Whereas Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin and Dr. Sean Michael Lucas have already given a list of their nine favorite/most influential biographies and whereas biographies are my favorite genre of books to read, I have also provided a list, albeit of eleven, of my favorite Christian biographies. These biographies are not only my favorites (in terms of enjoyment in reading), but also the most influential upon me personally (not coincidentally). As I reflect on this list and on how this biographies have shaped me, I see their influence in my respective roles as a preacher, student of theology, student of church history, Augustinian, Protestant, Calvinist, and a Baptist.
This is a list of my favorite Christian biographies. My love for biographies began when as a young teenager I checked out of the local public library biographies of baseball heroes Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial. The biographies listed below, however, are those which I have read as an adult and which continue to encourage me today (even by just seeing them on my bookshelf). They are testimonies of God’s faithfulness to build His church. They are witnesses to the truth that God gifts His church with pastors/teachers. They are a continuing echo of the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 who call out that the life of faith is worth living.
I believe strongly in the benefit of reading systematic theologies, church histories, books on biblical interpretation, and solidly biblical books on Christian living. These are all present in my regular reading schedule. However, if I am forced to recommend only one type of book it would be a Christian biography. In the best of the Christian biographies, all of the above sub-genres are present, but rolled up into the interesting life of a Christian with all of its struggles and triumphs. Great Christians of the past wrestled with theological matters, lived in a particular context in the history of the church, dealt with biblical interpretation issues, and lived out their Christianity in adverse circumstances. For the most bang for your buck, buy and read Christian biographies. If you don’t know where to start, begin with Dr. Haykin’s or Dr. Lucas’ lists or with my list below. There is some overlap in these lists, i.e. Murray’s volume on Edwards and Dallimore’s 2 volume biography of Whitefield are on both lists. Dr. Lucas and I both have A. T. Robertson’s biography of his father-in-law John A. Broadus listed and Dr. Haykin and I both have Peter Brown’s comprehensive biography of Augustine. But one would profit by reading any of the volumes listed by these men. Below is my list with notes on my thoughts on these particular volumes:
- Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers by Lewis Drummond. One of the first Christian biographies I ever read. I couldn’t put it down until I had read its approximately 1,000 pages.
- Here I Stand (biography of Martin Luther) by Roland Bainton. Simply a classic!
- George Whitefield (2 vols.) by Arnold Dallimore. These volumes are on virtually everyone’s list! Great reading!
- Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain Murray. Great introductory volume to Edwards. Murray is a skilled writer and clearly sympathetic to Edwards’ theology.
- A Life of John Calvin by Alistair McGrath. Very well researched, clears up some common misconceptions about Calvin’s role with the city government of Geneva.
- J. I. Packer by Alistair McGrath. I’m aware that this biography is unbalanced in its discussion of the differences between Packer, Lloyd-Jones, and Stott; but it is fascinating reading. One might read Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray to balance out this volume’s interpretation of the last half of the twentieth century.
- Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. The most thorough biography of one of the most influential thinkers in the history of the church. If it is too dense, you might want to start with Augustine’s autobiography: the classic Confessions.
- Be Myself by Warren Wiersbe. The humorous title (based on the titles of his books on biblical exposition: the BE series) caught my interest, but this book offers great insight both into Wiersbe, the man and the last half of the twentieth century in American Evangelicalism. The anecdotes of Wiersbe’s interactions with Martyn Lloyd-Jones are fascinating.
- Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayer. This may not be the best biography of Lewis (it is the only one I’ve read), but it was helpful for me to understand Lewis.
- The Life and Times of Isaac Backus by Alvah Hovey (Free PDF downloadable from Google Books). Great biography of an early American Baptist who was persecuted for his Baptist convictions in New England. Backus’ views on the relationship of baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been influential on me in understanding the historic Baptist position. Also, the insight into the background of the concept of religious liberty in the United States is fascinating. Backus was contemporary of America’s founding fathers and had some interaction with them in regard to the subject of religious liberty.
- Life and Letters of John A. Broadus by A. T. Robertson (Free PDF downloadable from Google Books). First biography of one of Southern Seminary’s founding faculty members by his son-in-law, New Testament and Greek scholar A. T. Robertson. Tells the story of Broadus the preacher, educator, and Baptist.