Last week I wrote a blog on tips and recommendations for listening to podcasts. Today I want to continue in a similar vein of thought with continuing to look at disciplines to grow our hearts and minds for the Lord.
I recently was listening to a lecture from John Piper where he remembered in seminary being taught by a professor to find “one great and godly teacher in the history of the church and make him a lifelong companion.” For Piper, it was Jonathan Edwards. For me, it probably has been John Piper. While finding one specific teacher that speaks to us powerfully and going deep into their lives is profoundly helpful, we need not limit ourselves to being exposed to only one. Christian biographies are one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal for our spiritual growth.
We Need Fathers
Propositional truth is logical, powerful, and necessary – but propositional truth displayed in the life of a Christian is exponentially more powerful. In his letters to churches and young pastors, Paul didn’t just deliver abstract doctrines – he called on them to examine his life, and imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9). The author of Hebrews calls us to consider the lives of the great men and women of faith of the Old Testament (Heb. 11). Paul warns the Corinthian church that they “do not have many fathers”in Christ, and they should therefore imitate his life (1 Cor. 4:15). Studying doctrine and theology is very important, but it does not replace the benefit of having a “father”, a mentor who can show you what their theology looks like in how they love their families, handle disappointment, pastor a flock, spend their free time, etc.
While we should all be seeking this in our local churches, we also should be seeking this across all of history. Every now and then, God gives the Church a giant in the faith. Someone whose love for God and His Word impacts the church for generations. And now, through books and lectures, we can sit at the table of these giants and learn from them. One might say that it would be foolish and irresponsible for us not to.
Where to Start
If you are wanting a simple place to start, below I will list a couple of resources that will help kickstart your search across a great and godly teacher. These all will be very introductory, but will hopefully get the ball rolling.
John Piper’s Biography Lectures
John Piper loves studying Christian biographies. He often gives a plenary talk at his regular pastor’s conference on the life of one influential Christian, or sometimes will have an entire conference on someone. Piper’s lectures on these men are wonderful introductions to their lives. Listen to them and if someone stands out to you, go search out a biography on them to read. Listed below are all of his lectures on Christian biographies.
Jonathan Edwards: “The Pastor as Theologian”
Charles Simeon: “Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering”
William Cowper: “Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint”
David Brainerd: “Oh, That I May Never Loiter On My Heavenly Journey!”
William Wilberforce: “Peculiar Doctrines, Public Morals, and the Political Warfare”
Martin Lloyd-Jones: “A Passion for Christ-Exalting Power”
John G. Paton: “You Will Be Eaten By Cannibals!”
John Calvin: “The Divine Majesty of the Word“, also, “With Calvin in the Theatre of God” (2009 Desiring God Conference)
Charles Spurgeon: “Preaching Through Adversity“, also, “The Life and Ministry of Charles Spurgeon”
John Owen: “The Chief Design of My Life: Mortification and Universal Holiness“, also, “Reflections on the Life and Thought of John Owen”
J. Gresham Machen: “Response to Modernism”
Martin Luther: “Lessons From His Life and Labor”
John Newton: “The Tough Roots of His Habitual Tenderness”
Augustine: “The Swan Is Not Silent”
John Bunyan: “To Live Upon God That Is Invisible”
Adoniram Judson: “How Few There Are Who Die So Hard!”
George Mueller: “Simplicity of Faith, Sacred Scripture, and Satisfaction in God”
Athanasius: “Contending For Our All”
William Tyndale: “Always Singing One Note – A Vernacular Bible“, also, “A Life Transformed by God’s Word“, also, “William Tyndale and the Vernacular Bible”
Andrew Fuller: “Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Vision”
Bill Piper (John Piper’s father): “Fundamentalist Full of Grace and Joy”
George Whitefield: “I Will Not Be A Velvet-Mouthed Preacher!”
C.S. Lewis: “Lessons From An Inconsolable Soul“, also, “The Romantic Rationalist” (2013 Desiring God Conference)
J.C. Ryle: “The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle – The Value of Masculinity”
George Herbert: “Saying Beautifully As a Way of See Beauty”
Hudson Taylor: “The Ministry of Hudson Taylor as Life in Christ“
This collection focuses in on one specific aspect of some of the most influential pastors, missionaries, and theologians the Church has seen, and the major contributions that they made to the Kingdom.
This book by Bruce Shelley offers a comprehensive but approachable overview of the history of the Church, from the Apostles to today. It covers a good majority of the most prominent figures in Church history in an engaging style. It is one of my favorite books.
These two books by Eric Metaxes briefly examines the life of 7 men and women and asks the question “What was the secret to their greatness?” Also, don’t miss Metaxes’ book on Bonhoeffer or Wilberforce.
This incredible collection examines the life of influential theologians and pastors, showing how their work connects with the Christian’s life. I highly recommend these books – though they do not focus primarily on biography, they still give you insight into their lives.
Hopefully these will help ignite a passion for diving more deeply into the study of the saints who have gone before us and will be a blessing to your own devotion to Christ.