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.

Scrivener

I have just started reading Andy Crouch’s new book Culture Making, and, for some unknown reason, I decided to start at the back, in the acknowledgments. Among the people thanked:

Keith Blount, an unapologetic English atheist, [who] created the marvelous cultural artifact call Scrivener, a program which justifies the existence of the Macintosh computer all by itself and which made completing this project an unexpected joy.

Amen, brother. Amen.

Vocational Holiness

In addition to Jayber Crow, our Faculty Ministry Leadership Team is also reading Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. I’m pretty excited about both this book, which uses the story of Jonah as a framework and its central idea of vocational holiness. If I had space and time, I would quote the entire introduction. Instead, here’s just a snippet.

Peterson begins by describing a crisis he faced when he was 30 years old (a symbolic age, by the way – it was the age when Hebrew priests traditionally began their service, and the age when Ezekiel and Jesus began their public ministries) and just a young pastor. He felt a chasm open between his life as a Christian and his life as a pastor, and Peterson, after a page or two, concludes that this chasm was not unique to him. One reason is the uncapitalized vocations of the pastorate.

Spiritual leadership vocations [pastors, missionaries, teachers, deacons, etc.] in America are badly undercapitalized. Far more activity is generated by them than there are resources to support them. The volume of business in religion far outruns the spiritual capital of its leaders. The initial consequence is that leaders substitute image for substance, satisfying the customer temporarily but only temporarily, on good days denying that there is any problem (easy to do, since business is so very good), on bad days hoping that someone will show up with an infusion of capital. No one is going to show up. The final consequence is bankruptcy. The bankruptcies are dismayingly frequent.

[amtap book:isbn=9780820808486]

Books I Like: Why Church Matters

Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice by Jonathan R. Wilson bridges the gap between theologians of the church and practitioners of the church.  Though the book is short (158 pp.), Wilson’s ambition is large:

In this book I intend to give a relatively comprehensive account of the practices of the church: the role of the pastor, the proclamation of the gospel, the celebration of the sacraments, worship, evangelism, discipline, and many more activities are developed as practices.

“Practice” is an important word to Wilson.  By “practice,” he means regularly developed, intentional acts that create and shape a culture or community.  He includes worship, communion, baptism, discipleship, preaching, and other acts of the church. Continue reading