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The Role of Heroes

The Role of Heroes

Iain H. Murray has written a delightful collection of seven biographical sketches entitled, Heroes. Published by the Banner of Truth in 2009, this volume reflects upon the lives of some well-known, and not so well-known, figures from Church history. Within its pages the reader is given a glimpse into the extraordinary lives of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), George Whitfield (1714-1770), John Newton (1725-1807), Thomas Charles (1755-1814), William Hewitson (1812-1850), Robert Kalley (1809-1888), Charles Colcock Jones (1804-1863) and Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892).

All of us have people that we greatly admire, those who we might call heroes. When I was young, many of my heroes were professional athletes. Since my father was a sportswriter for a major San Francisco Bay Area newspaper, I had the distinct privilege of meeting many of them; athletes like Terry Bradshaw, Michael Jordan and Franz Beckenbauer. After becoming a Christian, however, my heroes changed. No longer were my heroes those who gained earthly glory by winning major championships and earning exorbitant paychecks. My heroes became those whose lives shined brightly for the glory of God throughout history; men and women “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). These heroes have more than an entertainment value. Their devout lives and faithful witness testify to the grace of God and provide a godly example.

In his introduction to Heroes, Murray bristles at the modern approach to Christian biography which seems to be suspicious of a book that “does not give sufficient prominence to a Christian’s failures and blemishes” (forward, ix). If it does not, then it is dismissively consigned “to the category of ‘hagiography.’” Murray elucidates:

The label is intended as a put down, yet it is a strange word to use in a pejorative sense. It derives, of course, from the Greek hagios, meaning ‘holy‘ or ‘consecrated to God’. It is the word which the New Testament applies more than sixty times to Christians: they are ‘the saints‘ or ‘the holy ones’. The word does not imply a present moral perfection, but it does attribute something extraordinary to Christians. They belong to God. Christ lives in them. (forward, x)

Of course, biographies should not give the impression that there ever was a Christian who walked above the common struggles with the world, flesh, and Devil. Rather than encourage the reader, biographies of this sort can do just the opposite. Nevertheless, biographies should not minimize “what is edifying” to believers and fuels “the praise of Christ.” (forward, xi)

Murray is correct in saying that “the study of history is vital to the health of the church” (forward, xiii). In general, the evangelical church has forgotten this important point. Indeed, it is our “chronological snobbery” that has led to much of the silliness and worldliness that exist in our churches today. Because we have dismissively shrugged our shoulders at the Church Fathers, the magisterial Reformers, the English Puritans, the great 18th and 19th century missionaries, and even the extraordinary Christians of the 20th century, evangelical churches are not only repeating doctrinal error, but sadly, we are also finding ourselves to be exceedingly superficial.

Dear brothers and sisters of Christ Church Presbyterian: As your pastor I want to encourage/challenge you to pick up a Christian biography. Reading a good biography will not only bless your own soul, but it will also bless those around you as you share with them all that you’re learning. Encourage your children to do the same–– for we all need godly heroes! You may go to the web and discover many excellent Christian biographies on online bookstores such as Reformation Heritage Books, Banner of Truth, Christian Focus and Presbyterian & Reformed Publishers. Perhaps you may even want to begin with Iain Murray’s, Heroes. Let not another month pass this year without picking up an edifying, instructive, motivating, and inspiring Christian biography. You may feel remorse for watching too many movies. But you will never regret reading too many soul-stirring biographies!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Jon