Beginning Reading for New Believers

     As leaves begin to fall, and the fight songs blare from the football halftime shows, we all know that we are back on campus in a big way. Most of us hit the ground running early in the fall, and by now, are surely in some sort of routine, meeting new folks, searching for seekers, and starting discipleship groups and leadership training classes. While many of us are renewing relationships with students we knew before, following up their summer experiences, the books they read, the Scriptures they learned, the service projects they worked for, we will surely have those new students who want to be in our fellowship groups and are yet showing up clueless. What to do? You all know of my fondness for the books which invite a broad and solid perspective on whole-life discipleship, but we all know that Al Wolter's Creation Regained, Walsh's Subversive Christianity or James Sire's Discipleship of the Mind may not be for everyone (at first, at least).

     Here is a list I compiled of more than enough titles to consider for those new believers, Christians inexperienced in the life of discipleship or first-timers to the notion of Christian reading. I trust that you will be offering more meaty books (Christian perspectives in various academic areas and mature theology and deep spirituality) for those who are ready and willing. But for new and young Christians, you may find something here just for them.

     My Heart, Christ's Home by Boyd Munger (IVP), $0.99. This little booklet is a gem (a parable of giving the deed of one's "home" to Jesus, as He takes occupancy of each room in the house. It's about His longing to meet and fellowship with us on a regular basis. There is a helpful fill-in-the-blank Bible study discussion guide to go with it entitled Commitment: My Heart, Christ's Home which sells for $4.99. Absolutely Sure: Settle the Question of Eternal Life by Steven Lawson (Multnomah), $12.99. Reader-friendly study of the assurance of salvation presented in I John, this book has gotten rave reviews as it offers certitude about this most important issue of life. How Can I Be Sure I'm a Christian? by Donald Whitney (NavPress), $9. A brief but very solid and mature work on what the Bible says about assurance of salvation.

     What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey (Zondervan), $19.99. Few who have read this have remained unmoved. Given nearly universal rave reviews by Christian leaders, this should be on everyone's reading list. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (Multnomah), $10.99. Wondrous and exquisite stories of God's extravagant love for folks who are broken, screwed up and painfully sinful. What a writer; what a gospel! From Fear to Freedom: Living as Sons and Daughters of God by Rose Marie Miller (Harold Shaw), $9.99. A powerful, honest little book helping us understand God's grace as it heals our hurts and hang-ups. Reading the Bible With Heart & Mind by Tremper Longman (NavPress), $14. One of the best introductions to the broad themes of the Bible. A well-written and helpful handbook for beginners or those who need a renewed commitment to read Scripture, which attempts not only to teach but also to inflame a passion for God.

     Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Essential Questions by Tremper Longman (Baker), $11.99. Perhaps the best basic intro to the Hebrew Scriptures, seen through Christian eyes. Marvelous. Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul (Zondervan), $9.99. Again, a classic of sorts; a solid study of the authority of the Bible and how to understand the interpretative process. The Bible Makes Sense by Walter Brueggemann (St. Mary's Press), $9.95. Not a systematic overview of the flow of the Bible, but rather an invitation to have our imaginations and life's paradigms informed and shaped by the biblical images. Some rigorous left-brainers may not warm up to this, but for others, it will rock their world! Church: Why Bother? by Philip Yancey (Zondervan), $12.99. There may be more detailed studies of the nature of the church, but Yancey's touching story of his own relationship with the church is hard to beat. I'd give it to everyone who joins the church! The Fight by John White (IVP), $10.99. Subtitled "A Practical Handbook for Christian Living," this has been a standard for years. Great chapters on how to pray, how to read the Bible, the way to witness, dealing with relationships, guidance, sin, etc. An inductive Bible study at the end of each chapter helps the reader learn to study the Scriptures. Classic.

     Living Like Jesus: Eleven Essentials for Growing a Genuine Faith by Ron Sider (Baker), $9.99. A nicely-written guide to various aspects of the faith, from family life to evangelism. Not only is Ron thoroughly evangelical, he adds chapters on "thinking Christianly" and on caring about social justice, which other books often omit. Taking Discipleship Seriously: A Radical Biblical Approach by Tom Sine (Judson Press), $12. A stimulating, brief and engaging call to have our life's agenda be in synch with God's intentions for His world. Nice Bible study and practical (if stretching) insights about costly service, community, justice and work. I think every campus should have a few of these around, as it comes close to a "reformational worldview" without using any of that lingo. The Pursuit of Holiness and The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges (NavPress), $8 each. Short chapters of basic Bible study; the first is on putting off the old ways, the second, on taking on the ways of the Spirit. Very helpful. For deeper thinkers, see his Disciplines of Grace (on the relationship of God's grace and our human responsibility) or the hard-hitting Trusting God Even When Life Hurts. The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey (Zondervan), $19.99. One of the very best books about Jesus, and one which is quite popular. What an idea: have new Christians study Jesus! The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary by Tom Wright (Eerdmans) $15. Made as a companion for a BBC documentary, this intellectually-sound and attractive paperback is written by one of the world's leading New Testament scholars. Complete with full-color illustrations, this is a compelling study into what Jesus was all about.

