Your 2018 Reading List


library-1147815_1920Well, another year has come and gone.  This year I intended to read and post a lot more.  I am not sure I really read more, but I did mange to get a few more books on the list for 2018.  I hope you will enjoy this list.  There was another solid book by Christian Smith, and a best seller by Rod Dreher.   I am also including an older review I did on 1968:  The Year that Rocked the World, since 2018 is the 50th anniversary of they year.  Enjoy.

The Benedict Option

The Vanishing American Adult

Meet Gen Z

Lost in Transition

No Little Women

The Evangelicals

Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Books for Navigating College Life

1968:  The Year that Rocked the World


Lost in Transition




Though most of us in collegiate ministry have heard the term emerging adulthood, not everyone has considered the social cost of delaying adulthood.  In Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Dr. Christian Smith uses sociological evidence conducted through surveys and interviews to show us the dark side.  And it is dark.  Centered around five chapters, the book provides an inside view of the attitudes, thoughts, and actions of emerging adults aged 18-23, roughly the tradition college age.

Emerging adulthood, a term coined first by psychologist Jeffery Arnett, describes a social transition which occurred after World War II.   First, due to the GI Bill and more emphasis on education, more students were able to go to college rather than go straight into a job.  Secondly, from 1950 to 2006 the median age of first marriage for women rose from 22.8 to 25.9 years.  Thirdly, due to global pressure, economic stability changed causing many young adults to not be able to enter into long-term careers right out of high school or college.   Fourthly, due to the factors listed so far, many parents made choices to continue to support their children well into their twenties and even early thirties as they attempt to have stable, adult lives.  Fifthly, the wide-spread use of birth control made it easy for young adults to have sexual relations apart from marriage and procreation.  Finally, according to Dr. Smith, during the 1980s and 1990s American collegiate culture began to promote poststructuralism and postmodernism which eventually moved into the mainstream of the culture where it morphed into individualistic subjectivism and moral relativism.

While emerging adulthood has allowed more access to education, travel, and experimentation in careers, it has also come with a price.  According to Dr. Smith there are five major problems which are taking a toll on these young adults.   The changing social conditions have led to problems that Dr. Smith documents in chapters entitled: Morally Adrift; Captive to Consumerism; Intoxication’s “Fake Feeling of Happiness”; The Shadow Side of Sexual Liberation; and Civic and Political Disengagement.

While I cannot go into detail about every chapter, I will give some highlights on the major points of each one.

Morally Adrift

  • Sixty percent of emerging adults express a highly individualistic approach to morality. For them morality is a personal choice, entirely a matter of individual decision.
  • Thirty percent expressed a belief in strong moral relativism.
  • Thirty-four percent expressed not knowing what makes something morally right or wrong.

Captive to Consumerism

  • Most emerging adults are perfectly happy with mass consumerism.
  • Those who do question the patterns of always buy more and more stuff often see it as a problem of other people.
  • Many emerging adults have come to see college as just another “product” to buy bought and consumed in order to make more money.
  • Most have embraced a notion of the “good life” in financial terms.

Intoxication’s “Fake Feeling of Happiness”

  • Of the 78 percent of EA who drink alcohol, 60 percent reported binge drinking at least once in the previous two weeks.
  • Twelve percent of EA surveyed reported smoking marijuana either once a week, a few times a week, daily, or more often.
  • There is a sharp rise in those who drink and use drugs from the 13 to 23 demographics.
  • Twenty-two percent were called “partiers” by Dr. Smith’s research group. These are EA who drink regularly, and often binge drink.
  • Four percent of those 23 or younger were already recovered addicts.

The Shadow Side of Sexual Liberation

  • The typical never-married American EA has had an average (median) of 3 sexual intercourse partners. In short, the vast majority of never-married EA ages 18-23 have been physically intimate with at least one other person.  The typical one started at age 16.  And half of the sexually initiated have had a good deal of sexual experience with more than one or two partners.
  • Smith concludes the chapter thus: “not far beneath the surface appearance of happy, liberated emerging adult sexual adventure and pleasure lies a world of hurt, insecurity, confusion, inequality, shame, and regret.

