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

Mom & Daughter“I have been reminded of your sincere faith,” the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Later in that same letter, Paul wrote of Timothy, “… from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (See 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15.)

Timothy had the tremendous blessing of being raised by a godly mother (and grandmother) who taught him the Scriptures from the time he was a little child. (Acts 16:1 seems to indicate that his father was not a believer.) Through the Scriptures Timothy was taught, he gained the knowledge that eventually led him to salvation through personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Countless committed Christian moms since then have played a key role in leading their children to saving faith in Christ. One such woman was Charles Spurgeon’s mother, Eliza. Every Sunday evening she gathered her children around the table, read the Bible and explained it to them verse by verse.

Then she prayed, and her children never forgot the words of some of those prayers. Once she prayed: “Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance they perish, and my soul must bear swift witness against them at the Day of Judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.”

“That thought of my mother’s bearing swift witness against me pierced my conscience,” Charles Spurgeon recollected as an adult. “How can I ever forget when she bowed her knee and, with her arms about my neck, prayed, ‘Oh, that my son may live before Thee!’”

Charles’s father, John, was a clerk in a coal merchant’s office in Colchester, England. John also pastored a church in Tollesbury, a village nine miles from the town where he worked and lived with his family. Once, while on his way to a preaching engagement, John became convicted that he was caring for the spiritual needs of other people while neglecting those of his own family. So he returned home.

Finding no one downstairs, he ascended the stairs and overheard the sound of earnest prayer. Quietly listening outside a bedroom door, he discovered that his wife was fervently interceding for her children, especially for Charles, her strong-willed firstborn son.

That very son later testified, “My father felt that he might safely go about his Master’s business while his dear wife was caring for the spiritual interests of the boys and girls at home.”

Christian parents today (moms and dads) should be just as serious and careful about teaching their children the truths of God’s Word and about leading them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Such conscientious efforts on the part of earnest Christian parents will bring incalculable blessings and benefits to their children in this life and throughout eternity!

The above true story about the Spurgeons and a number of other family-related incidents are found in the first chapter of my book Timeless Stories. We would enjoy hearing from you about other consecrated Christian parents who had a powerful spiritual impact on their children’s lives.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

My enthusiasm for historic Christian biography ignited my final semester of seminary. Though I had a couple thousand pages of assigned reading to do for my classes, I got distracted by two fascinating Christian biographies that I could hardly put down until I had finished them. In the twenty-seven years since then I’ve read hundreds of such biographies. Here are several ways in which I appreciate and benefit from them:

1. Historic biographies provide enjoyable and engaging reading as they relate the life-stories of outstanding Christians of the past. We’re drawn into the narrative of an individual’s life. Once we’ve started, we’re eager to see where the true story will lead and how it will turn out. Some people’s lives are so full of noteworthy developments and amazing events that their biographies rival fast-paced novels in terms of interest. Yet their life-stories have the superior benefit of being entirely true.

2. Through Christian biography we’re introduced to some of the most important and remarkable ambassadors of Christ who have ever lived. These individuals had books written about them because their lives were truly outstanding. Some of them were spiritual giants who were used of God to significantly shape and advance Christ’s kingdom work in their country and/or another part of the world in their generation. The written accounts of their lives and ministries have impacted and profited untold thousands of believers since then.

3. The examples of these notable Christian servants inspire and encourage us in various areas of spiritual life and service. To name but a few of many such areas, they motivate us to higher heights in:

  • Cultivating a deeper devotional relationship with the Lord.
  • Developing a Christlike character and perspective.
  • Serving with singular focus and tireless exertion to help fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission and advance His kingdom.
  • Resolutely enduring discouragements, hardships, sacrifices and even persecution.
  • Having a heart of concern for the lost as well as for other hurting, needy people.
  • Balancing ministry and family demands.

At times their examples expose our own spiritual mediocrity and convict us of our low-level commitment. But they also hearten us to correct our shortcomings and to rededicate ourselves to serving the Lord in an earnest, worthy fashion.

4. To be sure, great Christians of the past were very real people who, like ourselves, had personal weaknesses, struggles and flaws. Part of the benefit of considering their lives is seeing how they addressed and were able to overcome their own faults. They reassure us that the Lord is able to use in significant ways imperfect individuals who nonetheless continue to pursue and serve Him with wholehearted consecration.

5. Their examples also remind us that God greatly blesses and uses believers of widely differing backgrounds, temperaments and abilities. This encourages us to faithfully serve the Lord to the best of our ability, using the unique background, personality, gifts and opportunities He has given us.

6. Christian biography provides us with a treasure trove of interesting and instructive anecdotes to share in our formal teaching opportunities and informal conversations. Adults and children enjoy and profit from these worthwhile illustrations.

7. Historic biography helps us understand and evaluate contemporary Christianity more fully and accurately. We learn how certain beliefs, practices and emphases developed in the Church. We come to realize that many of our present opportunities and accomplishments have been built on the insights, exertions and sacrifices of exceptional individuals who helped prepare the way before us. In the face of endless, transient issues and trends that confront and sometimes distract the modern Church, we are aided in keeping a clear focus on the primary emphases and priorities that strong evangelical Christians have maintained throughout the centuries.

We would enjoy hearing the ways in which you appreciate and benefit from historic Christian biography. Leave your comment below.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie