Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review – Charles Spurgeon by Christian George

As a high school English teacher, one of the ideas my school has been working on is promoting biographies as an entertaining and educational genre for students. Oftentimes, however, it is a hard sell. To be honest, getting kids to focus on something that doesn't have a remote control or video-game controller is hard enough. Make the book a non-fiction work, even about someone they admire, and you don't get a lot of buy in. Having read Charles Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers by Christian George, it occurred to me that perhaps biographical fiction might be a better way to go. This Christian Focus published book presents Spurgeon's life in a way that makes use of many elements of fiction while it teaches the reader about one of Christianity's heroes of the faith. Perhaps this would be a solid 'middle-way' to encourage youth to read biographies.

The Real Spurgeon
Having never read a Spurgeon biography-that is a confession and I hope that does not disqualify me from having anything of value to say in Christian circles-I can only assume that there is historic accuracy in the events promoted in this book. With that assumption in mind, I found the events, peoples, and issues that the author focused on were interesting and inspiring. George weaves his biography through the ups and downs of this saint's life. Spurgeon is not presented as a gold-gilded brightly-haloed saint but rather appears as a real human with faults and foibles like the rest of us. In fact, the struggles of Spurgeon that the author walks us through are definitely one of the strengths of this book. Seeing Spurgeon in his coma-like state after a tragedy at a preaching event or the fear he faced preparing for his first sermon and the rest of his trials make this a compelling story that I think young people will connect with. One can relate to this preacher of preachers despite the esteem he is held in by most of North American Christendom. His relationships with his wife, friends, and acquaintances are also an enjoyable facet of this read. I think that the friendships, romances, and encounters are well-chosen and well-conveyed.

Truth or Fiction
There is clearly some creative license apparent in this book. And I think that is what will make this appropriate for youth. As mentioned earlier, straight biographies can be tough to sell to young people, but this book reads very much like a work of fiction. There is convincing characterization, particularly in the case of the protagonist Charles Spurgeon. We see him develop and grow and he is a likeable and intriguing individual. His fears are portrayed honestly, and his insecurities and doubts, as well as his strengths and courage, are all traits that young people will connect with. There are many conflicts both internal and external, which give rise to a plot that build suspense and takes this book beyond regurgitating facts to have the force of a good story. There are many edifying themes throughout the book, and Spurgeon's trust in God despite his shortcomings, and God's faithfulness in spite of Surgeon, will be one theme that resonates with young people.

Recommended Reading
Perhaps the best commendation I can give this book is that I will encourage my own kids to read it. One of my children ambitiously read a short biography of William Wilberforce; she struggled through it and I was proud she didn't give up. However, I don't think she got a lot out of it. I think a book like Charles Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers would be far more appropriate for her and one in which she will be edified in the reading. That being said, as an adult, I enjoyed reading the book. At times it brought tears to my eyes and at times it brought a smile to my face. And it has encouraged me to remove the haven't-read-a-Spurgeon-biography stigma that has plagued me for so long. Get your hands on this book and give it to a young person you know, but give it a quick read yourself before you hand it over.


  1. Thanks Jude for this review. I'm glad you enjoyed it and in response to the query you raise about historical accuracy I can give you some input here as I've worked on pretty much most of the trailblazer books now in an editorial capacity. Regarding the historical accuracy of the books I would say that the bulk of them are very accurate, but as you say there is some leeway. Someone I know refers to this sort of book as Faction. If you were to give a ratio I'd say that the trailblazer biographies will certainly hit 80% fact 20% fiction - when you consider that most of the dialogue is invented. But even then the invented dialogue is something that we attempt to keep realistic. Regards. Catherine Mackenzie, Author and Editor, Christian Focus Publications

  2. Catherine, thanks for that clarification. I think that "faction" may be a great compromise, particularly for younger readers.