Civic and Political Disengagement

  • The largest group (27%) of EA were apathetic to politics. The genuinely political were the smallest group (4%).
  • Smith sees most of the “Obama bump” from emerging adults to have worn off. He sees no evidence that the current cohort of emerging adults (snapshot in 2011) will be more involved than Millennials or Gen X.
  • Smith attributes this lack of involvement due to several factors: mass consumerism; moral confusion and disorientation; individualistic relativism; and technological submersion in interpersonal relationships in private settings.


This book is worth a read even if it is almost seven years old now.  If you would like to know more about emerging adulthood, read my review of two other books on the topic.

For more on the topic of civic virture and its decline, read my review of Ben Sasse’s book The Vanishing American Adult.


Lost in Transition Part 2: Mass Consumerism


Having lived through yet another Black Friday (the local radio station called it the “Black Friday Holiday”), I think it is an appropriate time to move on to Chapter 2 of Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.  Chapter 2  is, appropriately,  about mass consumerism:  it is actually entitled “Captive to Consumerism.”  Frankly, this was an issue that I was not expecting.  But after reading Dr. Smith’s chapter, it makes sense.  Dr. Smith’s team set out to find what do emerging adults (aged 18-23) think about all the seemingly endless products, services, and “stuff” that is available for purchase.  Are there any dilemmas connected with a consumerist lifestyle?  What he found is that most are either positive or neutral about mass consumerism, and few express doubts.

Perfectly Happy

According to Dr. Smith, “Contemporary emerging adults are either true believers or complacent conformists when it comes to mass consumerism.  Most like shopping and buying things.  Most enjoy consuming products and services.  It is the way of life with which they are familiar and content.”  This group is sixty-one percent of emerging adults.

Inconsequential Concerns

Thirty percent of those interviewed did express concerns, but thought they could do nothing to change the situation.  For them, “mass consumerism remains in place and their lives remain unchanged.”  In this group, the problem of mass consumerism was often thought of as “the problem of other people.”

What is the purpose of a good education?

Having explained how so many emerging adults are “bought in” to a consumerist culture, Dr. Smith then offers an aside on what is the purpose of education.  And it’s a good question.  Having just shown that most emerging adults are fine with mass consumerism, we quickly find out that for most students a college education is nothing more than a ticket to better jobs, for money, for mass consumption.

What happened to education for the life of the mind, and soul craft?  It seems to be gone.  And this is a problem.  For one thing, more and more students are going into debt on hopes of a great job after graduation, only to end up deep in debt when they leave school.  Secondly, for a democracy to flourish, it must have an educated population that values civic virtue, a common culture, and understands where the nation has come from.  When one is looking at college as mostly an investment in making money, much of these important values are lost.

What is a good life?

But Dr. Smith is not finished with asking what is the purpose of education.  He goes on to ask what is a good life?  And it is a great question to work in with this chapter.  Is this all that life is about?  Amassing goods and enjoying services?

According to Dr. Smith, “when asked about a good life broadly conceived and what they wanted to achieve in life, the ideas of material success, financial stability, not having to worry about money, being successful in work, being able to provide for the family, and having money to spend on valuable experiences were expressed again as significant themes in the majority of their answers.”  Though sixty percent did bring up having kids, relationships, and stable marriages, most of these answers were also mixed in with talk about material success.  Only nine percent mentioned God, or some value related to religion.


In finishing the chapter, Dr. Smith pushes back about anyone thinking that the “next generation” is going to be alternative thinkers who care about environmentalism or question consumption (but remember this is a snapshot from 2011).  He sees a generation that is out to make money, sees no problem in spending any way it wishes, and is not concerned about deeper questions about the purpose of education or life.


For those of us working with college students (emerging adults), I think that this chapter raises a lot of good questions to pose to students.  If the general culture or the educational institutes are not asking students to ponder the purpose of education or a good life, then it certainly is up to college ministers, lay people in the church, and pastors.  Of course, we can’t replace college teachers and the college culture, but we can help guide students to thinking beyond just getting a degree, making money, and dying with the most toys.