     Basic Christianity by John Stott (Eerdmans), $6. A slim little introductory study of the gospels; its clear-headed prose is its great strength, although its lack of passion and zest make it slow going for some. One of the most often-used books in evangelical ministry. Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God by Tony Campolo (Word), $12.99. Along with Tony's other popular books, I think this is a "must-read" which looks at a variety of aspects of the Christian life, calling for radical commitment - without "going off the deep end." It is a passionate and radical invitation to balanced Christian growth. The Call by Os Guinness (Word), $17.99; audio tapes $14.99. Few who have heard these audio tapes have failed to be impressed with Os' considerable communication skills; we at Hearts & Minds suggest that this is one of the most important books of the decade! How to find meaning and purpose through a rediscovery of the reformed notion of vocation. A literary feast, well-written and creatively proposed, Dr. Guinness invites us to a life-long adventure of whole-life service responding to God's call to follow with all we are. Living a Purpose-full Life: What Happens When You Say Yes to God by Jan Johnson (Waterbrook), $11.95. The only problem with this attractive and interesting book is that it is only for women. Great discussion questions, reflection pieces and recommended Bible passages at the end of each chapter make it especially useful.

     Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald (Nelson), $12. Very clear and basic guide to organizing our lives, particularly focused on inner order. Too Busy Not To Pray: Slowing Down to be with God by Bill Hybels (IVP), $10.99. One of the very best books on prayer which is excellent for beginners. Forming Faith in a Hurricane: A Spiritual Primer for Daily Living by N. Graham Standish (Upper Room), $13.95. A Presbyterian pastor from Zelienople has put together a very thoughtful guidebook to spiritual formation and deepening faith and prayer. A clear and understandable map to the complex process of transformation in Christ. Good for groups. The Life You Always Wanted by John Ortberg (Zondervan), $12.99. What a great book on how God can change us. Spirituality for everyday living! Highly recommended. Basics for Believers: Foundational Truths to Guide Your Life by William Thrasher (Moody), $7.99. A rich compendium of practical insights on basic tenets of the faith and crucial doctrines applied to very practical, everyday life issues. Nice "action steps" at the end of each brief chapter gives it a "handbook" feel. Very useful. What Christians Really Believe and Why by Stan Grenz (Westminster), $12. A fantastic, serious book which tries to offer a worldview-sensitive and culturally-relevant presentation of the faith, not giving stale answers to questions that no one is really asking, but offering the core truths of the Christian faith in a rich and relevant way.

     Remembering the Faith: What Christians Believe by Douglas Brouwer (Eerdmans), $12. Written for an educated reader, this is a basic and delightful introduction to Christian doctrine. Follows the outline of the Apostles Creed and discusses how each notion developed historically and why it is still important today. A thoughtful, conversational style and discussion questions makes this a useful guide, written by a Presbyterian pastor. Loving God by Charles Colsen (Zondervan), $5.99. Great stories, powerfully-retold testimonies and an unqualified call to obedience, holiness and love. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul (Tyndale), $14.95. This is truly a majestic and life-changing book. It should be on everyone's reading list, although maybe not for brand new believers. Yours Are the Hands of Christ: The Practice of Faith by James Howell (Upper Room), $9.95. What a poetic and engaging little collection of sermons. Delightfully written, challenging and practical, this is a rich book of depth and wisdom. Out of the Saltshaker and into the World by Becky Pippert (IVP), $11.99. This is still my favorite book on evangelism, and the brand new edition is substantially updated and expanded. Not only will this give solid help in evangelism training to your students, the Bible study itself is substantial and insightful. A classic. Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman & William Hendricks (NavPress), $15. Why not get new believers off on the right track, rejecting a sacred-secular dualism and into a wholistic, work-a-day faith! A fine and thorough study of careers and callings, with side excursions into topics such as finding a good church, leisure time and finances.

     The Contemporary Christian: Applying God's Word to Today's World by John Stott (IVP), $15.99. Which of John Stott's many important books should we list? This is practically a handbook to the Christian life, with Stott's wise counsel offered for various areas and topics. Exceptionally balanced and thoughtful, should be consulted often by Christians young and old. Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God's Creation by Paul Marshall (Word), $17.99. Not everyone will agree that "baby Christians" should be encouraged to read about the whole-life, creation-wide implications of a Christian worldview, but what better way to excite and exhort a new disciple: serve God with all you've got, in every zone of life and culture! This is a reader-friendly, fun survey of this whole area of a "reformational world and life view." Wonderfully written, inspiring and informative. Highly, highly recommended.