Reading Christian biographies has been a major source of growth for me. They inspire me in a way unlike other literary genres because they blend Christian living, theology, and history in a way that stirs both my soul and my imagination.
Much like Hebrews 11’s listing of biblical figures who lived by faith, Christian biographies give me a special glimpse into the cloud of witnesses. They encourage me to lay aside every weight and sin and run the Christian race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Even so, sin can corrupt anything, including the great gift of learning from saints who have gone before us.
In my experience, my sinful mind can produce harmful ways of thinking when entering back into the real world after soaring through the clouds of a great biography.
As you read biographies or hear great testimonies, take these dangers to heart.
Five Dangers of Reading Christian Biographies
1. You can read Christian biographies strictly for entertainment and neglect their devotional value.
Reading biographies like Keith Green‘s No Compromise, or Jim Elliot‘s Through the Gates of Splendor, greatly impacted me by showing me men of bold faith who went against the stream of culture (even Christian culture) to follow Christ’s call.
A danger for all of us when reading about great examples is to pursue the entertainment value of great biographies while neglecting the devotional value. These books shouldn’t only entertain, but should grow our faith in Christ, stir our affections for him, and fuel our service to him. Everything is to be done in his name for his glory (Colossians 3:17).
When you read, pause and pray. We need the Lord to grow our faith and motivate us to obey and seek him more. Let’s ask him to keep us from turning a great opportunity to worship into pure entertainment.
2. You can be inspired to become great yourself rather than to make Christ’s name great.
To want to do something great for Christ is noble; to do so strictly to make your name great is idolatrous. For me, this urge comes subtly. Instead of desiring to build Christ’s kingdom, I may desire to build my own kingdom.
We should desire to become great in “Kingdom” terms, which means living in sacrificial service for Christ’s sake—no matter who gets credit (cf. Mark 10:43–45). In short: take God’s view of greatness over the world’s view.
3. You can forget that you too can make Christ’s name great.
While we don’t want to serve God with selfish motives, we also don’t want to forget that we have the same potential to do Kingdom-advancing things as the many inspiring people we read about.
We may not have the same opportunities or platform as others, but God can use our faithful acts of service—no matter how small—to do great things in his kingdom for his glory, even if we only hear about it in heaven. God promises eternal reward for things you can do everyday like sharing the gospel, teaching a Sunday school class, prayer, giving to gospel-proclaiming ministries, or even sharing a cup of water in Jesus’ name (Matthew 10:42).
4. You can value people with certain gifts over others.
After reading a great biography of someone like D.L. Moody or Hudson Taylor, it can be tempting to think the “flashy” gifts of leadership, evangelism, and preaching are the greatest gifts.
We must thank God for those in church history to whom he gave impressive gifts, but must not downplay the more everyday or behind-the-scenes gifts of others. We cannot all be Charles Spurgeon; if we were, the church would lack a host of other gifts we need for the building up of the body and the glorifying of Christ. “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:17–18, 22).
5. You can over-exalt your heroes.
Technically, all who believe in Christ are “saints” (Romans 1:7). Don’t over-exalt our heroes by forgetting that they are also imperfect and fallible, sinners in need of a Savior. (I hate to break it to you, but Bunyan and Edwards were sinful people in desperate need of God’s grace just like you and me.)
Christ: The Hero of Our Faith
When we admire brothers and sisters of the past, let’s admire their faithful service, but let’s also see them as recipients and channels of God’s grace. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Only by God’s grace are we saved. Only by God’s grace can we do anything for him. When we stand before his presence on the last day, we will not focus on our great efforts but rather on his amazing grace in saving us from sin and separation from him and choosing to use us for his glory.
As our souls are encouraged and stirred afresh to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” through great Christian biographies, may we avoid these dangers and seek to serve God with our gifts in our day and age (Matthew 6:33).