My primary publisher, Christian Focus Publications, has blessed me with a grand opportunity this year – to write a new biography on David Livingstone, the eminent missionary explorer to Africa. I’m deeply grateful to both God and CFP for this privileged opportunity, and greatly look forward to carrying it out with the Lord’s help.
Here are five main reasons I’m looking forward to writing this book:
(1) David Livingstone (1813-1873) is one of the premier missionaries in the annals of Christian missions. Through his extensive pioneer explorations in southern Africa, he prepared the way for the spread of Christianity and helped bring about an end to the slave trade throughout that portion of the Dark Continent. He gained tremendous acclaim during his lifetime. Since his death, untold thousands have been inspired by his example to undertake missionary or other forms of active, sacrificial Christian service. It truly is a privilege to research and write the life story of such a prominent, significantly-used servant of Christ.
(2) Livingstone has good name recognition, especially through Henry Stanley’s immortal greeting, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” But a relatively small percentage of people know much about the good doctor other than that he was a famous missionary and explorer in Africa. This is a wonderful opportunity to help many people learn a great deal about Livingstone’s:
- challenging and formative upbringing
- Christian convictions that motivated and guided him
- expansive (and sometimes controversial) missionary vision
- phenomenal explorations – remarkable for their distances, difficulties and discoveries
- tireless determination to stamp out the African slave trade
- honest struggles as a husband and father.
(3) Livingstone possessed many outstanding strengths, including: his granite convictions; his unwavering devotion to fulfill what he perceived to be his divine mission and duty; his huge vision in various undertakings; his astounding determination and perseverance through all types of hardships and sacrifices; his unflagging courage; his highly respected character; his effectiveness in working with different races and classes of people. Such an individual has much to teach us.
(4) To be sure, Livingstone had weaknesses and failures as well. His fierce independence sometimes created marked relational difficulties. He was rather neglectful of his family. As a leader he could be dictatorial. A few of his cherished ambitions and undertakings failed to materialize or even turned out poorly.
Recent Livingstone biographies, apparently eager not to portray him as a plaster saint or larger than life, seem to relish the opportunity to emphasize his shortcomings and failures. They often judge him by contemporary standards and perspectives rather than by those of his own day. Some secular biographies of Livingstone exhibit little or no understanding of or appreciation for his spiritual perspectives and convictions. While I intend to acknowledge rather than ignore Livingstone’s shortcomings, I also anticipate being able to rightly provide a more positive and accurate assessment of his life and ministry.
(5) One aspect of pioneer missionary biography I’ve always enjoyed is the real-life adventure side of it. Who needs fiction when there’s such thrilling history to read?! Livingstone’s entire career as a missionary, explorer and slave trade opponent in Africa brims over with adventure and excitement, harrowing dangers and fascinating discoveries, triumphs and tragedies.
I’ll likely provide periodic perspectives from David Livingstone’s life in this blog as I write his biography. In the meanwhile, for a brief, beneficial summary of Livingstone’s life, see “David Livingstone,” by Brian Stanley, in Great Leaders of the Christian Church, ed. by John Woodbridge (Moody, 1988), pp. 329-333. A number of informative and helpful articles on different aspects of Livingstone’s life and ministry can also be found in Christian History, Issue 56 (Vol. XVI, No. 4), published by Christianity Today, Inc., 1997.
Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie