(The following is a reposting of the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] At desiringgod.org, online one can read the full text of “Brothers, Read Christian Biography”). I have made additions to the post at the very end.
Christian biography, well chosen, combines all sorts of things pastors need but have so little time to pursue. Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C. S. Lewis calls it). It is also adventure and suspense, for which we have a natural hunger. It is psychology and personal experience, which deepen our understanding of human nature (especially ourselves). Good biographies of great Christians make for remarkably efficient reading (90).
I wish every Christian could read the biographies of Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Jonathan Edwards, and Martin Luther. Someone else might suggest Muller, Brainerd, Calvin, Whitefield, Lloyd-Jones, Singh, Carey, Moon, Studd, or Packer. But I have forever been encouraged by reading of men and women of great prayer, who trusted God for the impossible, lived under incredible circumstances, experienced incredible suffering, maintained an undying burden for the lost and remained faithful to the Gospel to the very end.
Judson, my hero among Christian missionaries, translated the Bible into Burmese and created the first Burmese dictionary – this while losing child after child to death. Edwards, the poster child for Christian resolve in the life of a hated-but-righteous-shepherd, endured through that halfway covenant controversy about the Lord’s Supper (and history has exonerated him) and was dismissed as pastor after twenty-six years of faithful ministry. What hope and encouragement I have gained from these two during the toughest hours of ministry. The latter says to me, “hang in there; you can endure it.” The former says to me, “are you really having it that bad?” Both say, “keep proclaiming the Gospel, for you will be raised from the dead.” Their lives stand upon the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection and they witness to the authenticity of the message of Christ. The world is unworthy of them. When I grow up more in my faith, I want to be just like them.
Find some heroes. Read Christian biography.
Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to resist the inertia of mediocrity. Without them I tend to forget what joy there is in relentless God-besotted labor and aspiration…(90).
How Calvin could work! After 1549, his special charge in Geneva was to preach twice on Sunday and once every day of alternating weeks. On Sunday, August 5, 1549, Calvin began to preach on Acts and continued weekly in that book until March 1554. On weekdays during this time, he preached through eight of the minor prophets as well as Daniel, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. But what amazes me is that between 1550 and 1559 he took 270 weddings. That’s one every other week! He also baptized (about once a month), visited the sick, carried on extensive correspondence, and sustained heavy organizational responsibilities.
When I look at Calvin and Edwards and their output, it is hard for me to feel sorry for myself and my few burdens. These brothers inspire me to break out of mediocre plodding (91).
Calvin, O Calvin! How you challenge me! Edwards; how could you set the standard so high?
Piper is right. My people need me to fight mediocrity (and melancholy). Reading biography is good for both. As a church planter, reading about the labors and faithfulness of a Calvin is like getting a swift kick from the coach to get back in the game and leave everything on the field. Taking a helmet-to-pastor hit might be illegal, and it might cause a shepherd-concussion; but this is the ministry of the Gospel. Such hits are to be expected as part of the path to glory, and should not be cause for siting out of a play or playing at half-speed. I have a charge to keep with faithfulness, not with mediocrity.
Just reading the little bit of Calvin’s life in the paragraphs above has been so encouraging to me today. I imagine that reading a fuller biography on Calvin would be like putting 94 octane in the tank!
So reading a biography on Calvin is in the works for 2011. Who knows? Maybe I will go further and present a biography of Calvin to my people (as Piper challenges all pastors to do, [96, footnote 18]). But reading biography for the sake of my soul and the souls of my people is enough of a challenge. Why don’t you join me? There are two very small biographies on Edwards and Calvin that might be good places to start.