What is the value of the Christian biography? Why read biographies of other Christians? This author says that these Christians faced situations similar to us, and their lives can encourage us, enrich our prayer life, increase our knowledge of church history, and challenge us to work harder.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2010. 3 pages.

The Value of Spiritual Biography

All of us enjoy hearing about the lives of other people. We experience this when we sit around the table for the evening meal and hear stories from family members about what they did during the day; what happened at school, at home, at work, at polytech or at university; who they met and the conversations they had. Or, if we have guests for dinner, we appreciate hearing about their lives and the interesting things that they have experienced and done. Such accounts are all the more valuable when we can see how God has worked in our lives, and the lives of others, through various people, circumstances and events. As we look back we can see his hand of providence guiding and directing our path. Not only can we hear the stories of others around the dinner table or in our lounge; we can also read them in books. Spiritual biographies are the written record of what has happened in the lives of others.

The Bible🔗

The first book to mention is the Bible. The books of the Bible were not written as biographies; rather the Bible is the record of what God has done in history through the lives of men and women to save his people and to build his church and kingdom. When reading the Bible we must always remember that God is the hero and that the central person in the entire book is the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who became a man. Jesus told the Jews; “These are the Scriptures that testify about me...”1

Yet God also worked through the lives of ordinary people and there is much to learn from how he used men such as Moses, Gideon and David; and women such as Rahab, Hannah and Mary. Hebrews 11 provides us with a long list of men and women who “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weak­ness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”2

The biblical writers, under the inspi­ration of the Holy Spirit, recorded what God did in the lives of these people for our learning and instruction and to give us examples to take note of. Some of these are examples to imitate; others are examples to avoid. The apostle Paul gave an account of some of the sins of Israel and concluded; “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”3 The Scriptures describe how God used indi­vidual people to work out his plan and to achieve his purpose.


Many, many other books have been written about the lives of believers, these are biographies. Some of you reading this will have read Chris­tian novels about the lives of men and women. (Women tend to read more of these than men). Such novels may be based on real events but they are fic­tional or made-up stories. Spiritual bio­graphies are true stories about the lives of believers. If you (women) have been used to reading mainly novels then you will find great benefit in reading such biographies; and if you (men) don’t read novels then you will also find great benefit in reading biographies! These true accounts of people provide a good transition between Christian novels and reading more solid books about the Christian faith and theology. Biographies are one of the most accessible forms of Christian reading as the story line holds our interest and gives us insight into what went on in their lives.

The Benefits of Biographies🔗

Reading spiritual biographies enables us to learn valuable lessons from what God did in the lives of others. These Chris­tians had highs and lows as we do; they faced temptations similar to ours; they went through sickness and pain without the benefits of modern medicine and surgery. The Lord was with them in all these circumstances. With God’s help they went through these struggles and came out the other side. God sustained and strengthened them and he will do the same for us. Reading about these people can encourage us to continue in the faith through our trials and give us insight as to how they coped with similar troubles.

In one of her articles for Faith in Focus Dr Sally Davey wrote about the value of these Living Pictures of Faith in these words:

When I think of Hebrews 11 and its list of biblical portraits, the thing that strikes me is that pictures of people motivate us. When we see someone trusting God in time of trial, showing love when ridiculed, patience when provoked or saying “no” when sorely tempted, we are helped to see Christian living at the level of our own lives. We are confronted, challenged, encouraged to believe that obedience is within our sights. God has provided us with a living, credible role model of what he would like us to be. True god­liness is always inspiring; and I am glad whenever someone shows me – by their reaction, their choice of words, even by the expression on their face – what Christlikeness means.4

Reading about such Christians pro­vides us with valuable spiritual lessons and can inspire us to work harder, spend more time in prayer, read the Bible more diligently, exercise a greater faith, trust God and believe his promises. Some of us are lazy; reading a biography of a hardworking Christian can motivate us to do more. Others of us are weak; the life of another Christian can strengthen us. Others of us are despondent; a spir­itual biography can lift us up.

Reflecting on the lives of other believ­ers can help us understand our own lives. In his book on middle age Paul Tripp observes that we are meaning makers; we are always trying to understand our story and to interpret our lives. We are like archeologists digging into our lives, or like historians looking back over what we have done, or like detectives examin­ing what has happened to us, or like philosophers sitting back and reflecting on what God is doing in us, for us and through us.5 Reading about what God did in the lives of other Christians helps us to make sense of who we are and what we are doing.

Yet another benefit of such reading is that it teaches us much about the history of the church and about theology. Books on history and theology may not appeal to you but reading biographies allows you to pick up a lot of information about these subjects along the way as part of the story of the lives of others.

For those of us in the western world biographies give us insight into the per­secution Christians have faced in previ­ous centuries, and are facing now, and what it might be like for us to live under such conditions. Paul warned Timothy; “...everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12) Reading the accounts of Christians who have suffered can help prepare us for the persecution that may come to our country one day.

Some of you may sense a call to be a missionary or a minister of the gospel. Reading the biographies of other mis­sionaries and pastors can provide insight into what these callings involve and how you can best prepare to serve the Lord in them.

Many of us have favourite Christian writers such as Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis or Charles Colson. Biographies are available on each of these men (more than one on some of them!). Reading about your favourite author provides valuable insight into how he came to faith and his theological persuasion. You might learn something of the circumstances that prompted the writing of some of his books; this makes them even more interesting and readable.

The Danger of Biographies🔗

Biographies are usually written about people who were unusually gifted. God blessed some of them with great talents. Some had extraordinary energy and drive. Many achieved great things for the Lord and were used in remark­able ways in the church and kingdom of Christ. That is why someone wrote about them. They were extraordinary. They were remarkable in some way. No one will write about you and me like this (well, maybe about you!) When reading these books there is a danger we will compare ourselves with them and come off the worse for wear! Read these books to be encouraged, not dis­couraged. Read them to be inspired, not depressed. Read them to be challenged, not defeated.

Types of biographies🔗

I have already alluded to the great variety of Christian biographies available. If you want to read about the life of another believer there is something for everyone, including children and young people. Here are some titles that may interest you.

On martyrs: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; J.C. Ryle, Light From Old Times (a book about the martyrs of the English Reforma­tion); also check out the newsletters and website of “Voice of the Martyrs”.

On ministers: Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon; Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield (2 vols) (an exciting biography describing amazing times); J.C. Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century (includes biographies of George White­field, John Wesley); Iain Murray, Jonath­an Edwards; Don Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (a very moving biography of Don Carson’s father. This is encourag­ing because it is about an ordinary but faithful Christian who persevered in dis­couraging times).

On missionaries: Courtney Ander­son, To the Golden Shore (on Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma); Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Slendour; Mrs Howard Taylor, The Triumph of John and Betty Stamm (missionaries who were mar­tyred in China); Jim Cromarty, King of the Cannibals: The Story of John Paton.

On famous conversions: Augustine, Confessions; Charles Colson, Born Again (the conversion of Colson who founded Prison Fellowship).

On the reformers: Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (on Martin Luther); Robert L Reymond, John Calvin: His Life and Influence; Marcus Loane, Masters of the English Reformation.

Others: Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry; Faith Cook, Hymn-Writers and their Hymns.

I am sure you will find these interest­ing, informative and inspiring!


  1. ^ John 6:39
  2. ^ Hebrews 11:33-34
  3. ^ 1 Corinthians 10:11
  4. ^ Dr Sally Davey, “Living Pictures of Faith – Some thoughts on the blessings of role models”, Faith in Focus, Volume 33/1, February 2006, p14.
  5. ^ Paul David Tripp, Lost in the Middle – Midlife and the grace of God, Shepherd Press, 2004, p33.

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