their family, and then tries to do the same, integrating the best business practices into the Feiler household. You can’t run a family like a business, right? You can’t. But it turns out that the best ways to run a business are really about better communication and relationships and that is really what this book is about: better family relationships through better, intentional communication. Feiler is also a clever story teller, making the book a delight to read. His honesty and vulnerability about his own family give his recommendations added weight. Watch a video of Feiler talking about his book on CNN here.
Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers Life’s Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller (Dutton). Pastor Keller is a master at drawing out the deep meaning and contemporary significance of Bible stories. In this book, using stories from the Gospel of John, Keller shows how Jesus answers the fundamental questions of life. What stuck out to me is that this book was adapted from lectures he gave in Oxford, England to a group of “skeptical” college students. It would be a perfect book to read with current college students or students about to head off to college. Here’s a short video of Keller explaining why he wrote this book:
Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry by David P. Setran and Chris A. Kiesling (Baker Academic). I had the privilege of writing an endorsement for this book: “Young adults need guidance and so do those who desire to help them mature into healthy adulthood. This book provides a lucid overview of the current research regarding emerging adulthood as well as accessible guidelines for reaching this generation with the Gospel. The authors make a strong case for why the church should take emerging adulthood research and emerging adults more seriously. Most refreshing, the central motivation behind Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is not the desire to grow a church or young adult program, but to see young people grow up in Christ.” Download my interview (.pdf) with David Setran here.
Holy Luck by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans). If my high school self would have chuckled at the thought of me being a “reader” in my later years, he would have laughed hysterically at the thought of me including a book of poetry. I try to read poetry as a discipline (much of the Bible is poetry after all). It makes my brain hurt the same way my abs do if I haven’t done sit ups in a while. So I’m thinking it must be good for me. Plus, Eugene Peterson is one of my favorite writers. His introduction to his collection of poems is worth the price of the book and will, perhaps, motivate you to read a little more poetry this year! Watch a video of Peterson talking about Holy Luckhere.
Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K.A. Smith (Baker Academic). This is the second book in Smith’s 3-book cultural liturgies project. The first book, Desiring the Kingdom, focused primarily on education, and offered a paradigm shift in the way we “educate students” for Kingdom living. The second volume focuses on the imagination. Smith writes: “We become people who desire the kingdom insofar as we are people who have been trained to imagine the kingdom in a certain way.” And, as Smith explains, our imaginations are “trained” by the way we worship. Books by Jamie Smith are always engaging, thoughtful, provocative and enlightening. But what I love most is that for every confusing, obscure French philosopher he quotes, there is a contemporary example from film, music or literature to drive home the main point. Oui and Amen! Watch a video of Smith discussing “how worship works” here.
The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential by N.T. Wright (HarperOne). This book is about as good as it gets. The “case” that is made for the Psalms is both scholarly and personal. Wright explains that we need to read the Psalms in order to better grasp the bigger picture of the Biblical story. But when we do that, we notice how deeply personal the Psalms can be, speaking directly to our own hearts and desires. Read a fuller review by Bryon Borger here.