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

No Little Women

No Little WomenAimee Byrd’s No Little Women brings a lot of engaging questions for pastors, laymen, men and women about how “women’s ministries” should be thought of in the church.  These questions also plumb similar issues for those doing collegiate ministry.  Though Aimee was first drawn to this topic by her concern for the quality of some of the teaching material being used in women’s ministries, she carefully and convincingly goes on to ask great questions about what is a “ministry,” should there be separate women’s ministries, and what is the best model for men and women to do ministry together under a canopy of complementary theology.

According to Aimee the real ministry of the church is the Ministry of Word and sacrament which is conducted by the officers of the church.  These are the means by which Christ ministers to His church.  If we call everything we do ministry, we weaken the meaning of Ministry.  For her, everyone, both men and women, must foremost be nurtured and encouraged through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments of the church.

Another great topic she explores is the term “necessary allies” to describe women. Using the work of John McKinley for her departure, Aimee argues that “necessary ally” is a better translation of ezer than helper for the woman in Gen. 2:18.  Rather than send women off to another part of the church in a “separate but equal” track, Aimee fleshes out commonsense ways that women as necessary allies make for a stronger church.  Turning to the work of John McKinley again, she lists seven ways women are allies within the church.  A few examples are: giving wise instruction and counsel; responding to God as examples of faithfulness; and as cobelligerents against evil enemies.  This does not mean that men and women should not have time to be in their own groups, rather it means we should not see separate groups as the normal means of how Ministry should be.

But it is not just being necessary allies that is important, Aimee also points out that women need to be competent allies as well.  That means having good training in theology, education, general knowledge, and resources.  It also means that they should be given the chance to be competent allies working alongside the men in the church.  Women can be much more than bakers and nursery leaders.  They can be great teachers, writers, and counselors within the church as well.

So, how does No Little Women, relate to collegiate M/ministry?  Let’s think about a few questions.

First, fifty-seven percent of students in the U.S. are female.  How are we going to reach them, equip them, and disciple them, when most of the staff in collegiate ministries (dare I use the word) are male?

Second, if a church or parachurch does have female staff, are they running a separate “women’s ministry” style model, or are they also allowing female staff to help plan, prepare, and promote the work of the whole ministry in a collaborative way?

Third, are female staff being given the same amount of time and resources to equip them to be better leaders, thinkers, and theologians for the whole ministry?

Fourth, are the female staff being given opportunities to utilize their gifts for God’s glory?

I hope that if you are struggling with the right mix of male and female staff, or even if you have never even thought about these issues, you will pick up a copy of No Little Women, read it, and talk about the questions it raises with your leadership team.  I am sure everyone, male and female, will find it engaging.

I had the privilege to interview Aimee for the No Campus Left Podcast.  When the podcast is released I will link to it here.

The Benedict Option Part 2

Here is the second part of my interview with Rod Dreher on his book The Benedict Option.  In this second part, we talk about what the Benedict Option might look like on a college campus, and what Christians face in the modern academy.

For part two of the No Campus Left Podcast click here

For my review of his book click here