Matthew Anderson was wondering what five books I would recommend to college students, which is a pretty broad question, and difficult to answer. But Hugh Hewitt posed this question over at One True God Blog a little over two weeks ago. Here was his question:

Please recommend the five books you would have a Christian college student read who was interested in deepening his or her faith but who also had all the time constraints and background education of most college kids today. (In other words, no Summa Theologica or Institutes.)

Tough question. So I guess I won’t be recommending Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics to anyone.

There are so many great books for college students to read. And chances are that any given day you asked me this question I might substitute one to two of the books for other ones, though I think there would be a central core of books that remained.

These five books I am recommending for a couple of reasons: 1)These are books that have impacted me, especially during the college years, and the post-college transition. 2)I think these books are classic, and will challenge college students in different ways.

The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky:
In my humble opinion, the greatest novel ever written, but I haven’t read everything. But I have read no other novel that explores the great issues of freedom, grace, love, humility, etc, as does this book. Dostoyevsky is an author that should transform you, and this book does just that. Your ideas of what true love, sacrifice, grace and more will be challenged by this book. And Chapter 5, The Grand Inquisitor is a standard text in many theology and philosophy classes on the concept of freedom. A long read at about 800 plus, small print pages.

Author, Frederick Buechner says this about The Brother’s Karamazov:

that great seething bouillabaisse of a book. It’s digressive and sprawling, many too many characters in it, much too long, and yet it’s a book which, just because Dostoyevsky leaves room in it for whatever comes up to enter, is entered here and there by maybe nothing less than the Holy Spirit itself, thereby becoming, as far as I’m concered…a novel less about the religious experience than a novel the reading of which is a religious experience: of God, both in his subterranean presence and in his appalling absence.
Source: Reality and the Vision by Philip Yancey, pp.25

Wow! Now that would be an amazing recommendation on a book cover. Need I say more. This book transformed me in so many ways.

Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis:
I have read this series now, three times, and have learned and seen and understood new things everytime I read through them. I was so enamored with CS Lewis and his works that I even took a class on him at the seminary Regent College in Vancouver, BC. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Lewis and others have called them children’s books. They are definitely not just for children! Though enjoyable for any aged audience, a child will enjoy the fairytale fantasy of it all, while an adult will not only do the same, but will grasp the deeper themes in Lewis’s writings. Forever etched in my mind is the character of Aslan, that I can hardly think of God at times without imagining a lion. Lewis takes the ivory tower theories of theology, and inserts them into the practical everyday living of characters, where they should be. And you better have read them before you see the movie. I think it would be tragic to have not read them before seeing the movie. But that’s just my opinion.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok:
I have read three of Potok’s novels, and what is amazing about this author is that he has chosen to focus on a different form of Judaism in each of his novels, making this a wonderful learning experience. My Name is Asher Lev is one of the great novels. It is especially amazing for those of you who have an artistic bent, as the character Asher Lev explores the creative aspect of art, and creating something out of nothing. You will have a hard time putting this book down as this young Jewish prodigy tries to find his artistic place in a very legalistic upbringing, while trying to reconcile his artistic gifts in a religious community that sees many forms of art as satanic. I think for those of use who usually tend to have a very linear Christian faith, this is a great antidote.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
I read this book when I was a senior in college, and it was the one book that may have impacted me more than any other book. He transformed my ideas about what it meant to be a disciple and follower of Christ. And his ideas of cheap grace vs. costly grace so revolutionized my ideas and concepts of grace, and how we experience and live them out, that I still to this day remember the place and time when I read those words. Bonhoeffer is someone you read, and you know that what he is saying, and what he believes is lived out with the same passion. That he would lay down his life for his ideas, because he did when he was eventually hung by the Nazi regime. For Bonhoeffer, theology is grounded in community and in relationships. This is no pie in the sky, or ivory tower theology, but theology that is lived out in the context of life. His interpretation and thoughts regarding the Sermon on the Mount should give you thoughts to ponder and ways to live, for years.

In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen:
This is the one book that I require anyone who wants to be a part of the college ministry to read. It is short, succinct, and powerful. This is not another book that lays out five steps, or five characteristics of what a leader should look and be like, but rather, is a treatise on what it means to lead, and to be led as a follower of Christ. Nouwen’s insight and humility transform anyone who reads this book. Nouwen has a way at getting to the root of an issue, and I think his vision for leadership is a more Biblical view than we often get in many Christian leadership books. The best book under 100 pages.

For what it is worth, those are the five books that I would recommend to college students. It is a good mix of fiction and non-fiction which I believe is important. If our theology, philosophies, apologetics, etc, are not grounded in relationship and community, then I think we are missing the point. Novels help us see this process taking place in the pages of story. Fantasy stories such as the Chronicles of Narnia help us use our imagination, and recapture what we often lose early on in the pursuit of God and our study and knowledge of Him. And then some good non-fiction is always great, as we are able to read, pray and discuss the works of someone who has written in book form their best understandings of what it means to follow Christ.

Obviously, most of these books have a Christian bent towards them, though I would not hesitate to recommend them to non-Christians as well.

Any thoughts? Agreements? Disagreements? Your own suggestions?