Biographies

The following books are recommendations for further learning on renowned Christians. Consider reading the biographies of how these men shaped Christian thought.

 
 

Confessions by Saint Augustine

The son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, Saint Augustine spent his early years torn between conflicting faiths and world views. His Confessions, written when he was in his forties, recount how, slowly and painfully, he came to turn away from his youthful ideas and licentious lifestyle, to become instead a staunch advocate of Christianity and one of its most influential thinkers. A remarkably honest and revealing spiritual autobiography, the Confessions also address fundamental issues of Christian doctrine, and many of the prayers and meditations it includes are still an integral part of the practice of Christianity today.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas by G.K. Chesterton

It is known that when the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton began his book on Saint Thomas Aquinas (who is, quite possibly, the most influential of all Christian theologians), "his research for the project consisted of a very casual perusal of a few books on his subject." To say that Chesterton was no authority is an understatement. To say further that he has written a masterpiece of elucidation may also be an understatement. Etienne Gilson, the chief scholar of Aquinas in the 20th century, said flatly "I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement.... Chesterton was one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed; he was deep because he was right; and he could not help being right; but he could not either help being modest and charitable, so he left it to those who could understand him to know that he was right, and deep." So how has he accomplished this feat? By simplifying, as his editor says, without oversimplifying. He turns his own lack of intimate knowledge to his advantage by concentrating on the core elements of Aquinas' thinking: his affirmation of the goodness of creation; his defense of common sense; and "the primacy of the doctrine of being." In this way he grasps--and helps us grasp--the importance of Aquinas for us today. As Raymond Dennehy has written, it's as if Chesterton is saying to us "the truths [Aquinas] was getting at--the basic principles of reality and reason--are in themselves really quite simple. Your basic intuitions were right all along."

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Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton

The Reformation of the sixteenth century was a vast and complicated movement. It involved kings and peasants, cardinals and country priests, monks and merchants. It spread from one end of Europe to the other, and manifested itself in widely differing forms. Yet in spite of its diverse and complex character, to start to understand the Reformation you need know only one name: Martin Luther. Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther remains the definitive introduction to the great Reformer and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand this towering historical figure.

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Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen J. Nichols

An introductory guide to the life and works of reformer Martin Luther. His major works are introduced and summarized. Also discussed are his pastoral writings. Protestants of all stripes have long read at least a few of Martin Luther's works, but 21st-century readers need guidance and encouragement. Stephen Nichols' Martin Luther provides both. After an exciting overview of Luther's life and theology, Nichols orients the reader to some of the Reformer's major works: The Bondage of the WillThe Three TreatisesThe Small Catechism, and On the Councils and the Church. Luther's ethical writings, "table talk," hymns, and sermons also receive due attention. "A Select Guide to Books by and about Luther" concludes this volume, which displays more than 20 illustrations.

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Calvin by Bruce Gordon

During the glory days of the French Renaissance, young John Calvin (1509-1564) experienced a profound conversion to the faith of the Reformation. For the rest of his days he lived out the implications of that transformation—as exile, inspired reformer, and ultimately the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin’s vision of the Christian religion has inspired many volumes of analysis, but this engaging biography examines a remarkable life. Bruce Gordon presents Calvin as a human being, a man at once brilliant, arrogant, charismatic, unforgiving, generous, and shrewd.

The book explores with particular insight Calvin’s self-conscious view of himself as prophet and apostle for his age and his struggle to tame a sense of his own superiority, perceived by others as arrogance. Gordon looks at Calvin’s character, his maturing vision of God and humanity, his personal tragedies and failures, his extensive relationships with others, and the context within which he wrote and taught. What emerges is a man who devoted himself to the Church, inspiring and transforming the lives of others, especially those who suffered persecution for their religious beliefs.

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A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Beginner) by George M. Marsden

Jonathan Edwards is one of the most extraordinary figures in American history. Arguably the most brilliant theologian ever born on American soil, Edwards (1703–1758) was also a pastor, a renowned preacher, a missionary to the Native Americans, a biographer, a college president, a philosopher, a loving husband, and the father of eleven children.

George M. Marsden -- widely acclaimed for his magisterial large study of Edwards -- has now written a new, shorter biography of this many-sided, remarkable man. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is not an abridgment of Marsden's earlier award-winning study but is instead a completely new narrative based on his extensive research. The result is a concise, fresh retelling of the Edwards story, rich in scholarship yet compelling and readable for a much wider audience, including students.

Known best for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards is often viewed as a proponent of fire, brimstone, and the wrath of God. As Marsden shows, however, the focus of Edwards's preaching was not God's wrath but rather his overwhelming and all-encompassing love. Marsden also rescues Edwards from the high realms of intellectual history, revealing him more comprehensively through the lens of his everyday life and interactions. Further, Marsden shows how Edwards provides a window on the fascinating and often dangerous world of the American colonies in the decades before the American Revolution.

Marsden here gives us an Edwards who illumines both American history and Christian theology, an Edwards that will appeal to readers with little or no training in either field. This short life will contribute significantly to the widespread and growing interest in Jonathan Edwards.

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Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Advanced) by George M. Marsden

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is a towering figure in American history. A controversial theologian and the author of the famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he ignited the momentous Great Awakening of the eighteenth century.

In this definitive and long-awaited biography, Jonathan Edwards emerges as both a great American and a brilliant Christian. George Marsden evokes the world of colonial New England in which Edwards was reared—a frontier civilization at the center of a conflict between Native Americans, French Catholics, and English Protestants. Drawing on newly available sources, Marsden demonstrates how these cultural and religious battles shaped Edwards’s life and thought. Marsden reveals Edwards as a complex thinker and human being who struggled to reconcile his Puritan heritage with the secular, modern world emerging out of the Enlightenment. In this, Edwards’s life anticipated the deep contradictions of our American culture.

Meticulously researched and beautifully composed, this biography offers a compelling portrait of an eminent American.

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Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of his Life and Thought by Stephen J. Nichols

Jonathan Edwards, a leader in the Great Awakening during the eighteenth century, still has much to teach the church. Evangelicals are rediscovering him through the efforts of several authors (John Gerstner, Iain Murray, Harry Stout, and others) and publishers (Banner of Truth, Soli Deo Gloria, and Crossway). Stephen Nichols offers Jonathan Edwards "as an introduction, a gateway into the vast and rewarding life, thought, and writings of Jonathan Edwards." He intends it for anyone who wants to read Edwards but who needs a little help.

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Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Accessible) by Iain H. Murray

Iain Murray believes that Edwards cannot be understood apart from his faith. Only when seen first and foremost as a Christian do his life and writings make sense. The integrity of this interpretation is confirmed in this study as Edwards is allowed on point after point to speak for himself.

The result is a biography which is both factually and theologically reliable. Edwards' theology is set in the context of his everyday life in public and private. His family realtionships punctuate the narrative, adding both interest and pathos. This outstanding study is not only an exceptional biography; it also serves as a classic illustration of how the chuch today can and should learn from its past history.

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