Re-post from the Christianity Today history blog:
One of the reasons it took me five years to write Patron Saints for Postmoderns is the sheer volume of reading necessary to get a handle on the lives of ten complex people. It was worth it—and not just for the book: I discovered some bibliographic treasures along the way.
So, if you’re looking for some excellent historical reads, have I got a line-up for you!
John Comenius: The Labyrinth of the World and
The Paradise of the Heart (Classics of Western Spirituality)
John Comenius: The Labyrinth of the World and The Paradise of the Heart (Classics of Western Spirituality) by Howard Louthan, Andrea Sterk
This edition of Comenius’s fascinating allegory has a simply wonderful introduction–one of the best I’ve seen for any historical book. It provides excellent biographical data and demonstrates real insight into Comenius’s life, personality, and work.
The Life & Spirituality of John Newton: An Authentic
Narrative (Sources of Evangelical Spirituality)
The Life & Spirituality of John Newton: An Authentic Narrative (Sources of Evangelical Spirituality) by John Newton, Bruce D. Hindmarsh, Bruce Hindmarsh, Introduction by Bruce Hindmarsh
This edition includes John Newton’s Narrative (his autobiography up to the point of his conversion) and a few of his famed letters of spiritual direction (to the best of my memory). Bruce Hindmarsh, a professor at Regent College, Vancouver, has the only modern critical biography of Newton, listed separately under “books.” Get it, along with John Pollock’s shorter, more popular bio of Newton (also listed but out of print).
John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition:
Between the Conversions of Wesley and Wilberforce
The only and best modern critical biography of John Newton. This is also a perceptive analysis of the state of evangelicalism in the years between Wesley’s conversion and Wilberforce’s conversion (if memory serves). Bravo, Bruce!
Amazing Grace: John Newton’s Story
Amazing Grace: John Newton’s Story by John Pollock
A potboiling popular biography of John Newton. Easy to read in one sitting.
The Mind of the Maker
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
A truly fascinating thesis about the image of the Trinity in the human creative process.
Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery)
Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Her best novel (please don’t write me nasty emails, all you fans of The Nine Tailors. That novel just contains far more details than I ever wanted to know about bell-ringing [“campanology”]!) Set at a women’s college of Oxford, this novel is “about” intellectual integrity. But that doesn’t spoil the fun at all! As usual, she plots brilliantly. Here the focus shifts from Lord Peter Wimsey to Harriet Vane, and the relationship between those two heats up. There’s a lot of Dorothy in these pages . . .
Letters to a Diminished Church : Passionate Arguments for
the Relevance of Christian Doctrine
Excellent introduction to Sayers’s apologetic work, for a new generation. Contains some of her best essays. Horribly edited; she’s turning over in her grave. But it’s still in print, unlike other books of her essays.
The Divine Comedy – Hell
The Divine Comedy – Hell by Dante Alighieri, Dorothy L. Sayers
If you haven’t read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. What a wonderful tale, and what wonderful poetry! Sayers’s translation sparkles, and her notes are legendary.
The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Encounter with Dante
The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Encounter with Dante by Ralph E. Hone, Barbara Reynolds
This warm portrait of a Christian mind in love with creativity, clarity, and truth is unsurpassed. Reynolds was a close friend of Sayers and finished Sayers’s hugely popular Penguin translation of the Divine Comedy. Reynolds is also the editor of Sayers’s letters and the author of a wonderful biography of Sayers. If you want to fall in love with the Christian life of the mind, there’s no better beginning. Or if you would just like to enter the world of a rambunctious, opinionated, deeply devoted but no-bull Christian woman who also happens to have been a first-rate scholar, apologist, dramatist, mystery novelist, and essayist on many topics, then this is a great place to do it. I couldn’t put it down.
The Book of Margery Kempe
The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe
Margery is a trip. She wrote–and is the subject of–the first biography in the English language. Windeatt’s Penguin edition is the one to have. Don’t get the Image Books edition. She’s no “madwoman” or even “mystic”–just a laywoman intensely in love with God who knows a lot about praying through tough situations. We can learn from reading her book.
St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care (Ancient Christian Writers)
St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care (Ancient Christian Writers) by Henry Davis
Here’s a great early manual for pastors. Until recently, it was given to all bishops in the Catholic Church. Just as sensitive to the complexity of human character(s) as Benedict’s Rule, but geared for the pastor rather than the abbot. Gregory itemizes dozens of kinds of people in a congregation and talks about how to minister effectively to each.
An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist (Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women)
An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord\’s Dealings with Mrs Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist (Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women) by Amanda Smith, Amanda B. Smith
There’s no form like the autobiography to usher you into the life and world of the writer. This one, by an ex-slave evangelist from the nineteenth century, opens up the world of that century’s holiness revival. Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915) traveled to many of the Northeastern U.S.’s Victorian-era holiness camp meetings, where she ministered with wisdom and forcefulness to thousands of whites (and a few African Americans) who were willing to hear her as a messenger of God. She encountered racism and sexism along the way, and she is frank about her own fears about exposing herself to the ridicule of powerful Christian leaders white and (painfully) black. But the overwhelming sense we get is of a woman both entirely dedicated to her Lord and gifted by him for extraordinary ministry. Note that this one is also available online here.