It is customary for many today — and I’m a big fan of this — to speak of the Bible as Story. There is another story we need to know, and it is the story of the Church. Why? I can think of several good reasons, not the least of which is that we owe to our forbears to know where we have come from. It embarrasses me not a little when normal Christians don’t know about Ignatius and Irenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, Wesley and Whitefield, to give some obvious examples. What can we do to help ordinary Christians learn our Story? One good way is to read biographies.
Here’s a vocational calling for some of you: we need Church historians and historical theologians to write readable, lay-shaped biographies of great Christian figures. The temptation of historians is to write exclusively for the academy. Fine. But we need some of them to step up to the task of educating the church because if they think the ordinary lay person is going to read specialist biographies or monographs, or if they think the ordinary pastor has time to digest lengthy specialist studies, it’s time to wake up and smell this coffee: never in the history of the Church has the Church been so ignorant of its history! And never in Church history have the sources been better and the scholars more abundant!
You want a good example. Read Stephen Tomkins excellent, well-written study called John Wesley.
Tomkins also has a Short History of Christianity, which I’ll work my way through, but the next book of his that I’m reading is William Wilberforce.
Back to Wesley. I’ve read Rack’s big biography (Reasonable Enthusiast) and it is a fine, fine study. But what we are most in need of — for the sake of laity — is a string of good biographies on seminary figures, males and females. Tomkins is a great example.