Best Books for Graduate Students?

A while back, I asked for your recommendations for the best books for undergrads, and you came through with a pretty impressive list. Let’s advance a few years.

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

There will probably be some overlap, but here are some common graduate school situations that might affect the list:

  • Deeper exploration of a specific discipline or profession
  • New life experiences (e.g. marriage, children, death of family and friends)
  • Coping with failure and success
  • The “quarterlife crisis
  • Growth and change in one’s spiritual life

What are your suggestions?

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Books I Read in 2009

I’ve just posted a list of all the books I read in 2009, and I hope to make this a monthly habit in 2010.  A few highlights:

Christian Smith and Patricia Snell – Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults
The second in a planned three-book series, Smith follows the teens he surveyed in Soul Searching into their early adult years (ages 18 to 23). Smith looks at how their religious lives change, as well as the factors (parents, friends, church) that affect their religious attitudes and beliefs. A must-read for anyone working this age group.

Augustine – City of God
I’ve been reading Augustine’s 1,000 page masterpiece a few pages at a time for something like a year now, and it continues to reward. Written in response to the fall of Rome, Augustine takes on accusations that Christianity weakened the Roman Empire, then goes on to describe the “two cities” that coexist in history: the city of man and the City of God. I’m up to Book 13 (out of 22).

N. T. Wright — Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
What does the resurrection of Jesus tell us about our ultimate destiny? What does the resurrection tell us about our life in the present? Wright combines world-class scholarships with a pastor’s tone.

Stephen Carter
The Emperor of Ocean Park
New England White

One of my new favorite authors. Carter, a leading legal scholar who teaches at Yale, started a new career as a novelist several years ago, with a specialty in complex mysteries set among upper-middle class African American families involved in higher education and politics.

David Halberstam – The Breaks of the Game
Recommended by sportswriter Bill Simmons as the best sports book ever written,it did not disappoint. David Halberstam follows a year in the life of the Portland Trailblazers, illuminating both the individuals who play, coach, and manage basketball and the larger forces of race, money, and fame that shape their lives.

Christians in College: Some Basic Resources

Here are a few starting points if you are interested in the place of Christians at colleges and universities. These books are excellent for either those with a concern for Christians at colleges and universities, or for Christian students who are starting to feel the tension between their faith in Christ and their life in the university.

Foundational Books

These books make the case for Christian involvement in higher education. They have each been influential to many Christian ministries, including my own, the Emerging Scholars Network.

A Christian Critique of the University by Charles Malik — Malik was a renowned Lebanese Christian diplomat, philosopher, and university professor, heavily influential in the early days of the United Nations. He delivered a series of lectures in 1981 at the University of Waterloo, which were collected in this book. Malik famously noted that the important question was not what the university thinks of Jesus Christ, but what does Jesus Christ think about the university? (Note: This book is out of print, but Malik’s equally influential lecture “The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar” has been reprinted in a recent book of the same name, which features essays by a number of prominent Christian professors.)

The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship by George Marsden – In the conclusion to his book, The Soul of the American University, Marsden called for Christians to create distinctively Christian scholarship. The ensuing uproar in the secular academia led Marsden to write this brief follow-up, which has become a challenge to a generation of Christians scholars.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll – According to Noll, the “scandal of the evangelical mind” is that “there is not much of an evangelical mind.” A primary reason why evangelical Christians lack a presence in higher education is because many evangelical churches ignore the life of the mind and the importance of learning.

Books for Students

The next three books are excellent choices for either students heading to college or in their first year or two. Each of them will help students think about their Christian faith in the context of being a college student and, if they have ears to hear, will guide them in developing a well-grounded, well-educated faith.

How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski – Budziszewski is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and this book is a short, practical guide based on questions that students have asked him over the years.

Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey by Jonathan Morrow – This book is a series of short essays on nearly everything conceivable subject that a Christian will deal with in college – philosophical questions, peer pressure, sex and dating, drinking – complete with discussion questions and suggestions for further reading. Perhaps most helpful, Morrow has put together a devotional guide for a student’s first year in college.

Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness, The: A Guide for Students by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby – Taking its lead from Marsden, Opitz and Melleby challenge students to take both their faith and their studies seriously. They describe the invaluable opportunity Christians have while in college to study and exercise their mind, to distinguish themselves from the world of “bread and circuses” that dominates so much of college life. This book counsels students to truly study “as unto the Lord.”

Next Steps

This final selection of books will help students (and others) bridge the gap between their faith and the rest of their life: their vocation, their career, their family life, the day-to-day routine of living. These books are excellent choices for juniors, seniors, recent graduates, or anyone seeking to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness – Perhaps few of us feel like we have a “call from God,” yet Guinness reminds us that all of us are called by God to love him and love our neighbor. How we live that out, is different for each of us. This deep and insightful book helps to understand our unique vocation in the light of God’s call.

The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief And Behavior by Steven Garber – Garber has put together has excellent guide to living a life consistent with your faith. I read this book the year after I graduated college, and it radically changed by understanding of Christianity by showing me that consistent Christianity requires a community of people living out their faith together. I’ve recommended this book frequently over their years.

Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life As a Christian Calling by James Sire – Jim Sire is the retired editor-in-chief of InterVarsity Press, and he brought to that role a strong sense of the intellectual life. This book, one of the more popular ones I have offered to ESN members, describes a variety of intellectual virtues and how they fit into a life of Christian discipleship.