As I was thinking this week over Dr. Jerry Falwell’s death and the ensuing conversations over his life (if you want to call some of the rhetoric conversational), I thought about the greater idea of Christians and heroes. Are there people that we are to look up to? Is there a Christian way to have heroes?

Look at the Scriptures. Of course there is a whole literary genre in the Bible that revolves around heroes: the heroic narrative. Dr. Leland Ryken, author of Words of Delight: a Literary Introduction to the Bible, gives a great analysis on a literary hero. He writes, “Hero stories are about the struggles and triumphs of the human race. A hero is representative of a whole group and is a largely (though not necessarily wholly) idealized character. What happens to the hero is an implied comment about life and reality and is intended to furnish the reader with insight regarding how to live” (109). He gives a very important warning in line with this description:

We should, then, be on our guard against a particularly frivolous and
persistent kind of misinterpretation– the attempt to make everything that a
biblical hero does a norm to be emulated. The hero stories of the Bible give us
positive examples of behavior to follow and negative examples to avoid. In
either case, hero stories are in some sense example stories, though not in any
simple or moralizing sense (108).

Ryken also mentions four types of heroes (108): 1) Idealized hero– this character has a virtue for us to admire and/or emulate; 2) Tragic hero– this character commits an error that leads to tragedy; 3) Comic hero– this character commits an error, but overcomes it to reach a happy ending; and 4) Realistic hero- this character seems to be the least idealized, as it contains the normal strengths and weaknesses. This one, Ryken says, is most common in Scripture.

To help us analyze the hero character, Ryken suggests five categories (109):

1) personal abilities, skills, qualities, and traits;
2) actions;
3) thoughts and feelings;
4) relationships; and
5) roles.


I would add another comment. The ultimate hero in history is our Lord Jesus. He is the standard by which all other heroes are measured. We must make sure that we do not deify any other hero. All sub-heroes, if you will, are flawed in some way. For that reason alone we must be careful. But I believe that Christians can follow Scripture in assessing people’s lives to learn from their successes and mistakes, all to the glory of our great Hero.

I am going to write some posts in the coming days on the “heroes” in my life. Some are dead, some are alive. Some are young, some are old. Some are well-known, some are not. None are without sin, but all are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus. My prayer is that I can talk about them in a way that does not deify them, but instead will show you God’s grace in their lives and in mine because of them.

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