I have said it before: one of the best ways to grow in your Christian faith, to be inspired, to be challenged, and to be renewed, is to read about the great Christian men and women of the past. I believe it is essential that all Christians read biographies and autobiographies of the great saints.
As A. W. Tozer once said, “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.” In an earlier article on this topic I spoke about setting the bar high. I said:
With Jesus Christ as our ultimate standard, and his command that we be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), every single Christian has the bar set as high as it can go. But sadly most Christians don’t even consider this standard, and don’t care about raising their own bar. They are far too satisfied with a nominal, mediocre life. They look at other nominal, mediocre Christians and think that this is the way the Christian life is.
They simply compare themselves with one another and never get a vision of something better, something greater, something more pleasing to God. These folks need to raise the bar. There are various ways we can do this, but one way which helped me very early on in my Christian life was to read biographies, autobiographies and stories of great men and women of God.
Over the years I have featured and reviewed many of these stirring and inspirational biographies. Here I just want to list 50 of these Christian champions that you should be aware about. Around half of them I have already looked at in detail in my Notable Christians series: billmuehlenberg.com/category/christianity/notable-christians/
The other half I hope to cover soon. And I may eventually turn all of this into a book. So let me just mention these folks, when they lived, and provide a very brief blurb about them. Those featured here are somewhat recent Christians – those mainly from the past few centuries, but some going back almost 500 years.
If I had gone back any further, the list would have been much too long. There would be Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, and so many more. Thus this list features somewhat more recent men and women of God who are important and significant figures.
There are many different sorts of Christians highlighted here: pastors, writers, missionaries, theologians, apologists, church leaders, scholars, poets, novelists and so on. But all have made a difference, and all have a wonderful testimony and story to tell.
Needless to say, such a list obviously reveals my own biases. I write as a Protestant evangelical, so most folks featured here fall into that camp. But I have included some Catholics and others as well, so hopefully everyone will find some names of interest here.
Most of these 50 Christians happen to be those I turn to again and again for inspiration, encouragement and a challenge. Whenever a new book by or about them comes out, I tend to snatch it up. Since my interests lie in the areas of theology, ethics, apologetics, and the prophetic, cross-lived life, it is not surprising that the men and women featured here fall into those camps.
Here then are my 50. Many others could be featured here. I only arrange them by chronological order (based on when they died).
John Bunyan 1628-1688 English writer, Puritan preacher and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
David Brainerd 1718-1747 American evangelist and missionary to the Delaware Indians
Jonathan Edwards 1703-1758 American theologian, pastor, philosopher and revivalist
Count Zinzendorf 1700-1760 German social reformer and founder/leader of the Moravians
George Whitefield 1714-1770 English pastor, preacher and revivalist
John Wesley 1703-1791 English preacher and revivalist
William Wilberforce 1759-1833 British parliamentarian, social reformer and abolitionist
William Carey 1761-1834 English missionary, translator, social reformer in India
Robert Murray McCheyne 1813-1843 Scottish pastor and minister in the Church of Scotland
Adoniram Judson 1788-1850 American missionary to Burma
Charles Finney 1792-1875 American evangelist, revivalist and theologian
Lord Shaftesbury 1801-1885 English politician, philanthropist and social reformer
Charles Spurgeon 1834-1892 English Baptist preacher
George Muller 1805-1898 English evangelist and orphanage director
D. L. Moody 1837-1899 American preacher and evangelist
J. C. Ryle 1816-1900 English Evangelical Anglican bishop, writer and theologian
Hudson Taylor 1832-1905 English missionary in China
John G Paton 1824-1907 Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides
William Booth 1829-1912 British social reformer and evangelist, founder of the Salvation Army along with his wife Catherine
Fanny Crosby 1820-1915 American hymn writer
Mary Slessor 1848-1915 Scottish missionary to Nigeria
Oswald Chambers 1874-1917 Scottish Baptist evangelist, teacher and devotional writer
Abraham Kuyper 1837-1920 Dutch politician, Prime Minister, academic, journalist and theologian
F. B. Meyer 1847-1929 English Baptist pastor and evangelist
C. T. Studd 1860-1931 English cricketer and missionary to China, India and Africa
John Stam 1907-1934 He and his wife Betty were American missionaries in China, both martyred by the communists
Billy Sunday 1862-1935 American athlete, evangelist and revivalist
G. K. Chesterton 1874-1936 English journalist, novelist, poet and apologist
Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 German theologian, Lutheran pastor, and martyr to the Nazis
Amy Carmichael 1867-1951 Irish missionary and orphanage founder in India
Jim Elliot 1927-1956 American missionary martyred in Ecuador
Isobel Kuhn 1901-1957 Canadian missionary to China and Thailand
Dorothy Sayers 1893-1957 English academic, novelist, lay theologian and apologist
A. W. Tozer 1897-1963 American pastor and devotional writer
C. S. Lewis 1898-1963 British academic, apologist, Christian thinker and best-selling author
Gladys Aylward 1902-1970 English missionary to China
Keith Green 1953-1982 American musician, song writer and evangelist
Corrie Ten Boom 1892-1983 Dutch Christian speaker, writer and prisoner of the Nazis
Francis Schaeffer 1912-1984 American intellectual, apologist and pastor, known for the work of L’abri in Switzerland
Vance Havner 1902-1986 American evangelist and devotional writer
Malcolm Muggeridge 1903-1990 English journalist, author and apologist
F. F. Bruce 1910-1990 British theologian, author and New Testament scholar
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1991 Welsh Anglican and evangelical leader, author and expository preacher
Leonard Ravenhill 1907-1994 English preacher, evangelist and revivalist
Leon Morris 1914-2006 Australian Evangelical Anglican, theologian and New Testament scholar
John Stott 1921-2011 English Anglican priest, theologian, evangelical leader and prolific author
Charles Colson 1931-2012 American author, lay theologian, evangelist, social reformer and apologist
Elizabeth Elliot 1926-2015 American missionary, author, speaker and wife of Jim Elliot
Helen Roseveare 1925-2016 English missionary to the Congo, doctor and author
Billy Graham 1918-2018 American evangelist
Yes I know, so many more great Christians could be listed here, as I already mentioned. You likely have many other names you would want to see included here. The number of godly men and women to be aware of and write about really is endless. Therefore, more lists will have to be forthcoming, so stay tuned.
For further reading
There are plenty of books that have lists of famous Christians. I have simply grabbed 15 of these off my shelves and I list them here, alphabetically:
Daryl Aaron, The 40 Most Influential Christians. Bethany House, 2013.
Christian History Magazine editors, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Christianity Today, 2000.
Wesley Duewel, Heroes of the Holy Life. Zondervan, 2002.
Gene Fedele, Heroes of the Faith. Bridge-Logos, 2003.
Geoffrey Hanks, 70 Great Christians. Christian Focus, 1992.
Steven Lawson, Pillars of Grace: AD100-1564. Reformation Trust, 2011.
Roberts Liarden. God’s Generals: The Revivalists. Whitaker House, 2008.
Roberts Liarden. God’s Generals: The Roaring Reformers. Whitaker House, 2003.
Roberts Liarden. God’s Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed. Whitaker House, 1996.
Eric Metaxis, 7 Men and the Secrets of Their Greatness. Thomas Nelson, 2013.
Eric Metaxis, 7 Women and the Secrets of Their Greatness. Thomas Nelson, 2016.
Iain Murray, Heroes. Banner of Truth, 2009.
John Perry, ed., 10 Christians Everyone Should Know. Thomas Nelson, 2012.
John Piper, 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy. Crossway, 2018.
Warren Wiersbe, 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Baker, 2009.