Summer Reading Recommendations in Biblical Studies for Teenagers and the Adults Who Love Them

We’ve probably all had those students who sense a growing passion for God’s Word—and then head off to a liberal academic institution, where we know they will hear things that threaten to rattle their confidence in Scripture. Even at Christian colleges, biblical studies departments can be theologically liberal. As youth pastors and parents, we have an opportunity to help shape students’ beliefs about the Bible early on, inspiring their love for God and His Word and their confidence in the text. Offering suggested biblical studies resources is one simple way we can contribute to the discipleship of students who are already growing in this regard. Here are my top recommendations for thoughtful students of the Word.

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Doug Stuart and Gordon Fee

Every Christian should read this book, and if possible, have it permanently on his or her shelf as a reference. The authors offer foundational wisdom to understanding and applying the biblical text according to its various genres. Stuart and Fee write in easy-to-digest language that will be readily understood by both students and adults. (Their second volume, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour, is a great reference, too. I often refer to it when crafting a Bible study series or trying to recall details about a biblical book’s original setting.)

The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund P. Clowney

Edmund Clowney and Meredith Kline are the greats of Old Testament biblical theology. While Kline is a bit more difficult to read, Clowney is very accessible for younger readers. The Unfolding Mystery is his seminal work, and a must read. (There’s a good reason why Tim Keller so often quotes him.) Students reading this book will journey with Clowney through the Old Testament, making New Covenant connections to the gospel of Christ crucified and risen as they go. Think of it a bit like The Jesus Storybook Bible for an older audience!

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Speaking of the JSB (as we affectionately call it in my youth group), this is another book I hope that Christians will read and own. I’ve found that students come to love it for themselves when I have them read it with younger children on our summer mission trips. I also unabashedly read from it sometimes in a youth group lesson to illustrate a point. For students who are interested in deeper Bible study, encourage them to read this book devotionally, learning how to make connections between the Old Testament and the New. Similar resources to help students capture the big Story of Scripture in simple terms include Carl Lafferton’s The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again, and Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden. Far from feeling patronized by these resources, I have found that students appreciate learning to tell the Story of Scripture in a simple way. This biblical-theological approach helps to answer some of their own questions about how Old and New Testaments fit together.

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither: Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters, ed. Charles Halton

Questions of the interplay between science and faith loom large for our high schoolers, and this is a book that can help them get their bearings. Although it introduces some theories Christian parents and youth pastors may not be excited about students hearing, I would argue it’s far more helpful for students to see the full range of how Christians integrate their faith and academics, rather than waiting for them to hear about these perspectives from a less trusted source. This book would be best read with a parent, youth pastor, or spiritual mentor providing discussion and guidance. 

Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters by Carmen Joy Imes

Named a finalist in Old Testament studies for the Biblical Foundations Book Award in 2019, this readable work provides a foundational look at the Exodus narrative. As a college professor, Imes nails the communication style that high schoolers and college students will find engaging as she translates her dissertation into this more popularized work. Peppering her narrative account of Exodus with real-life illustrations and personal examples, she connects the story of Israel to the life of Christ and the calling of his followers. Her analysis of what it means to bear the name of Yahweh is brilliant—and it’s stated in a way that students will be able to apply this truth to their daily lives.

The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament World by Bruce Longenecker (with extracts from Ben Witherington III)

This work of historical fiction was required reading for a New Testament interpretation course I took in seminary, and I can’t wait to recommend it to my students as we study Luke’s Gospel in the upcoming school year. The author leads readers into the New Testament world, offering cultural context that helps to explain why Luke might have written his account of Jesus’ earthly ministry (drawing on his own remarks in Luke 1:1-4). Providing insight into the culture of honor, shame, hospitality, and patronage, Longenecker helps to show how first century people would have come to believe in the God Luke revealed through His writing. The historical details are thoughtfully presented and the story is compelling, captivating imaginations to appreciate the complexities of the world Jesus and his earliest followers inhabited.

Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams

In this little volume, Tyndale House Principal Peter Williams seeks to answer the question so many students (and adults) ask about the four Gospels. Using such details as the names, geographical locations, and even nuances like average annual rainfall, Williams shows that the Gospel writers must have been eye-witness sources. For example, he correlates the percentage of the names used in Scripture with the names used in other literature of the time, and finds that the percentages are stunningly similar! Students will be dazzled by this unique take on the trustworthiness of the Gospel accounts, giving them confidence when naysayers attempt to convince them otherwise.

For auditory learners, or if you’re searching for clips to use in a teaching series on biblical reliability, check out Williams’ Tyndale lecture on the same topic. If you’re looking for a book that can be shared with students more broadly, Barry Coopers pamphlet Can I Really Trust the Bible? from the Questions Christians Ask series is a wonderful resource. We do a teaching series on the reliability of Scripture twice in each four-year cycle of high school curriculum, and I’ve given this readable book to every student in our group. Still, for those with the acumen to go deeper, Williams’ explanations are especially insightful.

The New Bible Dictionary (IVP), ed. I. Howard Marshall

While not true summer reading material, this would make a great graduation or “leaving home” gift. This reference work allows students and adults to easily look up unfamiliar objects, locations, and terms to learn their significance in the ancient world. For example, the entry on shepherds describes the nuances of keeping sheep, noting where this image comes up in biblical poetry as well as in narrative. I purchased this volume as a college student for personal Bible study and have relied on it heavily since then for preaching and teaching.

As you walk with students who are excited about studying God’s Word in more depth, I pray these resources will draw you and them to cherish Jesus, the Living Word, even more. I encourage you to consider some of these recommendations for your own summer reading list as you answer the high calling of teaching God’s Word to His people.

Please see also our Summer Reading Recommendations on Christ and the Trinity Through the Eyes of the Early Church Fathers.

Chelsea is Editor of Youth Ministry Content and the Director of Publishing for Rooted. She previously served as a youth pastor in New England churches for 13 years. She and her husband, Steve, live north of Boston and are parents to Wells and Emmett. Chelsea holds an M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where she is currently pursuing a Master of Theology (Th.M.) in Old Testament Studies. She is passionate about teaching teenagers biblical theology and helping them learn to study Scripture for themselves.

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