Hebrews 11 is a divine mandate to read Christian biography. The unmistakable implication of the chapter is that, if we hear about the faith of our forefathers (and mothers), we will "lay aside every weight and sin" and "run with perseverance the race that is set before us." If we asked the author, "How shall we stir one another up to love and good works?" his answer would be: "Through encouragement from the living and the dead." Christian biography is the means by which "body life" cuts across the generations.
Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C. S. Lewis calls it). It is also theology—the most powerful kind— because it burst forth from the lives of people like us. 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.
Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to overcome the inertia of mediocrity. Without them, I tend to forget what joy there is in relentless labor and aspiration. Before Jonathan Edwards was 20 years old, he wrote 70 resolutions which for years have fired my work. Number 6 was "to live with all my might, while I do live."
When I came to be pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, I began to hunger for biographies to charge my pastoral batteries and give me guidance and encouragement. Since I believe very much in the pastor-theologian, I recalled not only Edwards but, of course, John Calvin. How Calvin could work! After 1549, his special charge in Geneva was to preach twice on Sunday and once every day of alternate weeks. ...