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Christian books aimed at teenagers are very hit and miss. I read plenty as a teenager which were essentially self-help books with a few out-of-context Bible verses thrown in. It was refreshing, then, to read Lindsey Carlson’s excellent book Growing in Godliness: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Maturing in Christ. There aren’t too many books for youth out there that are helpful and biblical, but this is one of them (see more here).
Based on my past experiences, I had a few wishes when I picked up this book. For this review I’ll focus on examining how Carlson’s words stack up against these expectations.
When I say biblical, I mean thoroughly grounded in biblical theology, not plucking out feel-good verses to suit the message. Carlson clearly loves the Bible. The very first chapter of the book grounds our growth in godliness in storyline of Bible— covering original sin, redemption in Christ and the gradual restoration of his image, looking ahead to the perfection we’ll enjoy in eternity.
The Bible forms the basis for all Carlson’s arguments. In the first part of the book, she calls teenagers to live for their true purpose in life. We don’t determine this purpose based on our hobbies, skills, or ambitions. Rather, Carlson makes it clear that teenager should be striving for the same thing as any other Christian: "God's purpose for your life is to bring him glory in all you do" (p. 30).
Although the book is robustly biblical, Carlson also knows her audience well. She writes in an accessible tone and uses illustrations that will resonate with teenage girls. There’s a box at the end of each chapter which has a helpful summary sentence and application points. To help teens live out what the book is teaching them, the application is varied—there’s always a question to ask, an action step to identify, a Scripture passage to write, and words to pray.
Carlson teaches her readers to rely upon God rather than themselves, but this doesn’t mean she panders to the low expectations people tend to have of teenagers. They don’t get a free pass to sin simply because they’re young. Carlson emphasises the importance of pursuing holiness, even though it’s a journey that will take a lifetime. Any teenager reading this book will be encouraged that they can have a serious, growing faith.
This call to take teenagers seriously could degenerate into worldly messages like “chase your dream” and “take charge of your own destiny”. Carlson rejects these lies. Her message is distinctly countercultural: "Growing in godliness requires you first and foremost to stop following your heart" (p. 100). The middle section of the book describes the three tools God gives teenagers to pursue godliness. As for all Christians, these are Bible reading, prayer, and church membership. She doesn’t lower the bar for young people, as if they can’t understand the Bible or participate in church life.
Reading this book was helpful to me as a youth group leader. It reminded me of some of the struggles of being a teenage girl. Clearly I’m getting old, if I’ve forgotten what that was like! It’s easy for me to think that teenagers have no idea what real suffering is—but this book encouraged me to step into their shoes, notice the pain and confusion they face, and meet them with empathy instead of dismissal.
The chapter on emotions was particularly helpful. Instead of just insisting that teens must overcome their emotions themselves, Carlson gently shows how emotions help us to see the real problem underneath: our hearts. When we do the hard work bringing our hearts to God for transformation, our feelings will reflect and glorify God more and more. Going forward, I believe this book will equip me to help teens navigate their emotions in a way that honours God.
Growing in Godliness is a fantastic resource for any teenager who follows Jesus. They can read it alone and work through the application at the end of each chapter. Or they could link up with a friend, parent, or mentor to discuss it together. I’ll certainly be passing it along to my youth group kids. It’s even a great read for those (like myself) who aren’t teenagers. Carlson will help you to better understand how to help the youth in your life to grow in godliness.