Thursday, January 10, 2008

Most influential biographies

Michael Haykin has posted an interesting thought exercise. I thought it was interesting how similar and how different some of our choices would be. Here is my list of nine (in order):

1. D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith (an intellectual biography of J. Gresham Machen)
2. Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.
3. Andrew Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2 vols.
4. Iain Murray, D. Martryn Lloyd-Jones, 2 vols.
5. J. I. Robertson, Jr., Stonewall Jackson.
6. Michael Hall, The Last American Puritan (a biography of Increase Mather)
7. Rudolph Nelson, The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind (an intellectual biography of E. J. Carnell)
8. H. G. C. Moule, Charles Simeon
9. A. T. Robertson, Life and Letters of John A. Broadus

It is interesting to me that I couldn't, in good conscience, listed a number of academic biographies that I enjoyed, but that didn't impact me (I'm thinking here particularly of Harry Stout's A Divine Dramatist and George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life). Since I've read all the books I've listed multiple times, I would consider these my most impactful, influential, and important. And I still believe that D. G. Hart's biography on Machen is simply the finest book I have ever read--a model intellectual biography in every sense of the word.


Steven Carr said...

You didn't mention your own biography of Dabney. The reason you wrote it must be that you were impacted by his life. Go ahead, recommend your book.

Jim H. said...

I've gone back to reading biographies lately and am eager to explore this list. I must give a nod to David McCullough's biography of John Adams, a true inspirational masterpiece of a great Christian President. Robertson's biography of Jackson was one of the most profound reading experiences of my life. On the night I finished it, I realized that the very next day was the 130th anniversary of his death. I got up early and drove to the house where he died, and stood at his bedside at the precise hour he uttered his last words: "let cross over the river...and rest under the shade of the trees."

Nicholas T. Batzig said...


I was wondering why you thought Murray's biography of Edwards was better than Marsden's? I have heard several theologians say that they thought Marsden's was much more accurate historically. Did you find differences in the two?

Also, thanks for posting this list.

Nick Batzig

Sean Michael Lucas said...

Hi, Nick:

Notice I didn't necessarily say "better" or "more historically accurate." I said personal impact, influence, and importance. In that regard, I read Murray when I was a student at BJU; it was that book that caused me to become deeply interested in Edwards--so much so that I thought I was going to write my dissertation on him, edited a collection of essays on him, and am now planning on a future book on him.

Marsden's book is "better"--but it was too diffuse and too long. The last time I taught my Edwards elective, I used Marsden, but found that it limited my other reading for the course. While I probably wouldn't assign Murray, because Edwards scholarship has progressed a long way since 1987 and because he is probably a little too "partisan" for my tastes now, I wouldn't want to slight the books importance in my own life.

Hope that helps, sml

Dane Ortlund said...

Dallimore on Whitefield was critical in my own sense of call to some kind of pastoral/teaching ministry in Mar/Apr 02. Abolutely igniting to read.

Hope you are well my friend.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Lucas,

Great list. I own, but haven't yet read the Machen biography. It's moving up my list of books to read based on your strong recommendation.


Tony Pisani said...

I went to purchase the Jackson biography to which you refer, but there are many by the same author. Could you give the exact title of the book you found influential?
Thank you for this list!

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