If you are interested in thinking about good books, the purpose of education, and what is a good life, check out my review of Senator Ben Sasse’s book The Vanishing American Adult.

Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash


Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood


Having thoroughly benefited from reading Christian Smith’s 2009 book Souls in Transition, I decided to read his 2011 book Lost in Transition:  The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.  You can tell by the title that it has a negative undertone.  But wow, I was not expecting to come out depressed after reading it.  But I did.  Very depressed.  But I think this is a book that anyone with a teenager or young adult in the family should read.  For campus ministers, it is a must read.  It is true that much in the book will be known by those who work with emerging adults (in this book the age is limited from 18-23), but this book backs up what you know, and also shines the light on a few things you may not know.

Rather than try to review all the book in one go, I have decided to break it down chapter by chapter, adding to the blog when I can.  Here are the five chapters:  Morality Adrift, Captive to Consumerism, Intoxication’s “Fake Feeling of Happiness”, The Shadow Side of Sexual Liberation, and Civic and Political Disengagement.  Let’s start with Chapter One.

Chapter One is divided into several sub-divisions.  I will not be able to cover all of them, but will hit some of the ones that I think are most illustrative of the problems young emerging adults have in defining and explaining morality.

Moral Individualism

According to Dr. Smith and his research, six of out 10 emerging adults “expressed a highly individualistic approach to morality.”  To this 60 percent, morality is “a personal choice, entirely a matter of individual decision.”  A typical response on the survey and in individual interviews included: it’s personal, it’s up to the individual, and who am I to say.

Moral Relativism

About 3 out of 10 emerging adults interviewed professed a belief in “strong moral relativism.”

Moral Sources

Thirty-four percent of those interviewed didn’t know what makes anything morally right or wrong.  According to Dr. Smith, not only did they not know the source for morality, they could not even understand the question.

Forty percent stated that how other people “would think of them (at least partly) defining what for them would be morally right and wrong.”

Sixty percent stated that morality was based on whether anything “functionally, improved people’s situations.”

Fifty-three said that whatever “hurts someone physically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise it is wrong.”  But many also made a distinction between hurting individuals and business, with less caution about hurting what they saw as not individuals.

So, what are some of the conclusions that Dr. Smith and his team draw from their research?

First, they found that “moral individualism is widespread among emerging adults and that a sizeable minority professes to believe in moral relativism.”  They also found that “emerging adults resort to a variety of explanations about what makes anything good or bad, wrong or right—many of which reflect weak thinking and provide a fragile basis upon which to build robust moral positions of thought and living.”

Second, many emerging adults have a hard time “to distinguish between objectively real moral truths or facts and people’s human perceptions or understandings of those moral truths or facts.”  An example that Dr. Smith gives, is whether is slavery moral wrong, or is it morally wrong because we believe it to be morally wrong.  On many issues those being interviewed did not seem to understand the difference.

Third, emerging adults are bombarded by different values, morals, philosophies, lifestyles, and religions like never before, yet they have little to no training in how to evaluate what they constantly see and hear through the internet and social media.  Never before has a generation had so much information and choices to make with that information.

Finishing up this chapter I realized how much collegiate ministers or lay people working with emerging adults need to incorporated basic logic in how we explain the Gospel and its implications.  After almost two decades listening to “do whatever you want to as long as you don’t hurt someone” from educational leaders, pop stars, and other media sources, many of them no longer have the skills to really understand not only what morality is, but basic logic as well.  Your students are not getting basic thinking skills about morality from school, the culture at large, or even at many churches.  You really are the last chance for many of them.

Next time we will look at Chapter 2:  Mass Consumerism

To read my review of Souls in Transition click here

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Books for Navigating Campus Life


It is the beginning of the academic year for many colleges around the country and when we think of the first week of college, we often think of move in day and freshmen.  Being a freshman can be an over-whelming experience.  That is why it is often good to have resources for freshman to read about what college is like, how to make good decisions, and how to turn a so-so year into a great year.  Here are three books that can be given to freshman (or even better to high-school seniors) to help the freshman year be the best God wants for them.

