We’ll miss Mr. Matthew Anderson as he takes off on a very much deserved vacation this weekend. The way Matt pulled off GodBlogCon is inspiring. I’m proud to call him one of my friends.

He had a great list of the top five books for college students. I will mimic his approach in picking five books that have deeply impacted me in my college experience, but which are still accessible. I too went through a great books program and here’s what I’d give as a list for those preparing for college: both for the spiritual challenges as well as the intellectual ones. And, free of charge, I’ll throw in a few music recommendations! Most college kids spend about as much time listening to music as reading, so I find this very relevant.

1) Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy. It’s a bit of a tough read, but struggling through it cultivates virtue in itself! Dr. Willard not only provides a comprehensive vision of the Christian ethic, he more importantly gives a great example of how to read the Bible. People these days just can’t read the Bible. I’ll avoid ranting about this, but I heard a sermon given by a professor of Bible at a Christian college two weeks ago that grossly misinterpreted Jesus’ Beatitudes. If this kind of guy can’t read the Bible who can? Well, Willard provides a model worthy of study. The Christian life is so very beautiful and this analysis of the sermon on the mount uncovers it.

2) JP Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind. This is a simple book written by one of the best Christian philosophers around. Moreland gives some basic apologetic arguments and reveals some problems in the contemporary evangelical church. It will light a fire in those who understand it to do battle in the world of ideas for Jesus.

3) Augustine’s Confessions. My wife and I took a group of high schoolers through it this summer, so I have to agree with Matt on this point. It would be quite difficult for one not used to hard reading, but it is a beautiful text. It’s not hard to identify with Augustine’s struggles if one has any degree of honesty about the state of his or her soul. Augustine’s brutal honesty and consideration of the goodness and mercy of God make it at once intensely convicting and hope-inspiring. I wrote my senior thesis arguing for unity on this book. One of my conclusions is that the Confessions are written in such a way that Augustine intends the first “easy” 9 books as a mere set up for the last four. I doubt a pre-college student could understand 10-13, but pushing through would be highly rewarding because all the good stuff is in there. The Bible is more wonderful than we realize, but Augustine got it.

4) Poetry. There has to be some poetry in here because there needs to be language that sticks with you. I think Four Quartets is not appropriate for young or pre-college types because it is not accessible, whatever the venerable Mr. Anderson might say. Beautiful and profound? Yes. Readable. No. Dante is too ephemeral and deep to be a first. Milton is probably more understandable for the typical evangelical pre-intellectual! So I’ll go with Milton’s Paradise Lost.

5) Doestoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. This is very readable and gets after a number of the Great Ideas, including justice and love. It is deeply depressing and difficult at times, but this should serve to push the reader to introspect and seek for genuine relationship. It also reveals the sickness bred by secularism. Raskolnikov is easy to identify with for an idealistic, passionate person. Hopefully, seeing the depths of wretchedness his worldview throws him into will at once create revulsion at atheism/secularism and will aim one’s passions at the eternal ends of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

BONUS FEATURE: Music recommendations.
1) Get yourself accustomed to classical music as quickly as possible! Once you love classical music you will never abandon Beauty and you will know ugliness for what it truly is. Learning to like it is quite difficult. I used to think it was for days when there was lots of noise and it would help me get to sleep. This is dead wrong. It has to be attended to. A musical background will move one forward by leaps and bounds, but the discipline to start loving that which is clearly beautiful is worth any amount of difficulty. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, Handel’s Water Music, and Mozart’s Piano Concertos are great places to start. The Water Music is my very favorite piece in the world at the moment! It conveys such a range of emotions and utilizes every type of instrument and each part fits into the whole so perfectly.

2) When you have to listen to rock you can’t go too wrong with U2 and Switchfoot. Both of them are committed to writing excellent music and they both offer clever, sometimes brilliant lyrics. U2’s All that You can’t Leave Behind is fantastic. Switchfoot’s Meant to Live will change your life if you let it.

Posted by Andrew Selby

  • Great suggestions, Anrew! Two thoughts:

    On the Confessions–One thing to keep in mind is that Augustine is smarter than you are. A lot of what he says sure looks stupid at first glance. It’s not. He may be right, he may be wrong, but he’s brilliant. If he doesn’t make sense (and a lot of it won’t, even in the “easy” books) it’s just that you don’t get it yet. But if you read him with a healthy dose of intellectual humility, you will grow immesurably.

    On music–It’s true that it’s important to carefully attend to music, and I used to think that was the only legitimate way to listen to music. But my explorations in the philosophy of music have convinced me that there is also an important and legitimate role for background music. The music that goes on in the background, forming “the soundtrack to your life” as it were, has a tremendously formative effect on your soul. So my advice would be to listen critically to a wide variety of excellent music, but be very, very, selective in what you simply have going in the background. Choose background music with characteristics that you want to develop in your own soul. For instance, Bach’s fugues and inventions are great for infusing your day with a sense of order and structure, while Beethoven’s emotional depth would be really good for a Spock-like character. And if you’d like a little more angst in your life, Shoenberg’s your man.

  • Yeah, I can’t work and listen to Beethoven at the same time… his music is too interesting and emotional. I need to get Mozart or Bach.

  • Come, now, Mr. Selby. 4 Quartets not accessible? Then perhaps Choruses from ‘The Rock’ (not available online)?

  • Thanks for the music suggestions.