21 Key Christian Figures You Should Know

Standing on the shoulders of some of those in crowd of the great cloud of witnesses.

In 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy, John Piper explores the lives of these leaders from church history, offering a close look at their perseverance amidst opposition, weakness, and suffering—inspiring readers toward a life of Christ-exalting courage, passion, and joy.


Standing on Their Shoulders

In 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy John Piper details the lives of 21 leaders from church history who have inspired every generation of believers toward a greater passion for God. We stand on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before, exemplifying how to live and love God faithfully.

Athanasius (296–373)

“In Athanasius’s lifelong battle for the deity of Christ against the Arians, who said that Christ was created, Athanasius said, ‘Considering that this struggle is for our all . . . let us also make it our earnest care and aim to guard what we have received.’ When all is at stake, it is worth contending. This is what love does.”

Augustine (354–430)

“Augustine’s song of grace is unlike anything you will read in almost any modern book about grace. The omnipotent power of grace, for Augustine, is the power of ‘sovereign joy.’ This alone delivered him from a lifetime of bondage to sexual appetite and philosophical pride. Discovering that beneath the vaunted powers of human will is a cauldron of desire holding us captive to irrational choices opens the way to see grace as the triumph of ‘sovereign joy.’ Oh, how we need the ancient biblical insight of Augustine to free us from the pleasant slavery that foils the fulfillment of the Great Commandment and the finishing of the Great Commission.”

Martin Luther (1483–1546)

“Justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law, was the triumph of grace in the life of Martin Luther. He did, you might say, stand on his head for joy, and with him all the world was turned upside-down.”

William Tyndale (1494–1536)

“Man is lost, spiritually dead, condemned. God is sovereign; Christ is sufficient. Faith is all. Bible translation and Bible truth were inseparable for Tyndale, and in the end it was the truth—especially the truth of justification by faith alone—that ignited Britain with Reformed fire and then brought the death sentence to this Bible translator.”

John Calvin (1509–1564)

“For John Calvin, the triumph of God’s grace in his own life and theology was the self-authenticating demonstration of the majesty of God in the Word of Scripture. How are we to know that the Bible is the Word of God? Do we lean on the testimony of man—the authority of the church, as in Roman Catholicism? Or are we more immediately dependent on the majesty of God’s grace?”

George Herbert (1593–1633)

“The central theme of his poetry was the redeeming love of Christ,1 and he labored with all his literary might to see it clearly, feel it deeply, and show it strikingly.”

John Owen (1616–1683)

“Owen’s personal holiness and public fruitfulness did not just happen to him. He pursued them. There were strategies of personal discipline and public authenticity that God used to make him what he was. In all our life and ministry, as we care for people and contend for the faith, we can learn much from Owen’s pursuit of holiness in private and public.”

John Bunyan (1628–1688)

“He was even more explicit that there is divine purpose and design in suffering for the good of God’s children and for the glory of his name. The great Pilgrim’s Progress, as George Whitefield said, ‘smells of the prison.’ It was born in suffering, and it portrays the Christian life as a life of affliction. But Bunyan saw his imprisonment as no more than what God had designed for him.”

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