Roast Pork Belly and Christian Biographies
At dinner last night, over roast pork belly (with superbly crunchy crackling)* and several bottles of cider, we were discussing the usefulness of Christian biographies. Why waste precious time researching and writing these books? Why waste more time reading them? This was on the back of several people having read Old Wives Tales by Clare Heath-Whyte and some of us having given input for an upcoming book about a prominent Australian preacher.
- the encouragement of the testimony of brothers and sisters, albeit centuries removed, living out their faith in God, all over the world, through the years, in various circumstances – as missionaries, scholars, lecturers, pastors, nurses, doctors etc. Possibly in a Hebrews 11 way;
- the protection against legalism afforded by knowledge of the diversity of personalities and minds and personal circumstances that God has chosen to use for his glory – the loud beer-guzzling Martin Luther, the quiet cold John Calvin, the corpulent cigar-smoking C.H. Spurgeon, the careful austere Jonathan Edwards etc.;
- learning from the mistakes and follies of those who’ve passed this way.
- the tendency for biographers to make these people out as heroes with no flaws or whose sinfulness can be waved aside just because of the seemingly great sacrifices they made for the Christian cause. But there is no concept of good outweighing the bad in the Christian worldview, because sin is a personal affront to a holy God;
- the implication that one counts for nothing before God if one doesn’t go down in flames in an extravagant demonstration of devotion – but the Bible emphasises not grand gestures but daily perseverance;
- some books, taking a leaf from Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, go to the other extreme of attempting to discredit popular “heroes of the faith”. Although it is arguable that this shows that they are sinful people in need of a Saviour, it is also probably that it is the excitement of Hello magazine-type sensationalism that sells copy;
- if the subject of the biography is still living, surely the book would present a great temptation to personal pride rather than thanksgiving to the God who sovereignly chose to work through that person in such a way that made a book about him/her potentially (financially, at least) profitable.