A reader recently asked the question: Do you have a suggested list of books for teenagers, something like a “Ten best books every Christian teenager should read?” It surprised me that I have never compiled such a list, especially since I’ve got two teenagers of my own. I decided I’d better remedy this oversight straight away. Here, then, is a list of ten great books every Christian teen ought to read—or at least consider reading.
Please note that these are not necessarily the ten best books your teens will read in their lifetime. Not all of these books will stand the test of time as Christian classics. But each of them is suited to twenty-first century teenaged readers and together they will provide a foundation for the Christian life that will prove both deep and wide. I list them in no particular order.
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. It is rare that a book is elevated to the ranks of the classics, but The Holiness of God is a prime candidate. Sproul’s book will introduce teens to the concept of holiness, to the necessity for holiness, and to their own deep unholiness. But it will also lead them to the one who delights to make them holy even as he is holy. This book has shaped many lives and may just shape theirs as well.
Counter Culture by David Platt. This is a book about issues that Christians need to be prepared to address, issues that are relevant here in the twenty-first century. The subtitle gives us details: “A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography.” If your teens read this one they learn how “the gospel moves Christians to counter all of these issues in our culture with conviction, compassion, and courage.”
The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. Jerry Bridges carried out a long and faithful ministry and this book was one of his most important. In it he offers a thorough explanation of the gospel and shows how the gospel pertains to every Christian every day. Teens who read it will learn the important discipline of preaching the gospel to themselves every day and they will become convicted that the very same gospel that saved them will sustain them to the end.
Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. There are many books that teach Christians how to know and do the will of God, but none is better suited to young believers than this one. In a clear, biblical, and entertaining manner, DeYoung shows how so many people are so wrong in the way they think about God’s will. “With pastoral wisdom and tasteful wit, DeYoung debunks unbiblical ways of understanding God’s will and constructs a simple but biblical alternative: live like Christ. He exposes the frustrations of our waiting games and unfolds the freedom of finding God’s will in Scripture and then simply doing it.”
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. This book began with John Piper’s address to thousands of young adults gathered for a Passion conference. Piper laments how many people—even professed Christians—go through life with no passion for God, “spending their lives on trivial diversions, living for comfort and pleasure, and perhaps trying to avoid sin.” Teens who read this will hear Piper’s passionate warning not to waste their lives, not to waste their youth, but to “live and die boasting in the cross of Christ and making the glory of God their singular passion.”
Core Christianity by Michael Horton. For some people, and perhaps especially young people, theology and doctrine can be intimidating words or even irrelevant ones. But this should not be the case. It must not be the case. Reading this book will help your teens understand the basic, foundational doctrines of the Christian faith and hopefully give them a taste for more. It is an ideal book for those who are new to the faith or those who are just beginning to learn the precious truths upon which we stand or fall.
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It is for good reason that Bunyan’s allegorical tale has endured as a Christian classic and perhaps as the Christian classic. Many notable leaders have made it a habit to read and re-read the book and, indeed, it rewards such commitment. It can be read in the original seventeenth century English or in modernized forms. Either way, your teens will witness Christian’s long journey to the Celestial City and, from it, learn what God requires of them and what he provides for them as they make the very same journey.
Habits of Grace by David Mathis. At some point every Christian is told they need to commit to spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible and praying. David Mathis refers to these as “habits of grace” and does an excellent job of describing how Christians are to form and keep such habits. There is not a Christian in the world who has mastered the spiritual disciplines. In fact, the more we grow in grace, the more we realize how little we know of them. Habits of Grace is a powerful guide to these disciplines. It offers basic instructions to new believers while bringing fresh encouragement to those who have walked with the Lord for many years. It will set your teens for a lifetime of pursing God.
Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach. No contemporary issue so divides the church from the world, and even Christian from Christian, as the issue of homosexuality. In Messy Grace Caleb Kaltenbach brings an informed, fascinating, biblical perspective to this issue. He grew up in the LGBT community with a mother who is lesbian and father who is gay. As he tells his story and explores what the Bible says, he manages to walk the line of grace and truth, to communicate love for people and respect for the Word of God. Teens who read it will be better equipped to confidently understand what the Bible says about homosexuality and why it matters.
Tactics by Greg Koukl. Christian teens need to be prepared to defend their Christian faith, especially as they head into college and the workplace. Greg Koukl’s Tactics provides teens with a helpful game plan for discussing Christian convictions, even in hostile environments. “Koukl demonstrates how to get in the driver’s seat, keeping any conversation moving with thoughtful, artful diplomacy. You’ll learn how to maneuver comfortably and graciously through the minefields, stop challengers in their tracks, turn the tables and—most importantly—get people thinking about Jesus. Soon, your conversations will look more like diplomacy than D-Day.”
In just ten books I could not cover every category, so let me cheat a little with some extra suggestions.
- Money: Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn
- Pornography: Finally Free by Heath Lambert (or, for young men, my own Sexual Detox; for women, Purity Is Possible by Helen Thorne)
- Church History: Rescuing the Gospel by Erwin Lutzer
- College: Thriving at College by Alex Chediak
- Biography: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton, Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore.
- Productivity: Do More Better by me.
- Race: Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson
- Leadership: The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler
- Dating: Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas
- Marriage: Married for God by Christopher Ash
- Worldview: Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey