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Reading Biographies

You need to be reading biographies. There is a lot of genres you need to be reading. However, biographical reading is particularly required. Reading about the lives of others has been one of my favorite types of books since I was a child. My mother bought me a set of children's history books, and many of these dealt with the lives of men and women. My fourth-grade teacher read to us after recesses biographies of Lincoln and Edison. The first grown-up book that I read was Robert Bass' Swamp Fox about General Francis Marion.

Biographies allows us to look into people's lives and learn from both their positive and negative experiences. The tenacity of Winston Churchill's stand in the mid-1930s against Germany even when opposed by his own party. The humility and faith of George Whitfield when forced to preach in the open air. The frustration of reading about the Founding Fathers not addressing the issue of slavery. Biographies allow us to learn from both the successes and failures of great men and women.

Biographies puts life into perspective. How many of us get frustrated because life is hard and things are not going as planned? When you read of Stonewall Jackson losing his wife and child or how George Washington's mother was a constant source of pain, it helps cut down your problems to size and allows us to see that everyone has difficulties and challenges in life. It is helpful to know you are not alone. A good biography will show the continued struggles that many had in life. You see how they struggled to succeed and often were at the brink of failure. Captain John Paul Jones' great victory over the Serapis was at several points almost a great defeat. His own officers tried to surrender, and a ship of his squadron fired on his ship during the battle doing significant damage.

In Christian biographies , you see God's work in the life of his people. Stepping Heavenward about Elizabeth Prentiss was especially helpful to my mother when my dad passed away. Reading about the struggles of Jonathan Edward is a blessing to young ministers who are struggling in the ministry. The life of Whitfield or Spurgeon is an encouragement to what God can do in gospel ministry. Reading about Christian's lives glorifies God and encourages you. It can be a massive uplift in times of discouragement and trials.

Biographies help us learn both history and doctrine by examining the lives of those who made history and who fought for the great doctrines of the faith. A biography of an early church father, reformer, or Puritan puts you into the midst of the struggle and helps you grab on to the significance of the history and doctrine of the church. It brings it alive in a way that a summary or theological treatise can not do.

Here are some suggestions about biographies. First, do not skip over the biography at the front of the sets of works. These help you understand the context in which the author wrote. Second, do not be afraid of more extended biographies. My favorite biographies are all 800+ pages. It is at this length you start to dig into the issues and relationships of a person. Finally, While it is good to read both secular and Christian biographies, I would encourage you to read especially about the lives of Christians.

Where to start? I would encourage you to start with authors like Iain Murray, David McCullough, or a series like Bitesize Biographies. Banner of Truth has numerous excellent biographies such as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, the lives of the Puritans, and much more. For pastors, D.A. Carson's biography of his dad is a special encouragement. A son writing about his father's faithful ministry is refreshing and helpful. The Life of Whitfield is a tremendous work. There are many excellent biographies; make time to pick one up and be blessed by reading about the saints and God's faithfulness and blessing to them.

Kyle E. Sims

Kyle E. Sims

Director of Seminary Admission and Church Relations at Erskine Seminary. Principal Clerk ARP General Synod. Pastor since 1999. 6’ 11” former Basketball player.

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