Freshman:  The College Student’s Guide to Developing Wisdom by Mark Matlock

FreshmanAs you can tell by the subtitle, this book is about wisdom.  That is a quality that freshmen certainly need considering just how easy it is to get caught up in the novelty of college life.  Freshman has two main parts:  the first is about general wisdom from a Christian perspective, while the second part stresses applying wisdom in the college setting.   For a study of wisdom, Mr. Matlock goes to Proverbs, Solomon, and other wisdom passages in the Old Testament.  In both sections, there are questions at the end of each section which make this book great not only for individual study, but also for group discussion. The book ends with a suggested reading list for further engagement.  I really like this book for the content and the possibility it has for expanded studies with both high-school seniors and college freshmen.

Mark Matlock’s Bio at Barna:


How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski

How to Stay ChristianThis book, now in its second edition, was written by a college philosophy professor and has a bit of a more academic edge to it, though it is not difficult to read.  Rather, the structure of the book is topical covering both practical and philosophical issues.  For example, Dr. Budziszewski has three main sections entitled “Worldviews,” “Campus Myths,” and “How to Cope.”  As a professor who has written numerous books and teaches courses on the great books, he has a keen understanding of the campus culture of both students and faculty.  How to Stay Christian in College is about the same length as Freshman, but lacks both end of chapter questions and suggestions for further reading.  I was surprised that an academic would not include either, and it also disappointed me.  However, the book is still a good read and covers the important issues a student will face in college.

J. Budziszewki’s website:


Welcome to College: A Christ’s Followers Guide to the Journey by Jonathan Morrow

Welcome to CollegeRecently updated (2017) and coming in at over 400 pages (including the appendices, notes, and author bio) this book covers numerous issues in 43 chapters.  Because it has 43 chapters, the material is broken up into small portions.  Each chapter also has a section called “Big Ideas” which lists the main points that were covered.  Each chapter also has suggestions for further reading.  This book covers much of the same material as the other two, though its chapters are a bit more loosely connected.  What I liked about it was the recap and the “For Further Discover” section at the end of each chapter.  There is also an appendix with questions for each chapter, as well as an appendix with a list of book for further reading on philosophy.

Jonathan Morrow’s website:

I think all these book are great helps to anyone preparing for college or already in college.  The title Freshman may put off an upperclassman, but the content is still just as useful.  If you, or your student, like to follow up with more reading, Welcome to College is the book for you.  I suggest that before you buy any of these books, check your church or local library to see if you can read a copy first before making a decision.  If you can’t find one in a library, go to Amazon and click on the “look inside” link of the books for a quick peek.  A few minutes of preview may help you know which one is the best for you.  Even if your student has already left for college it is not too late to send him or her one.  Do you have a rising senior in high school?  Don’t delay, go ahead and do your research now and present it as a Christmas present.


The Evangelicals

EvangelicalsPerhaps not since Newsweek declared 1976 the Year of the Evangelical has so much been written and argued about evangelicals until this year.  The presidential victory of Donald Trump and his huge support by evangelicals has put the topic back in the spotlight.  So, when I heard that Francis Fitzgerald was writing The Evangelicals:  The Struggle to Shape America, I was looking forward to reading her book.  Coming in at over 700 pages (with notes and indexes) this is what you would expect from an author who has won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book is timely.  Stretching all the way from the Great Awakening to 2016, is narrates the shaping of America both theologically and politically.

The book is not about collegiate ministry, but by looking at the interaction of evangelicals and culture throughout American history, one can see how evangelical thought (or lack of it) shaped or reacted to collegiate life.  The 1960s comes readily to mind to most people, but the material dealing with the 1920s is also informative.  I enjoyed filling in the cracks of the 30s through the 50s, but frankly got tired of reliving the ups and downs of the Religious Right of the 80s and 90s (I lived through it).  However, for those too young to remember the high tide of the Moral Majority, it is a great recap of where many evangelicals were placing their stock, especially politically.  If a young Christian does not understand the “reclaim Christian America” mindset by many evangelicals, this book helps put it in perspective.

