High school graduation is quickly approaching, which means that the often stressful quest for high school graduation gifts has, for many, all ready begun. Others of you are now panicking because the last sentence (or the article title) made you realize that you’ve forgotten to buy a gift for So-And-So. If you’re in either situation, then sit back and relax for a moment. Take a deep breath. You haven’t been left alone. You aren’t hung out to dry. To the contrary, you’re reading an article written with you (just you) in mind. As if that’s not good enough news, the best news is that you are in a position to buy an inexpensive gift (let’s face it–that’s a plus), have all of your graduation shopping done in approximately 10 minutes from right now (an even bigger plus), and that your efforts could change the lives of the high school graduates you know forever (an incredible plus) and call attention to the greatness and glory of God in the Person of Jesus (the biggest plus).
Sound good? I thought so.
So, first things first. Let’s talk options.
High School Graduation Gifts: The Usual Suspects
There are, of course, classics: the commemorative Christmas ornament (can someone truly be considered a graduate without one?), the rubber ducky in cap and gown, and the inspirational paperweight. There are also the bank-breaking gifts, all of which are useful and some of which may actually be “essential” in certain circumstances: a laptop, a car, or even a cell phone with a gashing monthly payment.
A Road Less Traveled
So far, I’ve gone down a road less traveled. I give books, and I’m recommending that you do the same. Now, I’m not advocating a “book-only” policy, as I certainly won’t always limit myself to giving books (I’m sure I’ll buy my children laptops or whatever device has replaced the laptop 14 years from now!). I’m just determined never to exclude books when giving high school graduation gifts. In fact, if I had it my way, I would build expansive libraries for each junior high and high school student I shepherd because I’m convinced that a Christ-centered library is an absolute treasure, affording its owner the immeasurable blessing of being functionally mentored by some of the godliest people who have ever lived. My budget, however, doesn’t seem to share my desire to build an entire library for each of my students. This, of course, dramatically increases the importance of giving books that are overflowing with the exaltation of Christ. As such, I’ve carefully chosen the following books to give to each of the 2013 graduating seniors at Sylvania Church. You’ll notice that I’ve listed 6 of them, which may sound like a lot, but, again, when considering the value of a Christ-centered library, 6 sounds terribly minuscule.
Of course, I’m not so naive to think that every student is going to read every book, but I’m determined not to be guilty of failing to equip them. And, truthfully, if they read one of these books, I’d be deeply encouraged.
My Class of 2013 Book List.
Let me begin by stating the obvious: if a student doesn’t have his or her own copy of the Bible, then make it your goal to change that. The ESV Study Bible is far and away my favorite. If you’re planning to give one away, contact Crossway, the publisher of the ESV Study Bible, directly, as they discount their books beginning at 40% (the percentage increases in proportion to the quantity) if they know they will be given away. Keep this in mind as you read this list of books, as many of them are published by Crossway and may be eligible for this discount.
On that note, I’ve listed current prices for each book I recommend, but there is obviously no guarantee as to how long those prices will last.
Now, with introductions aside, here’s the list. Taking for granted that a student his or her own copy of the Bible, the first book on the list is probably the most important one. The rest are in no particular order, although #’s 2, 3, and 4 may actually be positioned in accordance with their immediate value to high school graduates.
In my 2 and a half years of serving on resident staff at Pine Cove Christian Camps, we interviewed approximately 3,000 college students who (1) claimed to be Christians and (2) were interested in devoting their summer to providing, among other things, biblical instruction to elementary, junior high, and/or high school students. The interview guide we used was four pages long and consisted a wide variety of questions.
Of all the questions in the guide, one in particular resulted in our inability to hire college students, even many who attend Christian colleges, more so than any other. The question?
“How can a person be made right with God?” Stated differently, “What is the Gospel?”
Here are the two most common answers I remember receiving:
- “A person is made right with God by keeping His commandments.” This is unequivocally not the Gospel. In fact, it utterly belittles the necessity of the cross of Christ (Gal. 2:21) and reveals that the person is an unbeliever (Gal. 3:10).
- “What do you mean ‘Gospel?’” This is stunning. Beyond misunderstanding of the Gospel, many students we interviewed had apparently never heard the word Gospel. Ironically (and sadly), the university we recognized as most plagued by unfamiliarity with the word Gospel was allegedly Christian! As I type this now, I can’t escape Paul’s words to the church at Rome: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in himÂ of whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14). The answer is, “They can’t.”
Hence, the importance of this book. Do you know for certain how the high school graduates you know would answer the question, “What is the Gospel?” Since knowing, trusting, and obeying the Gospel is life or death, find time to ask them about it. Be equipped to explain it to them and to help them understand it. Of course, if you’re not sure what the Gospel is or how to explain it, then buy a copy of What is the Gospel? for yourself and the graduates you know, so that you can learn and talk through it together.
I’m convinced that What is the Gospel? is one of (if not the) most important high school graduation gifts you will ever give. In fact, it may the most important book a graduate will ever read outside of the Bible itself simply because of the incredible accuracy and clarity with which it presents the single most important message in the history of the world: the biblical Gospel of Jesus.
You can find it here for $8.96, or 31% off.
NOTE: For a very quick and very good online introduction to the Gospel, check out Two Ways to Live by Matthias Media.
