We live in a day when many or perhaps even most people limit their reading to quick reads about the most current events. In some ways that is understandable. The amount of material and subjects coming at us on a daily basis through Facebook, Twitter, online news feeds, blogs and other sources can be rather overwhelming.

But if all we read are soundbite tweets or brief posts about only the latest breaking news or the hottest contemporary topics, we end up impoverishing ourselves through the limited focus and extent of our reading. Many truly-significant subjects require book-length rather than blog-length development to adequately address them. In addition, numerous people, events, and perspectives of the past are so important and enlightening that we can gain great benefit by reading at length about them too. And, in fact, we’ll be the losers if we don’t do so.

Those of you who kindly follow my writing blog know that it usually features “Perspectives” aimed at promoting interest in and benefit from historic Christian biography. Regularly I share short biographical sketches that I trust are interesting and spiritually profitable for our readers. But in this brief Perspective I’d especially like to encourage us as Christians to read full, book-length historic Christian biographies as part of our reading regimen. Here are four quick reasons why:

1. For our own spiritual profit and encouragement. As we read the life stories of great men and women of the Christian faith we are inspired and instructed in our own living and service for the Lord Jesus. Their outstanding examples encourage and challenge us in all areas of our personal and public lives, modeling how to integrate our Christianity into every aspect of life. I join those who testify that, after Scripture, Christian biography is one of the most beneficial and encouraging types of reading we can do to strengthen our spiritual lives.

Many contemporary believers have become discouraged and lethargic in their Christian lives and service just now, due to disheartening, deflating personal and ministry circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic and other difficulties in their life-situations. Without exception extraordinary Christians of the past faced extreme difficulties that needed to be overcome or simply worked around (though not removed). Their examples of unremitting faith, perseverance, diligence and dependence on the Lord through such adversity provide us with much-needed encouragement for such a challenging season as the one we find ourselves in presently.

2. To gain fuller knowledge of some of the truly outstanding servants of Christ in the history of the Church. There’s a primary reason why certain Christians in history have had books (sometimes many volumes) written about them—because their Christian devotion, service, vision and fruitfulness truly were extraordinary. Their personal lives, perspectives, public ministries and accomplishments were viewed as so remarkable, inspiring and beneficial that others were careful to preserve their life stories in biographies.

To me it doesn’t make sense for us to ignore altogether the lives and ministries of such devoted, capable servants of the Lord who were so mightily used of Him. Nor does it seem we should be content with nothing more than a short online summary of their lives. Rather, we do well to read full accounts of at least some such individuals, so as to gain much fuller understanding, appreciation and spiritual profit from their exceptional lives and service. Of course we won’t be able to read a full-length biography on every great Christian who has been written about. But we can at least make a point to read and benefit from a number of such biographies as we progress through life.

3. To gain a more-informed perspective on Christianity in the past and present. Christian biography is a great and enjoyable way to learn Church History. Reading straight history can sometimes be a bit daunting. But as we read accounts of notable Christians of the past, we often also learn much about the age in which they lived and served.  While we’re enjoying their life story, we’re simultaneously learning (without even needing to work at it) about the society and Church of their day. As we read about Christians in different eras, we gain a much fuller understanding of God’s powerful work throughout Church History. We also become acquainted with incredible trials and triumphs of Christ’s Church in the past about which we otherwise would remain oblivious. We learn that the Church of the past had both greater successes and failures than we previously realized.

Acquiring a fuller historic understanding of the Church helps us to better understand and evaluate the Church today. We’ll comprehend how we got to where we’re at. We’ll see that many of our current spiritual blessings and successes have come at least in part from the faithfulness and sacrifices of outstanding Christians who labored diligently and capably before us. We’ll be encouraged to see that we’ve learned from and overcome some of the mistakes of the Church in earlier generations. But we’ll also be convicted and humbled to realize that in other ways the modern Church has declined noticeably compared to the fervency, commitment and fruitfulness of the Church at some times in the past. And the good example of the earlier Church in those regards will help show us the way to recovering the ground that has been lost.

4. Simply for enjoyment! Well-written historic Christian biography makes for very enjoyable reading. We get drawn into the interesting, compelling story of a person’s life, and we want to keep reading to find out how things turned out for him or her. We become interested or even fascinated in the remarkable ways the Lord used such individuals for His glory and the good of countless people. We find ourselves gaining so much inspiration and benefit from a person’s life that it’s a joy and a privilege to continue on with a full consideration of his or her ministry. I often enjoy one biography of a person’s life so much that I end up reading a second or third account of his/her ministry because I’m eager to learn more about how God used him/her.

I hope for all these reasons (and other benefits to be gained) you’ll get started right away reading a book-length historic Christian biography. Perhaps you already know an exceptional Christian whose life story you would like to read. Maybe you’ll be interested in reading one or more of the book-length Christian biographies I’ve had the privilege of writing (as described at my writing website www.vancechristie.com). Or perhaps some of the shorter Perspectives I’ve posted on various other individuals will pique your interest in reading more about them. Often I’ve recommended quality biographies that others have written about them.

Happy, profitable reading to you!

Copyright 2021 by Vance E. Christie

About Vance Christie

An avid fan of historic Christian biography throughout his ministry, Vance has published nine books.

13 Thoughts on “Why Read Full-Length Historic Christian Biographies?

  1. Tom Lotz on February 10, 2021 at 7:30 pm said:

    I love reading biographies and WW2 History. I am rereading the Hiding Place. Just started it again last night. One of my favorites is the 2 volume biography of George Whitfield.
    One of my other recent favorites was Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas.
    Others, George Mueller of Bristol.
    Warren Wiersbe wrote 2 books “victorious Christians you should know and “living with the giants”. It created an appetite for Christian biography.
    One thing I have found is that when reading biographies, is that the book will reference another book and so it goes.
    Some are easy reading and others not so.
    Thank You for your article.

    • Thanks for your beneficial feedback, Tom. You’ve mentioned some outstanding Christian biography choices. Clearly you’ve experienced the benefit and blessing of this genre of reading as I have. May many new individuals discover it as well!

  2. Jason Silverthorne on February 12, 2021 at 5:56 am said:

    One of my all-time favorite books is “In Light of Eternity” by Mack Tomlinson, which is a biography of Leonard Ravenhill. The life of Ravenhill encourages my walk with Christ. I keep a copy at my bedside.

    By coincidence, I found your blog through Tim Challies, so I’ll take this moment to mention that another book I like to read over and over again is “Timeless Stories”. Thank you for that.

    • Vance Christie on February 12, 2021 at 1:46 pm said:

      Thanks, Jason, for the recommendation of the Leonard Ravenhill biography. “Timeless Stories” was an extremely enjoyable book for me to write, as I was able to share all those great, beneficial anecdotes/illustrations in a single volume.

  3. Gale Harpe on February 12, 2021 at 8:24 am said:

    I love Christian biographies. As a young teen, age 16 I read George Mueller and how he prayed for God to provide the funds to start orphanages. His faith encouraged me. The life of Corrie Tenboom, Elizabeth Elliott, and many others are inspirations! The Bible is full of great biographies!

    Thanks for the encouragement here!

    Be blessed! Gale

    • Vance Christie on February 12, 2021 at 1:54 pm said:

      I heartily agree, Gale. Their examples are inspirations. Through the years I’ve enjoyed preaching numerous biographical sermons (or whole sermon series) on some of the outstanding people in Scripture. Presently I’m preaching a biographical series on the life of the Apostle Paul.

  4. Thank you for this wonderful article! I’m new here, so I’m not familiar with what biographies you have recommended before. Would you happen to have a good list of book-length Christian biographies you’d recommend? Thank you in advance!

    • Vance Christie on February 12, 2021 at 1:59 pm said:

      Hi, Michael. I’ll seek to share such a list in a future blog. If you care to scout around my website a bit you’ll find a number of such books recommended.

  5. Dean Tsuchida on February 12, 2021 at 11:53 am said:

    Hi Mr. Vance,
    Thank you for this article. I never appreciated reading history until later on in life, but now am fascinated by it. I’m in the middle of Shelly’s book on History of the Church and many great folks are mentioned. Right now God has me looking at grace. It seems straight forward, but is truly unfathomable. I would appreciate your recommendation on biographies of folks that lived lives of grace. Maybe some that lived long ago, and some more recent.

    • Vance Christie on February 12, 2021 at 2:08 pm said:

      Hi, Dean. Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language is one of my favorite Church History books, very readable. God’s grace truly is unfathomable! John Newton of “Amazing Grace” fame was captivated by the theme of God’s grace and manifested it in full measure in his post-conversion ministry. Jonathan Aitken’s John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace and Josiah Bull’s older work ‘But Now I See’, The Life of John Newton are two great books about his life.

  6. Dwight Lehman on February 12, 2021 at 2:44 pm said:

    Thank you Vance for encouraging the reading of good Christian biographies, even writing them!
    I do enjoy good Christian biographies and thoroughly appreciated your blog. I agree with you on it all. I indeed learn much about walking with Christ and what it was like living in their world. I just finished “The Life of John Owen” by Andrew Thompson, and finished volume one of Iain H. Murray’s “D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years 1899-1939” and am halfway through the second volume. After that then it will be “The Life and Times of Girolamo Savonarola” by Professor Pasquale Villari and translated in 1888 by Linda Vallari . We’ll see how that goes! Thank you again and keep writing!!

    • Wow, Dwight, sounds like you’re not afraid to wade into more weighty Christian biographies! Thanks for mentioning these works and for your words of affirmation.

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