(E) Ages 12-15, (F) Ages 15-18, Book Reviews, Booklists, Raising Readers, Resources, Teen/Adult
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Graduation Gifts for Teens

We’re fast approaching graduation day at many schools, so I thought it might be worth tossing out a few books to brighten your celebrations.

1.  Ryken, Leland, Editor.  The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing.  Shaw Books, 2002.  465 pgs.  Ages 16-up. 

If you have a teen who is at all interested in literature, this is a great gift book.  It includes thought-provoking essays from a Christian worldview on the purposes of fiction, the way imagination works, and some of the biggest challenges from the non-Christian reading community.  With thoughts from some of the best Christian writers such a J.R.R. Tolkein, Francis Schaeffer, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis, much of this book will be essential reading in college–and with hundreds of quotes from a wide range of authors, it’s the sort of book that will make writing papers in college lots easier.  Probably my favorite gift book for kids who love literature or the creative arts.

2. Carson, D.A. The Intolerance of Tolerance. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012.  Ages 16-up.  196 pgs.

A great introduction to the prevailing headwinds in the secular culture…and often within Christian circles as well.  The arguments here are critical to remaining Christian in college, in my opinion.

3.  Carson, D.A. The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism.  Zondervan, 2002.  Ages 18-up.  640 pgs.

This is for the really precocious kids who are deep thinkers and will be specializing in English Literature.  It’s very long–640 pages–and it is THICK reading.  From feminism to critical race theory to queer theory to labyrinthian debates on epistemology, Carson’s work is the most thorough and careful appraisal of the literary field that I’ve read from a Christian viewpoint.   He addresses many of the major literary theorists being studied on college campus today, and he shows how they fit within a broader stream of both Christian and secular ideas.  Yet he doesn’t just show where they are wrong–he also gives credit where credit is due.   Students will probably use this more like a Bible or a reference book–reading bits and pieces as they need it, which makes it a book that will serve them well for years to come.

3.  Harris, Brett and Alex Harris. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.  Multnomah Books, 2008.  Ages 14-up.

If you’re looking for a light, inspirational book for your young graduate, this is a great one.  Just about any young adult can read and benefit from it, and since it was written by young adults to their peers, it’s not as stuffy or distant from the experience of young readers.  Basically, the book is a call to do something great with your life through sacrifice.  From a reader: “Alex and Brett capture the passion and potential of our generation perfectly in this book. In Do Hard Things, they encourage us to go above and beyond the status quo in everything from schoolwork to serving the poor. This is a truly unique and sorely needed book.”

4.  Piper, John.  Don’t Waste Your Life (Gift Edition).  Crossway, 2004. 192 pgs.

What is important in life?  What would it look like to capture every part of my life for Christ?  Media, money, Christian living are all addressed in light of the cross of Christ.  For such a short book, Piper does a remarkable job of summarizing his philosophy of ministry, and he helps readers think about the most basic issues involved in making Christ our life.

5.  & 6.  The ESV Study Bible.  Crossway Bibles, 2011. & .  ESV Student Study Bible. Crossway Bibles, 2011.

John Piper describes this Bible as “a dream come true” for its “scope and theological faithfulness.”  Mark Driscoll calls it “the most important resource that has been given to the emerging generation  of bible students and teachers.  The ESV Study Bible is the best.  Period.”  And I also happen to know our own Janie Cheaney has a copy.  It’s a study Bible that kids will use long into their adulthood.

Do you guys have any other suggestions?  I’m always looking for good additions to my list!


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  1. Thank you for the great recommendations, Emily! Two books I’d add to the list are:

    Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters by Joshua Harris
    ~This is an excellent book that looks at the basics of what it means to be a Christian. It’s extremely readable yet also quite challenging.

    Speaking of challenging, my second recommendation is definitely that!

    Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung
    ~This is a great book for Christian young adults who are trying to figure out just what God’s will is for their lives. DeYoung goes right to the Bible and gives a Biblical answer and call for Christians to just do something!

  2. Emily says

    Hey, thanks, Hayley! I am familiar with those authors, but haven’t read those particular books…so thanks for giving us another couple of choices from a younger Christian. : )

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  4. I have the Ryken book sitting on my bookcase right now! I’ve read some, but not all of the essays. Good choice.

    Jerry Bridges’ Gospel for Real Life is EXCELLENT–a wonderful reminder of the gospel in a way that is fresh for those familiar with it, but totally understandable to newcomers to the faith. Might be a good resource for college kids to have on hand. Very readable, but deep at the same time.

  5. Thanks for your cool website!

    I’m a bit biased, but I’ve heard that Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011) is decent — in spite of the author. 🙂 The Foreword is by Alex and Brett Harris and endorsements are from Jerry Bridges, Randy Alcorn, and others:


    (Sorry, I don’t normally comment like this, but the topic was hard to resist….)

  6. Emily says

    Alex, Thanks for introducing yourself and your book. Met some of my favorite authors that way!

  7. These are all great resources. I have a passion for equipping the next generation and would like to suggest my book Welcome to College: A Christ-follower’s Guide for the Journey. It covers everything from resolving conflict, dating, and finding God’s will to Does God exist?, How can Jesus be the only way?, Is the Bible reliable?, and If God is good, then Why evil? You can find out more here: http://amzn.to/JOtpBD

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