This book would be a great read to brush up on evangelical movements in the US, how evangelicals have dealt with a culture becoming more secular, and what lessons evangelicals could learn for the future.



The End of Free Speech “Zones”?



Are “free speech zones” dying?  Recent events seem to suggest so.  For many years now, colleges have used the zone as a way to regulate free speech.  By putting small zones in obscure areas of campus, administrators have sought to make free speech irrelevant.  Many times use the of zone is also regulated.  My favorite example of this type of Orwellian control happened in California when a student could not hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution because he had not “reserved” use of the free speech zone.  See his encounter here.

But in the past few months, there seems to be a reverse in the trend in using the zone.  A great example is in Tennessee.  In May the Tennessee legislature passed the Campus Free Speech Protection Act (Senate Bill 723).  The bill, which the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) was an advisor, won huge support in the legislature.  Among other things it prohibited the dreaded zone on public colleges, and adopted the University of Chicago’s Free Speech Policy Statement.

In North Carolina East Carolina University recently amended its policy after a student sought the help of Alliance Defending Freedom.  The campus was subsequently given a “green light” status by FIRE.  North Carolina now has six colleges with a “green light” status making it the state with the most campuses with this status. Read the article from ADF here.

If you are a student or ministry having trouble with free speech issues, I encourage you to contact ADF or FIRE for help.

If you would like to hear an attorney with ADF talk about free speech issues on campus click here.

If you would like to hear Ed Russ discuss a student’s lawsuit against North Carolina State University for blocking religious free speech click here.

To find your school rating click here.

The Vanishing American Adult

Ben Sasse bookSenator Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult is part blueprint to reverse the juvenalization of American society and part autobiography.  Drawing upon authors such as Christian Smith, (see here for more on emerging adulthood), Jeffrey Arnett, and his own experience as a college president, Sasse explores the problems of emerging adults, and how to help them become more self-reliant.  His case is laid out in in several chapters entitled:  Flee Age Segregation, Embrace Work Pain, Travel to See, Consume Less, and Build a Bookshelf.

While not a book about evangelism, church planting, or collegiate ministry, Senator Sasse’s book still touches on a huge problem facing the church:  a rapidly growing illiterate American society which does not understand civic virtue, hard work, and the gift of liberty.  Drawing on research Senator Sasse points out numerous troubling points:

  • Declining readership
  • Safe spaces at colleges to avoid troubling topics
  • Lack of understanding on the make up of government
  • Increase in the time spent on social media
  • Mass consumerism
  • A schooled elite with no work experience

According to Sasse, who has a Ph.D. in history, the United States has abandoned its traditional notions of close family ties in both church, education, and work, to more and more age-segregated groups.  This segregation coupled with a secularized public education system and a 24-7 internet black hole is leaving Millennials and Generation Z to fend for themselves with terrible results.

One of the ways to turn this situation around, according to Sasse, is to integrate children back into the family.  This means families taking more control of the education of their children, while also including them in adult society.  This will be a slow process.  It will require families to make huge investments in changing lifestyles.  The ubiquitous internet and first cousin consumerism must first be tackled by parents so as to model it to their children.  We have to ponder, how much are parents willing to change.

Quoting Mark Twain that “I never let school get in the way of my education”, Sasse makes a plea for adults to bring their kids more and more into their world to see what adult work is like.  Rather than shield children from work and its reality, we need to be helping them navigate those waters earlier.  This means supplementing their educations in highly important but non-school ways such as travel, working with their hands, responsibility taken earlier rather than later, and wrestling with the ideas of great books.

