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An Ordinary Pastor’s Five Favorite Biographies (Timothy Raymond)

For the last couple weeks, Justin Taylor has been highlighting selected scholars’ favorite biographies.  While I do not consider myself in the same category as these esteemed individuals, Justin’s survey got me thinking.  I’ve read my share of biographies in my life and wondered, “What would my top 5 biographies be?”  After a couple of days of consideration, below is my list, for whatever it’s worth.  All of these are very different books, but I found them all spiritually-challenging and quite encouraging:

Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy, by Marcel Falwell – I’m about a zillion miles away from Falwell in theology and ideology, but this was maybe the most enjoyable biography I’ve ever read.  The biggest take away is seeing how Falwell somehow carried on a massive, influential, international ministry while nonetheless remaining a fully-devoted family man.  His wife (the author) and children could not adore him more and couldn’t remember a time when he ever missed one of his kids’ ballgames.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, by Iain Murray – For years I’d been hearing about how great Murray’s biography is and finally got around to reading the first volume last year. I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. This very well-written and researched biography made me marvel at how God blessed and used The Doctor’s life.  MLJ truly was a giant in the land, one of the mighty men of old.  I hope to read volume two in the next few decades.

It is Not Death to Die: A New Biography of Hudson Taylor, by Jim Cromarty – It’s a shame that this rather obscure biography isn’t better known.  It’s fascinating, carefully-written, thorough (400+ pages), spiritually-challenging, theological, and told me just about everything I ever wanted to know about the founder of the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship).  Few books have more moved me to prayer than this one.

Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, by Lewis A. Drummond – I realize Drummond shamefully manipulates the evidence to downplay Spurgeon’s Calvinism and to turn him into a “Finneyite” revivalist, but this book is so filled with remarkable stories told so well, I can’t help not loving it.  Though over 800 pages, the book is a breeze to read, due in part to Drummond’s enviable skill of not being able to write a dull sentence.  If read in conjunction with some of the more objective biographies of Spurgeon, this book can be a real delight.

John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, by John G. Paton – This book is really in a class by itself.  It’s not only my favorite biography but one of my favorite books of any kind.  John Paton was a Reformed Presbyterian missionary to the primitive cannibals of 19th century Vanuatu and, after losing his wife and son a couple weeks after settling on the tropical island of Tanna, single-handedly faced down death threats and attacks probably 200 times.  This book is sort of like real-life Indiana Jones stories except Paton believed the Bible and loved Jesus and some of his encounters make Indiana Jones seem like a fairy princess.  Imagine standing in the rain at night as your barn behind you is on fire while you’re surrounded by a mob of savage, spear-wielding, hungry cannibals and fending them off all alone with nothing but a hatchet and an unloaded 6-shooter.  Paton was one tough brother.  If you’re looking for a strong, masculine, humble, godly, Calvinist, evangelistic role-model to set before your sons of going all-out for Jesus, you can do no better than John G. Paton. [To whet your appetite, go listen to Piper’s brief bio of Paton; you’ll be hooked.]

So that’s this ordinary pastor’s list of five favorite biographies.  Now I’m curious; what are some of your all-time favorite biographies?  Tell us about them in the comments section below.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

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