A Little Background
Collective biographies are a funny thing. Generally they are people who all share something in common–a collective biography or all the presidents or first ladies. Or all the kings and queens of a country. They usually just scratch the surface–giving “just the facts” as Joe Friday would say. But other times they share something a little different in common. My first encounter with this genre is a book I still own
I’ve always loved history so reading about, say, James Knox Polk, was something I enjoyed. Later I became fascinated by the British Royal Family, so a popular collective biography of the 1970’s caught my eye because it contained Edward VII (it was published not long after his death.
But on to Today’s Book Reviews
Today I’m reviewing a set of two collective biographies of greatly admired Christian leaders, both books containing seven brief biographies. Each short profile aims to show us the personal habits and attributes that led to their success. Author Eric Metaxas, whose biography of my great hero (and history ‘crush’–though I loathe that word) Dietrich Bonhoeffer I believe should be read by every Christian in the world today. While I didn’t always agree with Metaxas’ choices I did find each biography fascinating. Let’s start with the women.
Along with Martin Luther, the name Wesley is almost synonymous with Protestantism. So who better to start out with than Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles. ‘Domineering’ is the word that comes to mind for her! This was no meek, “Keep Sweet” Quiverfull woman, though she was from a family of 25 and gave birth to 19 children–half of whom died in infancy or childhood. Due to her circumstances she should be the original poster girl of the #ShePersisted movement. I found much to admire in the way she lived her life.
Among the others, Corrie Ten Boom is, to me, the most inspirational. Even while enduring a Nazi Concentration Camp and watching her sister die there, Corrie was able to follow God’s teaching and truly give thanks in all circumstances. She continued to seek Him and to teach about Him and was rewarded several times with small signs of His care.
I wondered though, where was Gladys Aylward? Lilias Trotter? Rosa Parks was very inspirational and gave our nation much-needed change, but she was backed by a large organization (that in no way devalues her act!) and had press and television to help her cause. Where were modern women such as Ruth Bell Graham or her daughter, Anne Graham Lotz?
Among the seven men Eric Liddell, Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce were obvious–though I thought Bonhoeffer was more than covered in the separate biography I agree he deserved to be among the seven. Chuck Colson, sure he changed prison ministry and much more.
But, George Washington?? No clue even after reading it. Billy Graham would have had my vote for inclusion–“America’s Pastor.” What about John Knox, John Welsey, Francis Schaeffer, or, hello–Martin Luther? Why Pope John Paul II but not John XXIII? Ooops, sorry JXXIII was liberal. My bad. Where was William Tyndale? On and on with the where’s Waldo guessing game?
The most glaring omissions of all were both the Martin Luthers. Where was the founder of Protestantism?? Well, it turns out Metaxes was writing Luther’s biography which debuts this October. Still, the omission is jarring. Metaxas includes baseball player Jackie Robinson (who DID show tremendous courage and tact in integrating MLB–a tremendous example) but he did not include Dr. Martin Luther King?? This really left me scratching my head! How do you leave out one of the greatest American Christians of all time?
Metaxas did write a compelling story of each of the seven in both books. He did identify aspects of their life habits and character that contributed to their success. It is his choice of great persons that left me perplexed.
Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Success by Eric Metaxas
Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Success by Eric Metaxas