I have enjoyed reading Christian biography ever since the Lord saved me my freshmen year of college. To put it in perspective, I have been a Christian for a little less than ten years and have read (or listened to) forty-three biographies. Reading Christian biography is a discipline that I have cultivated, and this is not without reason.
God has used Christian biography to stir my affections for Christ. And, as I heard Matt Chandler say many years ago, find whatever stirs your affections for Christ and keep doing it. Therefore, I pick up different Christian biographies throughout the year and let the Lord minister to my soul as I read about His dealings with other Christians throughout history.
With that said, what I want to do now is list out five reasons why I enjoy reading Christian biography. After I lay out the five reasons, I will recommend some Christian biographies that you may be interested in.
Christian Biography Demonstrates the Cost of Discipleship
Though salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, a life of discipleship, of following Jesus, will cost you everything. In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus said:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Just as Peter denied, completely disassociated himself, with Jesus later on in Matthew’s gospel, so the disciple of Jesus must deny, completely disassociate, with himself. He must realize that Christ “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15). This is what Christ demands of those who follow him.
And as one reads Christian biographies, they begin to see what this looks like. The lives of individuals like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Whitefield, Judson, and Spurgeon allow us to see that faithfully following the Lord Jesus Christ comes with a cost. More importantly, they allow us to clearly see that a life of denying self for the purpose of living for the fame of Christ is completely worth it!
Christian Biography Reveals God’s Providence
The 1689 Baptist Confession defines God’s providence as:
God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.
That is one amazing sentence. This confession goes on to say, “As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof.” As you can tell, this is a comforting doctrine.
However, God’s providential governance is mysterious to us. After something happens, we often times do not know how God is disposing all things for our good. We cannot immediately trace God’s hand to see all the good that He is bringing about out of suffering, hardship, pain, difficulty, and even death. Most of the purposes in his providential dealings with us are not able to be discerned until much later on in our lives. Therefore, during these times of difficulty, we have to trust God’s heart even though we cannot trace His hand.
Though this is the case for us individually, Christian biographies reveal God’s providential dealings with His children. As we read about the lives of these individuals, we are able to see how God disposes all things (suffering, hardship, pain, difficulty, and even death) for the good of His people. Simply put, in Christian biography we are actually able to trace God’s hand as He worked ALL things for the good of the Christians we are reading about (Rom 8:28).
Christian Biography Shows God’s Patience
There are no great Christians. The Christians you read about in Christian biographies would not have said that they are great Christians. They would have said, with John Newton, that they are great sinners and that Christ is a great Savior. This is what makes Christian biographies so fascinating. These men and women battle their sinful flesh by the power of the Spirit, humbly cast themselves upon God, and God patiently deals with them as a loving Father.
Let’s be honest, none of us would have patiently dealt with Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin. As we look into our heart of hearts, we see that we are prone to be impatient and quick to get frustrated. This is not the case with God! Even in the midst of His children’s weaknesses, He is patient with them. Very few things reveal the loving patience of our God as an extensive Christian biography that probes the infirmities of one of our heroes in the faith. As we see this, our hope is stengthened in knowing that the God that was patient with them is the same God that is patient with us.
Christian Biography Displays Christian Living
If you are anything like me then you are well aware that gaining proper theological knowledge is much easier than living a practically godly life! I can read a whole book on a certain theological topic and not be any godlier. Though this is a sad reality, I think that it is understandable.
You see, we not only have a hard time living a godly life because our sinful flesh wages war against us; we also have a hard time living a godly life because we do not know how to apply the theological knowledge that we do have. Christian biographies can help us with this.
For example, I know what the Bible says about marriage. I know the theme of marriage throughout the Bible. However, I don’t always treat my wife in a manner that reflects the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Honestly, I don’t always know how to treat my wife in a manner that reflects the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Then, as I read about Charles Spurgeon and Susanna Spurgeon, I see how Spurgeon treated his wife. I see how he spoke, lead, wrote, and loved his wife. In reading this, I am learning how my theology should be applied. I am gleaning how to live a practically godly life in light of the theological knowledge that I have.
Christian Biography Gives Ideas for Good Works
In Titus 2:14, Paul gives us three purposes for Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Christ gave himself for us in order to: 1) redeem us from all lawlessness, 2) purify us, 3) make us zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). I think the last purpose that is mentioned, to make us zealous for good works, is often forgotten. We, as a redeemed people, are to relentlessly devote ourselves to good works that will bring honor to God.
This is something that certain brothers and sisters of ours throughout history understood. They were zealous for good works. Seriously, there would not be biographies written about them if they weren’t zealous for good works! Who wants to read about a half-hearted slothful Christian that lived a bulk of his life for himself? Nobody! But who wants to read about a Spirit empowered Christian filled with fervor and zeal that joyfully spent his life making Christ famous? Everybody!
And as Christians in the 21st century, we can look at all of their good works and get ideas. We can see particular ways they served the Lord and think through what that might look like in our own lives.
Christian Biographies I’ve Enjoyed
Biographies of Missionaries
- To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
Biographies of Pastors
- Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold A. Dallimore
- Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland h. Bainton
- John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken
Biographies of Ladies
- Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr.
- Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior
- Katherina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk by Michelle DeRusha
Extensive (Auto)Biographie–(not for the faint of heart)!
- Charles Spurgeon Autobiography (2 Volume Set) by Charles Spurgeon
- George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth Century Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 by Arnold Dallimore