I had the honor of meeting Dr. Stephen Olford (1918-2004) in the late '90's when I attended a week-long workshop on the essentials of expository preaching. I found Dr. Olford to be one of the most godly, Spirit-filled, and anointed men I have ever met. He truly inspired me to dedicate myself to the task of preaching God's Word and leading God's people. His book, Anointed Expository Preaching is a must read for any preacher of the Word. You can read my review of Dr. Olford's biography below. (I believe the biography is out of print, but you can find used copies on Amazon at a very good price.)
Phillips, John. Only One Life: The Biography of Stephen F. Olford. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux, 1995. 352 pp.
Dr. John Phillips, is uniquely qualified to write the biography of Stephen Olford, having met him in Newport, South Wales when Phillips was twelve years old. Stephen was in his twenties at the time, and was already recognized in the community as a gifted spiritual leader and Bible teacher. Their membership in the same church allowed Phillips the opportunity to be taught and mentored by Olford. Phillips grew up to be an accomplished expositor, preacher, author, and evangelist in his own right. He traces much of his spiritual formation and ministry back to the profound influence of his friend, Stephen Olford. It is out of this personal debt of gratitude that Phillips writes the biography. He aims to provide a record of Olford's ministry as a means to calling the readers to emulate Olford's commitment to serving the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is also a strong emphasis throughout the book on Olford's commitment to expository preaching as an example to present-day preachers.
The book has three divisions. Part one is titled, "The Man," and covers Olford's personal life from childhood to married life (pp. 15-88). Phillips describes how Olford was born to parents who were serving as Plymouth Brethren missionaries in Angola. His parents instilled in their young son knowledge and love for God's Word. Under their tutelage Olford accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior at age seventeen. His life was marked by many encounters with danger in the African wilderness. Olford would later view his miraculous escapes from harm as evidence of God's protection and call upon his life. Though he would return to Southampton, England after his conversion and commence his studies in Engineering, he could not escape God's call upon his life. He ultimately surrendered his life to God's will and ministry with the prayer, "Lord Jesus, I want you to take over my life for any time, in any place, at any cost" (p. 34). Phillips recounts how Olford prepared for the ministry and began preaching as God gave opportunity. One intriguing episode from Olford's early ministry was an encounter with the young American evangelist Billy Graham. Phillips recounts how God used Stephen Olford to help Graham grasp the importance of the filling of the Holy Spirit for Christian living and for ministry (pp. 39-40). Part one of the biography continues with Olford's marriage to Heather Brown on June 30, 1948, and concludes with a description of their domestic life with their two sons, Jonathan and David. Both sons contribute personal testimonies of their father.
Part two of the biography is titled, "The Minister" (pp. 89-268). Here Phillips seeks to demonstrate the far reaching ministry of Stephen. He was more than just a preacher or pastor to a local congregation. He was a soul-winner, traveler, evangelist, pastor, communicator, author, teacher-preacher, and contender. Phillips aptly describes Olford's passion for winning people to faith in Christ through personal and crusade evangelism. He paints the picture of a man willing to travel the globe to equip the saints, to win souls, and to exalt the Savior. Phillips presents ample evidence of Olford as a prolific author, gifted communicator, and one willing to contend for the faith in the church and on the mission field. Much of part one is devoted, however, to Olford's two pastorates. The first pastorate was in October 1953 over the Duke Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Surrey, a suburb of London (p. 162). This church had been founded in 1870, and named among its pastors the likes of F. B. Meyer and Alan Redpath. Upon Redpath's call to the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, he recommended Olford to the congregation as his replacement. Olford began his ministry at Duke Street with a definite plan of seven objectives. These included restoring the unity of the church, developing a New Testament eldership for the church, evangelizing the community, mobilizing a Young People's Christian Fellowship, formulating a missionary policy, expanding the church's evangelistic ministries, and building a new sanctuary. Duke Street's new pastor was an able administrator and evangelist. However, his greatest impact came through his preaching ministry. Phillips says the defining marks of Olford's preaching ministry were, "exposition, exhortation, and expectation, supported by example" (p. 164). The second pastorate began in September 1959 when Olford was installed as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. "The charge to the pastor was given by Alan Redpath, who was then minister of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, and the charge to the people was given by Billy Graham" (p. 171). Stephen Olford began his ministry in New York with a three-fold plan. First was his ministerial plan that included goals for himself, his preaching, and the music ministry of the church. Second came the general plan where he established his weekly schedule and priorities. Third came the special plan whereby he launched a church-wide evangelistic effort called, "Each One Reach One." Olford served as the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church for fourteen years. His ministry was marked by God's blessings in multiple ways, especially through souls being saved. His tenure closed as he surrendered to God's call to a wider ministry to the universal church through "mass communication and leadership training" (p. 196).
Part three of Only One Life is titled, "The Mentor" (pp. 269-319). It begins by describing Olford's godly and biblical counseling offered personally and pastorally. His counsel was always rooted and grounded in the Scriptures. Phillips includes several questions he posed to Olford with the resultant answers. The questions include, but are not limited to the topics of developing a prayer-life, defining expository preaching, the difference between the baptism of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit, and advice to newlyweds. Part three concludes with personal testimonies about Stephen Olford from family members, friends, and colleagues, and a description of his dreams for revival in the church, repentance in the world, and rapture in the air (pp. 311-319). This last chapter was written by Dr. Olford himself.
The biography concludes with a chronology of Dr. Olford's life and a helpful appendix. The appendix includes the missionary policy Stephen Olford developed for the Duke Street Baptist Church, instructions for decision counselors who serve at altar-calls, a sample lesson for a church membership class, a hymn penned by Olford, and a covenant of church membership used at Calvary Baptist Church. The author has also included footnotes and sources at the end of the book. Photographs pertinent to Olford's life and ministry are used throughout the work.
Dr. Phillips is to be commended for his work. He clearly and passionately sets forth the example of a wonderful man of God who is a worthy mentor to all believers, especially Christian ministers. Dr. Phillips is a gifted writer who skillfully weaves the events of Stephen Olford's life into a cohesive story that captures the attention. Phillips does not simply give a recitation of facts, events, and dates. Instead, he often uses Scripture and biblical characters to draw lessons from the example of Stephen Olford. This technique also demonstrates that Stephen Olford's life and ministry were grounded in the Word of God he loved so much. This makes Only One Life both a biography and devotional commentary. It will inspire everyone who reads it, but especially the pastor. Pastors will be challenged by Olford's disciplined, prayerful, and intentional approach to ministry. They will find practical ideas they can use in their own ministry. Olford's commitment to expository preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit is also a welcome encouragement in a day when much preaching is geared towards felt-needs, self-help topical sermons. It would have been helpful if Dr. Phillips had included an example of Olford's sermons, but these are readily available in other resources. Dr. John Phillips has accomplished his goal of challenging the reader to emulate Dr. Olford's life and commitment to serving the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit