20 Biography Recommendations: Nettles, Haykin, Finn, and Reeves

Nettles-TomTom Nettles is professor of historical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His most recent publication, years in the making, is a major biography of Charles Spurgeon.

Here are his top biography recommendations:

1. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer.

This is a slap in the face for those of us who are always looking for the politically appropriate [safe] time to say something true.

2. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards.

For the purposes of seminary class, I use Murray’s biography. To show, however, in a charming but serious-minded way to a secular public how seriously and deeply a Christian can think about issues of ultimate importance, this is the book to loan (you could not give many of them away).

3. Roland Bainton, Here I Stand.

A beautifully crafted story of a rough and resolute man whose discovery of truth so melded itself into his soul that he feared to distinguish between his truth-informed conscience and the final claim of God on his life.

4. Sharon James, My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma.

Sharon James gives a sensitive and vigorous unfolding of one of the most intensely important lives of nineteenth-century American evangelicalism. Without Ann Judson, American evangelical foreign missions might never have gotten off the ground.

5. Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 and D. Marty Lloyd Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981.

This provides great encouragement and instruction for pastors seeking a ministry given to scriptural and doctrinal edification of the Bride of Christ.

[JT note: see also an updated and revised one-volume abridged edition.]

Michael HaykinMichael Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality, as well as director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here are his recommendations, in chronological order:

1. Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards.

A biography of the remarkable American theologian that brings the reader face to face with Edwards’ God.

2. Faith Cook, William Grimshaw of Haworth.

A biography that I hold dear because it is a challenge to my wimpishness, something this Canadian Christian historian deeply laments. Grimshaw was a true radical.

3. Andrew Fuller, Memoirs of Samuel Pearce.

A classic biography that is focused on Pearce’ s piety, which cannot fail to impact the heart for good.

4. Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore.

A riveting missionary narrative of the life of Adoniram Judson.

5. Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 and D. Marty Lloyd Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981.

The two-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd- Jones, the most powerful twentieth-century influence on my life.

NFNathan Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies, and fellow of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Here are his recommendations:

1. Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson (1956; reprint, Judson Press, 1987).

This is my all-time favorite biography. Anderson provides an appreciative, but realistic portrayal of an inspiring missionary pioneer.

2. Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Eerdmans, 1977).

This is a winsome popular biography of a key pastor-theologian in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century British evangelicalism. Required reading for pastors.

3. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003).

Marsden’s work is the gold standard for a scholarly biography that is at the same time sympathetic toward its subject. His A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is also great.

4. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 2nd ed. (University of California Press, 2000).

Many church historians consider this to be the best scholarly biography of a major Christian leader, and I’m often inclined to agree. A close second to Mardsen’s biography of Edwards.

5. David McCullough, John Adams (Simon and Schuster, 2003).

McCullough is a master storyteller. If I ever write a biography, I hope it reads half as well as this excellent popular biography of America’s second president.

Mike ReevesMichael Reeves is Theologian-at-Large at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology.

Here are his recommendations:

1. Roland Bainton, Here I Stand

A true masterpiece of a biography, Here I Stand draws you deep into Luther’s life so you both understand and feel the significance of what he faced and what he did.

2. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards

Marsden shows beautifully what a biography can do, for he not only tells a good story, his sensitive observations and reflections humanise you as you read.

3. Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror

Tuchman does two extraordinary things here: she maps the history of an age (fourteenth century Europe) through the story of one man, and she forms in us a real emotional attachment to this character who otherwise is so distant and foreign.

4. Paul Johnson, Churchill

This little book reads like champagne, Johnson’s very style of writing capturing the fizz and pop of his subject.

5. Faith Cook, William Grimshaw of Haworth

Atmosphere, action, great character: it’s Wuthering Heights meets Whitfield-Wesley revival.