Yesterday, Sam Allberry gave some great advice:
When it comes to Christian biography, either read none or read lots. Just reading 1 or 2 may narrow your view of how God works in his people
— Sam Allberry ن (@SamAllberry) August 13, 2014
I love biographies, although, admittedly, I don’t read as many as I’d like. This is simply because I foolishly don’t prioritize them well enough in my reading (I sense a theme for 2015, how about you?). When it comes to getting started with the genre, however, it’s tough to know where to begin. If you start with volume one of Mark Twain’s autobiography, for example, you might be biting off more than you can chew. Or if you read an unauthorized biography of just about anyone, well, then you’ll have other problems.
So, to help us out a little with getting started, here’s a look at a few biographies I’ve enjoyed, and at least one I’m preparing to read.
The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon
This autobiography is a monster. There’s no other way to describe it. Spurgeon’s autobiography was compiled from notes, letters and journals by his wife, Susannah, and his private secretary. Virtually every other biography of Spurgeon owes a sizeable debt to it. Originally published in four volumes, and then again by Banner of Truth in a lovely two volume set that’s so big you can protect your house with it, this autobiography gives us a picture of the man behind the myth of Spurgeon, one who is just as in need of Christ as the rest of us. A mighty man of God who struggled with his own frailty, but relied wholly on Jesus.
I’ve been poking away at this one for years, both with the Banner of Truth editions, and more recently, a four volume edition courtesy of Logos Bible Software, which has proven invaluable since I’m currently hard at work completing the script for a documentary about the Prince of Preachers. Fourteen year old Spurgeon’s discussion of baptism with an Anglican clergyman, wherein the clergyman convinces Spurgeon of the necessity of believers’ baptism, is almost worth the price of the biography alone.
Other recommended Spurgeon biographies: The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson, and Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Tom Nettles.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
This one’s on here not to earn culture cred (I mean, seriously—you have to have read this by now. There’s a movie coming out, for goodness’ sake!), but because Laura Hillenbrand’s account of Louie Zamperini’s life and experiences in the second world war and beyond are so darn compelling.
Buy it at: Amazon
The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: 1899-1981
This book is a condensed and partly re-written version of Iain Murray’s earlier two volume biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, intended in some ways as a more accessible introduction to Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry. I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for a while now (and if you went to T4G in 2014, so do you), so I’m looking forward to digging in sometime in the next few months.
Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God
It’s been ages since I read it, I remember finding David McCasland’s biography of the author of My Utmost for His Highest fascinating as it takes readers from Chambers’ youth in Scotland to a YMCA camp in Egypt during World War I. But one story that’s stuck with me involves Chambers’ radical generosity—so generous was he that he frequently gave away all that he had to those who would ask, trusting the Lord to provide for his needs.
Buy it at: Amazon
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox
Douglas Bond’s short profile of Scottish Reformer John Knox focuses on Knox as a man keenly aware of his own shortcomings, and relied on the Lord in all he did, in a way that Westerners today struggle to understand. “Because of his candid acknowledgment of his great need, he sought the aid of the God of the universe, and one way he sought it was through the prayers of fellow believers,” Bond writes. “Empowered by the Almighty, Knox became the single most significant force to be reckoned with in an entire country.”
So those are a few biographies I’d encourage checking out. What biographies have you really enjoyed and would you recommend?