Books for Those Who Grew Up Christian

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It’s summer! Time for laying on the beach, getting burnt, and reading books. What? You’d prefer to swim in the ocean, go parasailing, and get eaten by sharks? No thank you! I much prefer my calm (boring) pastime of sitting and devouring book after book.

So join me! Pull up a beach chair into the lapping waves. Zone out the screaming children throwing sand at each other and the stress of a crazy world.

Think back with me to how you grew up. Like me, you probably were born into a Christian home – a second generation believer (or third or fourth or hundredth). You could quote John 3:16 before you knew your ABCs. You probably made a profession of faith between the ages of 4 and 10. You probably wrestled with whether or not you were really saved between the ages of 12-18. You probably got baptized once (or twice) in those years.

You won a ribbon in AWANA for reciting verses (or whatever you did). You made a decision at camp that you neglected the moment the bus pulled away from the camp ground. You walked down an aisle once or twice. You tried not to listen to rock, burned a CD or two, put part of your first paycheck in the offering, and rededicated your life to the Lord more times than you could count.

I’m not mocking any of that. That’s the story of my growing-up years. And the Lord has blessed me through it all. I’m so thankful for the firm faith of my parents.

But let’s face it – the spiritual life of a second-gen believer (particularly we millennials) can be kinda confusing. We were taught that it’s not by works that we are saved, and yet got the gnawing sense of guilt if we did not obey the rules laid down for us.

Our authorities meant well and deserve thanks, not complaints. It’s our own inner-sinfulness that has left us confused and often doubting our salvation. How can we get beyond these confusing times?

Enter the wisdom of men much wiser (and older) than we. Men who have worked hard to produce books based on Bible truths to guide us through these years of transitioning from the faith of our fathers to the faith of our own soul.

Maybe you lost your way somewhere along the way and have lots of fields of wild oats to show for it. Maybe you stuck within the fold but had your own internal battle (that’s me). Wherever you’re coming from out of a childhood in conservative Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism, let me guide you to some resources that were a huge help for my journey.

  1. When People Are Big and God Is Smallby Ed Welch. Outside the Bible, this book has done more for my spiritual walk than any other. Growing up in churches where everyone seemed perfect, we bought into the mindset that we must always put on a good show. We have to please people. This book (and its shorter, teen-friendly version, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?) confronts our desire to be loved by others by presenting a God we can live for and a God who loves us. If you struggle with people-pleasing, as I so often do, I highly recommend this read.
  2. The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul. Lest we think we can abandon all the rules for riotous living, this book comes in to present a view of holiness that complements many of the principles our parents tried to teach us. Though rules may go too far at times, there is a very real Holy God whom we must fear. This book will encourage you to hate your sin, something we millennials could do more of.
  3. The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler. This Dallas-based pastor is the Spurgeon of our generation, I believe. He knows what it is like to be in a more conservative church. That’s where he ended up where he was first saved. Like his powerful sermons (which I encourage you to listen to), this book cuts through the clutter to get down to what the Gospel actually is. In a Christian culture that often gets tangled up in preferences and opinions, this book is a refreshing look at the good news of our salvation, even if you first embraced that at age 5.
  4. The Imperfect Discipleby Jared C. Wilson. Jared (can I call him Jared? He seems cool with that) also understands the conservative Christian background. He grew up in a church that sounded a lot like mine and wrestled with many of the same problems I did – our own imperfections in light of a holy God and holier-than-thou people. What’s the balance between remorse over our sin and joy in the Gospel? Jared strikes what I think is the ideal mix, with some hilarious anecdotes and self-deprecation thrown in there for good measure. An excellent read!
  5. God Is the Gospel, by John Piper. Pastor John can be a bit deep if you’re not used to such things. He’s an excellent wordsmith, and this book is well-worth the deep thought it requires. The thesis is interesting – the good news of the Gospel is a relationship with God, not the gifts He provides through it (forgiveness, freedom from guilt). A refreshing look at what we say we believe.
  6. Another religion’s sacred text. WHAT? Yeah, you heard me (er, read me). If you feel confident enough in your own faith and in the Jesus you love, go ahead and read something another religion has put out as truth. Read the opposition. Especially since we have been called to reach these people. If you have a lot of Hindu coworkers, ask them for a copy of their sacred scriptures to look over. If you feel a burden for atheists and agnostics, read Darwin or Hitchens or Dawkins. Does that seem crazy? Paul apparently kept up with the pagan poets of his day (see Acts 17). I’m not saying read these all the time exclusively. I’m saying you should read something from someone far outside Christianity that would not cause your conscience to stumble. I’ve read the Qur’an, and it has helped me in my own witnessing endeavors. Challenge your friend to read the Bible if you read their sacred book. When I was speaking to millennials our age in a majority-Muslim country, they were astonished that I had studied other religions. Such an idea is foreign to the way they grew up. How powerful it is for me to testify that I have studied the claims of other religions and even their books – and found them all unsatisfying and dark compared to the glory of my Jesus and His Word! One of the problems with our generation of believers is that we’ve been sheltered (for good reason) from much falsehood. Then when we finally encounter these ideas, we fall prey to lies. We were never taught how to stand and fight. I appreciate the work of apologists in our circle for encouraging us to consider our beliefs and be prepared with answers. May their tribe increase.
  7. (Seven is the number of perfection. I better stop here!) Colossians & Galatians, by the Apostle Paul the Holy Spirit. Yeah, I just did that. Of course, you should read the Bible in its entirety before you even think about any of these books. It is the Word of Life. That’s a given. But I would commend special study of these particular epistles. Both deal with some form of legalism springing up in a church. Colossians 2 has the answer for many of us struggling with overcoming sin coming out of a “do-right” culture. Galatians as a whole confronts both legalism and license (for that matter, check out Romans too). All the rest of these books will fade and go out of print. But the Bible will remain. Only its words can give life. I recommend these other books only on the basis that their contents will commend the truth of the Word of God (except #6 of course).

Take these recommendations with a grain of salt. I’m too young to be considered wise. But I know God has used these as part of my journey of faith. I hope you can find some help from them as well.