Many a prominent Christian servant of the past has had a number of biographies written about him or her. These various accounts of the same person’s life and ministry were written with different purposes and audiences in mind.
To follow are descriptions of four main types of historic Christian biography. Being aware of these different types will help us select biographies that are best suited to our own interests and purposes in reading about an individual.
1. General Survey: This type of Christian biography provides an introductory overview of the highlights of an individual’s life and service. Such general survey biographies are generally shorter in length and are geared for a broad, popular-level audience. Some biographical series produced by publishers – such as Barbour’s Heroes of the Faith series and Bethany’s Men and Women of Faith series – fit into this category. Survey biographies have appeal and benefit not only for adults but also for teens and “tweeners.”
2. Comprehensive: A comprehensive biography presents a more thorough and complete account of its subject. Comprehensive biographies include much material that cannot be included in briefer biographical surveys. Though not as extensive as exhaustive works (see next paragraph), comprehensive biographies consider all the significant events of an individual’s life as well as many of his or her primary perspectives on life and ministry.
These more comprehensive biographies tend to be of medium length. While still having a good degree of popular appeal, they are intended for more serious biography readers who want to dig in deeper and learn more about a particular person. This is the type of biography written by some of my favorite biographers, including Arnold Dallimore, John Pollock and Roger Steer. Christian Focus Publications has produced a number of such biographies, including those in its History Makers series (among them my own books on David Brainerd and Adoniram Judson (forthcoming in July).
3. Exhaustive/Academic: Exhaustive biographies seek to provide a detailed record of virtually all the known events of a person’s life. These volumes are researched and documented to the nth degree. Consequently they are normally very long. Exhaustive biographies are aimed at a smaller, more academically-oriented readership. A number of publishers who pride themselves in producing works of a more scholarly nature offer this type of biography. While an exhaustive biography provides a wealth of information about an individual, the sheer volume of material being presented sometimes causes the overall storyline of a person’s life to move along somewhat laboriously. It can prove rather daunting to plod through such a mass of information. Exhaustive biographies sometimes make exhausting reading! 😉
4. Youth and Children: Through the years many historic Christian biographies have been produced for younger children and middle-school-age youth. In addition to Barbour’s Heroes of the Faith series already mentioned, YWAM’s Christian Heroes: Then & Now series and Christian Focus’s Trailblazer series (under its CF4Kids imprint) are examples of these. Christian biographies for youth and children fall under the General Survey category discussed above.
In beginning to get acquainted with a renowned Christian of the past, adults may choose to start with a general survey biography. Or they may read a more comprehensive account of a person’s life (either to begin with or as a follow-up to an introductory treatment) in order to gain a fuller understanding of and greater benefit from that person’s life-story. If we find ourselves becoming deeply interested in an individual’s life, we can always tackle another comprehensive or even an exhaustive biography about him or her.
I would enjoy hearing from you about the kinds of historic Christian biographies you enjoy reading and how they benefit you.
Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie