Read And Listen To Biographies – It’s Biblical

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

About a month ago I finished Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, which gave me a fresh reminder of how important biographies have been for my faith. I was thinking to myself that I really haven’t read many biographies in book-form – just a handful. And I wondered why I haven’t read more, since I always get so much from them. But as I was thinking about it I realized I also needed to lump all of the John Piper biography lectures I’ve listened to into the group. Which got me thinking about how much those have formed me over the past 6 or 7 years.

Someone told me about Piper’s biographies about 7 or 8 years ago, sometime in the year before my wife and I got married. These things weren’t as popular as they are now, and not as many people knew they were all online for download. I think the first one I listened to was Piper’s talk on John Calvin – it hooked me, and I had to listen to these as often as I could.

I’ve listened to most of the lectures at this point (except for a couple), and some are better than others. But I have to say, I remember quite a bit from all my listens. Piper’s lectures taught me how the grace of God has worked in the lives of all of these great figures of the Church – how they all read the same Scriptures, and knew the same triune God, and how they went through the same trials and griefs of the Christian life. And the importance of getting to know biography and history from the Church can’t be understated. Hebrews 11 lists describes the lives of saints who have gone before us, and for the same reasons. The writer of the book tells us that since we’re surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, run the race with intensity. We’ve seen God work so faithfully and prove Himself sure and true so many times, we press on to the day Christ comes for His Church with full assurance and joy. Even through the blasting fires of suffering.

I love knowing so many faithful saints have gone before, and that they prove God’s promises to always hold onto His people. A good Christian biography should put all the emphasis on God’s faithfulness, not our own. And it’s good to build up and strengthen our faith by knowing the lives of other saints, to build that strong foundation for when God ordains suffering for our own lives.

So I thought I’d list off the couple Piper biographies that have really been  a special help to me, and why. I hope you have a chance to give them a listen.

John Newton

1. John Newton

I’ve listened to this one all the way through about 5 or 6 times at least, at home, at the gym, on runs, and in the car. This lecture is great for 2 big reasons:

  1. The intense, aggressive way God worked His grace in the life of Newton. His life makes me appreciate afresh God’s saving grace that came to me too.
  2. What it means to be a shepherd, and to be both tender and tough as we lead and minister in the family of God. Newton had a great balance of these two things.

2. Charles Spurgeon

I’ve been listening to this one over and over at the gym currently. Spurgeon is called the “Prince of Preachers,” and was such a great pillar of the Faith, but he dealt with severe slander from others, and intense depression and sickness. But he had a joyful, Calvinistic outlook on his trials. He believed that the good that God worked in his life because of trials was incalculable. It’s so helpful to know other great men and women of the faith dealt with the same difficulties we do, and worse.

J. Gresham Machen

3. J. Gresham Machen

Machen was a Calvinist who came to this theological position in some unique ways, and had some really unique things to say about it. And Machen stood firm as a biblical, Calvinistic, Doctrines of Grace type of Christian when Modernism was taking over Western culture, and seeping into the Church. This one’s very relevant for our current trends in American culture.

Thomas Cranmer’s Scripture-Centered Corporate Worship

Today is the 546 year anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, a saint burned at the stake in Oxford England. You can read a great article about him over at The Gospel Coalition here.

I’ve read about him in a few different places, and to commemorate the day, here’s a quote by Mark Ashton,  about Cranmer’s faithful, Scripture-centered ministry:

“[Cranmer] put the Bible at the center of church services in order to change lives. It is the task for latter-day Anglicans [and all Christian pastors] to follow in the footsteps of Cranmer by creating church services that reach out to our contemporaries as effectively as his services did.”

And how do we reach out to our contemporaries? Not by being flashy personalities, by adapting the hottest new technology in our church services, or by being tolerant of sin. We reach out to our contemporary culture by “putting the Bible at the center of church services.” We stay committed to being people of the Word, because only the Word of God will change us and others.