So why should pastors, youth ministers, parents, and collegiate ministers read Sasse’s book?  Because the work we have to do as Christians is not only evangelism and church planting.  To help foster a functioning society, we are going to have to educate, and mature, a society that is deeply broken in its spirituality, character, and thinking.  As quoted by Rod Dreher in his book, The Benedict Option, professor Michael Hamby states: “Education has to be at the core of Christian survival—as it always was.”  According to Hamby, there must be a quest for what is true and beautiful.  The church must be concerned with guiding the next generation on such a quest.

In some ways this book is too late for college students (though anyone can start wrestling with its ideas).  It fits best to teach families and the church how to begin thinking about systematic reform for young adults before they get to college.  And for those who are passionate about future college students, I would argue that it is up to collegiate workers to help address the challenge of this book.

Here are a few suggestions to use this book:

  • Create your own list of 60 great books and start reading them
  • Find out what your students are reading and see where they need help filling in the cracks
  • Create summer reading lists for college students
  • Create a theology of work and teach it early
  • Share the importance of an understanding of global Christianity
  • Include this book as a resource for church leaders who are preparing youth before they get to college
  • Use it as a reference for parents who are asking about preparing their children for college
  • Refer it to pastors in your personal circle of friends or colleagues

Finally, if you are interested in creating a look list, don’t’ just skip to the back and see what Senator Sasse put on his list of 60 books.  Instead, take some time and struggle to come up with your own list.  But don’t stop there.  Set up a shelf, put your books on it and invite your family, church, or collegiate group to start reading.

To hear Rod Dreher on the importance of education click here



Meet Gen Z

Gen Z 1If you are in collegiate ministry you need to stop reading about Millennials and start reading about Gen Z.  And that is part of the problem.  Gen Z is so young (scholars are still arguing about when it began) that in some ways we don’t know much about them.  Of course as with any generation there are some “hard” facts that can’t be overlooked.  A few examples are the diversity of Gen Z, the size of Gen Z, and the context of Gen Z in an every more secular United States.

If you want to start somewhere with Gen Z you may want to read Meet Generation Z:  Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World  by James E. White.  The subtitle helps one understand his objectives for writing the book: description and prescription.  Dr. White sets the generational years for Gen Z from 1995 to 2010.  Of course, these generational brackets are much debated.  However, I think he is about right give or take a year.  Gen Z is in college, either as freshmen or sophomores.  If you haven’t wrapped your mind around that fact, you need to start.

Dr. White does a good job laying out several characteristics of Gen Z.  They are the most diverse generation, they will be the largest generation, they are recession marked, sexually fluid, Wi-Fi enabled, and post-Christian.  From a Christian perspective these are great places to begin thinking about the importance of Gen Z, and how we as Christians need to reach them with the Gospel.

Meet Generation Z is not a comprehensive book, so there is only so much attention Dr. White can give to these characteristics.  He gives most attention to the impact of technology and living in a post-Christian culture.  I think that is justified.

In part two of the book, “A New Approach”, Dr. White turns to the prescription for the lostness of Gen Z.  In such chapters as “The Countercultural Church”, “Rethinking Evangelism”, and “A New Apologetic”, Dr. White focuses on reaching a generation that is post-Christian, Biblically illiterate, yet spiritually open.  These chapters give one glimpses of pathways in reaching Gen Z.  Much of what he discusses in these chapters are dealt with in more detail in the work of Rod Dreher, James K.A. Smith and Charles Taylor.  If you are wanting more in-depth analysis of these topics, I suggest you also read their books.  But for a primer on Gen Z, Dr. White’s material is still useful.

On a practical level, Dr. White includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter.  These are great for a group reading this book  as a way to get people talking and thinking together.  There are also several sermons by Dr. White in the appendixes.  These are included as examples of how he has attempted to address the problems discussed in the book about reaching Gen Z.

Even if you don’t have time to read Meet Generation Z now, I hope you will do some research into Gen Z and stop talking about those old folks, the Millennials.

To read my reviews of Rod Dreher, James K.A. Smith and Charles Taylor, see below:

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith

How Not to be Secular by James K. A. Smith

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor

To read my take on Gen Z at the Collegiate Collective click here