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Why We Should Be Reading Christian Biographies

September 6, 2015
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A group of researchers working for the World Almanac and Book of Facts once asked over 2000 high school students to name the people they admired most and wanted to be like. They then tabulated the results and came up with the 30 most admired personalities. One columnist commented that all those who had been named were either entertainers or athletes. This columnist pointed out that statesmen, authors, painters, musicians, architects, doctors, scientists and spiritual leaders failed to capture the imagination of these students. He went on to say that the heroes and heroines created by our society are people who have made it big, but not necessarily people who have done big things.

As Christians, I think we need to train our taste buds. We do need heroes. Everyone does. Heroes provide us with role models and tell a culture whom or what to emulate. They express our values and give us a sense of where the culture is heading. In some ways, they are an indicator of our future. Moreover Christians need heroes. If the only example that young people see are those Christian leaders that have morally failed, we lose a sense of the transforming nature of the life lived in Christ. To be sure, Christian athletes and entertainers who exhibit faithfulness and also those who are involved in needed charities and other community functions do serve as positive role models. But it is my view that we need to create a culture in which missionaries, ministry leaders, teachers, preachers and other Christian leaders are held up as laudable examples.

That is one of the reasons I think Christians should begin to read Christian biographies. For one, some of them, when written well, are highly entertaining. It would be a great alternative to paperback fiction, which is often not edifying. Furthermore, reading good biographies fills our minds with people we need to know about; everyone from Corrie Ten Boom to Augustine of Hippo. It will help us see how the Christian faith really is changing the world. I fear that many of us know more about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie than we do about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Carey. It is because we have allowed ourselves to worship stardom and fame, rather than to admire a woman like Amy Carmichael, who spent 55 uninterrupted years saving children in India from prostitution for the sake of the gospel.

We need role models of faithfulness. This must include heroes in the local church, and it should also include national and international well known figures who have exemplified Christian virtues or who are known for extra-ordinary Christian labour. We should know the heroes in Christ who have recently been martyred by ISIS, and we should know of their courageous faith to a much greater degree than we know of the life or statistics of a famous athlete.

But where do we start? In part, it will depend upon your interests. If you want to know great Christian women of the last century, might I suggest finding a biography of Elizabeth Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom or Amy Carmichael. If you want to read of great Christian men of the last century, may I suggest Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Chuck Colson, C.S. Lewis or D. Martyn Lloyd Jones. If you want to know how revivals have shaped the English speaking world, why not pick up a biography of John Wesley, George Whitefield or Jonathan Edwards. If you like missions, the list is longer than I can mention, but may I suggest a biography of Hudson Taylor. Or if you like the great theologians, read a biography of Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin or Zwingli.

Or how about this? Why not ask a fellow Christian to tell you about a biography that has stirred their imagination? And one more thing. Talk to the librarian at your church, and encourage a large section on the best Christian biographies, for children, youth and adults.

And let’s start celebrating our heroes. They are better than the best that the NHL or NFL has to offer!

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