One-to-One Bible Reading is the most incredibly practical book for learning how to study the Bible personally and also with others. Imagine with me that the graduates you know are not only equipped to study the Bible for themselves, but also to do so with others. Hmm. Yes. Sounds like the Great Commission to me.
You can find it here for $5.99, which is 25% off.
The functional “Cliff’s Notes” of Mark Dever’sÂ IX Marks of a Healthy Church, What is a Healthy Church? is a question that most high school graduates will have to answer just three short months after graduation. The question is, “Are they prepared to do so?” I know of no other book (other than the full version, that is) that answers this question more biblically, thoughtfully, readably, or winsomely than this one.
You can find itÂ hereÂ for $8.54, which is 34% off (what’s with the seemingly random percentages? I don’t know, but I’ll take them if it means saving money!).
Thriving at College seemingly has a mile-long list of incredibly strong endorsements by men like Albert Mohler, Tedd Tripp, Jerry Bridges, Douglas Wilson, Russell Moore, Tullian Tchividjian, Bruce Ware, Michael Horton, Randy Alcorn, Gene Veith, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Burk Parsons, and Steve Wright. If the fact that it’s endorsed by these men doesn’t sell you on the book, the publisher’s description should do the trick.
Translation: You should buy this book. :)Â It even has a small group leader’s guide if you’d like to study through it with your graduate(s).
You can find here for $6.00, or 60% off, although the site says supplies are limited.Â I just ordered 15 of them, so I suppose supplies are nowÂ really limited.
After hearing Kevin DeYoung preach a portion of this book, which at the time had not yet been published, I knew it would be an instant classic. And it is. The Hole in Our Holiness provides wonderful clarity to an issue that easily muddies in the brain: the relationship between (1) my responsibility to persevere in faith and obedience to God and (2) God’s commitment to preserve me. The book provides a sound beating both to our tendency toward legalism, the belief that holiness earns God’s favor, and our tendency toward licentiousness, the belief that holiness doesn’t matter.
You can find it here for $14.39, which is 20% off.
I know, I know. I’m all ready giving books by both of these guys, but it’s not my fault. They’re the ones writing the fantastic books, so blame it on them. :)
As for the book itself, the subtitle gives away its aim: “Making sense of social justice, shalom, and the Great Commission.” Regarding their success at accomplishing this “mission” (no pun intended… okay, maybe a little bit), D.A. Carson writes, “Among the many books that have recently appeared on mission, this is the best one if you are looking for sensible definitions, clear thinking, readable writing, and the ability to handle the Bible.” Why, yes, Dr. Carson. I am looking for those things. Moreover, I think high school graduates (and, of course, the rest of us) need those things in light of the widely (and often dangerously) misunderstood relationship between social justice and the Great Commission.
If you are, too, then you can find the book here for $6.40, or 40% off. Nice!
Other Books I Love to Give Graduates.
The above are some of my favorite high school graduation gifts to give, but they are not the only ones I ever give. Here are some of the others that I love to build into the libraries of high school graduates, and, as above, I’ve included links to great deals on them:
- How to Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski. $10.43, or 35% off. Another excellent book for soon-to-be college students with quality on par with Thriving at College by Alex Chediak. The difference in approach. Whereas Chediak addresses a smaller number of issues more thoroughly, Budziszewski addresses a larger number of issues more generally.
- Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. $6.50, or 41% off. Have you ever noticed that many Christians fret over God’s specific will for their lives? Have you ever noticed that no one in the Bible ever does that? This book explains what they understood about the will of God that we might miss today.
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. $31.48, or 37% off. My favorite systematic theology. It even has a built-in study guide. Sweet!
- Knowing God by J.I. Packer. $12.87, or 29% off. A truly stunning treatment of the attributes of God.
- Desiring God by John Piper.Â $13.34, or 11% off. The most important book I’ve read outside of the Bible itself. Deep, but worth it.
- Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper. $11.38, or 33% off. The best book on missions since the close of the New Testament canon.
- The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever. $8.89, or 11% off. Addresses excuses. Explains the biblical mandate. Equips for action.
- Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible edited by James White and Don Kistler. A relatively short, but potent book explaining what the Bible says about itself.
- Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame. $13.26, or 22% off. The most thoroughly biblical treatment of the so-called “problem of evil” that I’ve ever read.
- The Reason for God by Timothy Keller.Â $11.48, or 28% off. A modern classic in the realm of apologetics. Incredibly well-done.
- The New Testament Manuscripts: Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce. In this book, F.F. Bruce, one of the foremost textual critics in the world, exposes the folly of the suggestion that the Bible cannot be trusted. It’s not a light read, but it is a good one.
- Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ by Darrell Bock & Daniel Wallace. Answers some of the more common modern objections to Christianity.
One Final Gift I Always Give.
Every graduate at Sylvania Church gets 11 Ways to Keep Loving Jesus After High School Graduation, a one-page article (longer with footnotes, but the main content is about a page) that briefly address 11 lies college students must reject and 11 truths they must believe in order to keep loving Jesus. I encourage you to give that article to the graduates you know because I’m convinced that it addresses some of the most critical issues they are virtually sure to face in college and even points them to some of the best resources available for further study and exploration.
What Did I Miss?
What books do you like to give graduates? I’d love your thoughts in the comments below.