15 Christian Biographies
Biographies, as I mentioned earlier this week, act as formative blueprints for life. They provide a structure and example of what Christian life can look like, when we see the lives of others. When I recommended reading biographies, I provided five ways in which they serve as a blueprint for life. Today, I want to supplement those five ways with fifteen recommended biographies. Each of these biographies introduces you to one or more influential Christians who demonstrate faithful service to God.
While I don’t believe that we should limit ourselves to Christian biographies (we should also read the stories of great leaders in the secular world), it is the stories of fellow Christians that are most edifying, and that I am most acquainted with. Of course, this is by no means a list of the best or only biographies; it is simply a sampling from my own reading diet! I hope you will peruse this list and pick up some of these books to edify yourself with!
The Confessions (Augustine of Hippo) – One of the earliest Christian biographies that you can read is Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions. Written in the form of a prayer, the book chronicles the experience of Augustine in his journey from heresy and unbelief to faith and Christian orthodoxy. While Augustine was a man of his times (holding to some extra-Biblical beliefs), God used him powerfully to confute the heresy of Pelagianism. Jerome said that he “established anew the ancient faith,” and many reformers appreciated his views on man’s natural condition and God’s grace.
John Calvin – Man of the Millennium (Philip Vollmer) – John Calvin had a profound influence, not only on the Protestant Church, but on world history. This biography even suggests that he was among the most influential men in the second millennium AD. Calvin originally aimed for a life of sequestered study, far from the tumults of the world, but God had another plan for him – the establishment of Geneva as a center of reformed faith. Calvin is perhaps one of the most misunderstood characters in church history, and while this book is perhaps excessively laudatory, is does provide a solid biographical sketch of this remarkable figure.
The Scots Worthies (John Howie) – While I still anticipate reading this book, I’ve been fascinated for years by the history of Reformation in Scotland. The Scottish church had a long and bloody reformation, not only against the Roman Catholic institution, but also against the British crown, which was determined to force its version of worship on the pious and free-spirited Covenanters. This history provides numerous shorter biographies of the most famous Scottish Christians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Fair Sunshine: Character Studies of the Scottish Covenanters (Jock Purves) – While smaller than The Scots Worthies, this book also provides chapter-long biographical sketches of the most eminent Scottish ministers. The book is written in an almost lyrical, poetic manner, and it brings out in beautiful words the sufferings of the Scottish church for her Lord.
George Whitefield (Arnold Dallimore) – This two-volume biography is the biography on George Whitefield, the famous evangelist of the Great Awakening. While Whitefield is often passed over in favor of the Wesley brothers, he had a profound influence on the greatest revival of the eighteenth century. This biography was tremendously influential in my own life, and I highly recommend it!
A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (George Marsden) – Edwards is possibly the greatest theologian that America ever produced, and this accessible biography shows the human aspect of him. While this colonial pastor was a deep thinker and devoted scholar, his life reveals the challenges and triumphs of ministry in colonial America, in the midst of the tumult of the Great Awakening.
Diary and Journal of David Brainerd (David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards) – Though he only lived a short life, Brainerd was on fire for Jesus Christ. He devoted himself to a life of missionary service to the Native Americans of the eastern seaboard; after his death, Jonathan Edwards published his diary and journal, which has been a challenge and encouragement to thousands. While I’ve not yet read this book, it is described by some as one of the most edifying books that will challenge you to zealous service for the Lord Jesus.
God Sent Revival: The Story of Asahel Nettleton and the Second Great Awakening (J. F. Thornbury) – You’ve probably never heard of Asahel Nettleton, but he was a powerful minister of the Gospel during the Second Great Awakening. While the Second Great Awakening is well known for its charismatic abuses, not all of the Awakening was tainted by these follies; as this book explains, much of it was a powerful movement of God. I think you will enjoy delving into the story of this little-known minister who faithfully served God in New England.
To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson (Courtney Anderson) – I’ve already highlighted this book before, an epic account of one of the first overseas American missionaries. Judson went through numerous trials and tribulations as he brought the gospel to Burma (modern-day Myanmar), and this book certainly does his story justice. Admittedly, the author has taken some ‘artistic license’ in rounding out the account – be forewarned. However, I still feel that it is valuable, and one of my favorites.
John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides (John Paton) – When John Paton determined to bring the Gospel to the New Hebrides, a remote south Pacific island chain, he was practically signing his death warrant. The isles were inhabited by bloodthirsty cannibals who had killed and devoured previous missionaries. Astonishingly, Paton survived and ministered to these rejected peoples. This autobiography contains his story, including his multiple near brushes with death. It’s a powerful testament to God’s ability to protect His people.
The Life and Labors of George Muller (Mrs. Muller) – Muller’s story is a life of faith and the faithfulness of God. The German-born missionary determined to travel to London to serve as a missionary to British Jews, but in the end, God used him to start orphanages that served thousands of children. The story of Muller’s childlike faith is only surpassed by the story of God’s paternal provision. In addition, this book contains valuable excerpts by Muller on his views of money and possessions – an important theme in his life of faith.
Behind the Ranges: The Life-Changing Story of J. O. Fraser (Geraldine Taylor) – Working at the beginning of the 20th century, J. O. Fraser’s story is one of a life spent preaching the Gospel. Fraser experienced tremendous challenges – often in his own soul – before he finally saw the work of God triumph. Working in the distant regions of the country, Frazer devoted his life to serving the Lisu people, a society that was plunged in devil-worship and depravity.
Tread Upon the Lion: The Story of Tommie Titcombe (Sophie de la Haye) – Another missionary of the early 20th century, Titcombe was determined to bring the Gospel to Africa, even when missionary boards would not accept him. In the end, he succeeded in planting a healthy church in Yagbaland, an animistic region of modern-day Nigeria.
The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Ian Murray) – Lloyd-Jones originally entered medicine, not the ministry. Yet in the end, God used him to heal diseased souls, as one of the most powerful Christian influences in the British Isles during the 20th century. I just recently acquired this book, and I can’t wait to learn more about Lloyd Jones. Ian Murray is a prominent Christian biographer, and Lloyd-Jones writings are clear, biblical, and practical for modern life.
The Bible or the Axe: One Man’s Dramatic Escape from Persecution in the Sudan (William Levi) – South Sudan, one of the newest nations of the world, was once oppressed by the Muslim dictatorship of Sudan. William Levi’s autobiography describes the challenges and persecutions that many of our fellow Christians face throughout the world. I’ve had the pleasure to meet Mr. Levi several times, and appreciate his ministry to South Sudan, Operation Nehemiah Missions.