Few things stir my soul like reading biographies about the great saints of old. There is a palpable fervor for Christ found in them rarely heard or read today.
And this is way of Scripture is it not? Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Beholding the Christ-centered piety of saints gone by is powerful fuel for godly imitation.
Offering suggestions on Christian biography is like going to a mall (let the reader understand). Some people camp out in the same few stores, while neglecting almost every other merchant around. Others have the confidence to enter virtually any place. And of course there are some that have no interest in going to a mall!
If I fit any camp it would be the first; I tend to gravitate towards biographies in the 17th-19th centuries. Maybe it’s because I am an 18th century soul trapped in a 21st century body, but who knows.
Nevertheless, here are five biographies I believe will stir every pastor’s soul:
Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. If you read the Reformers often you know that much of their writings are recapitulations of Augustine. It’s simply impossible to understand Reformation theology apart from Augustinian theology. But Augustine wasn’t just a timeless theologian; he also was a human being with an utterly fascinating life. I doubt anyone in my lifetime will improve on Brown’s work. It is simply masterful.
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton. Bainton’s work is a classic in every way, shape, and form. Is there anyone more entertaining in church history than Luther? Probably not. And few men have been more pivotal in the life of God’s church than German monk. This book will not only orient you to a legendary life, but also a legendary time period that forever changed the world.
Calvin by Bruce Gordon. So, yes, Calvin doesn’t have the flair of Luther, but he’s got ardor to boot. Gordon recounts the ups and downs (there were many) of the Genevan reformer with an able hand. I find this biography to be essential because Calvin is so easily misconstrued in popular perspective. Sure Calvin had some warts – don’t we all? – and Gordon doesn’t shy away from them, but he uncovers a life of piety and truth that will challenge any Christian.
Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden. If I had to pick one biography this would be it. Marsden captures the genius of Edwards with prose that regularly shines. His life is also quite interesting; I mean, how is it that the greatest mind America has ever produced was actually fired from his church? This work will tell you that and much more. But the lasting value, I think, will be conviction regarding this man’s pursuit of godliness. It is deeply humbling and inspiring.
Spurgeon: An Autobiography (Vol. 1: Vol. 2) by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. There are great biographies on CHS, but why not hear it from the man’s own mouth? If anyone can compete with Luther in flair of personality, it’s Spurgeon. The two volumes will make you laugh, cry, think, and praise. The Prince of Preacher’s life offers unique encouragement for today’s pastors in matters of zeal for soul-winning and faith during suffering.
To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson. I think missionary biographies lift our heart for the nations in ways few other resources can. Read the life of Judson and find yourself marveling at one man’s perseverance through incredible hardship.
John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken. The slave-trader turned preacher and hymn-writer is as compelling a testimony to God’s powerful grace as you can find.