A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Andre A. Gazal
This delightful volume provides a readily accessible introduction to church history through these brief biographies of ten key individuals who contributed significantly to the development of Christianity. The biographies represent contributions by several authors, including the general editor, Ian Maddock. These biographies survey the lives of Athanasius (c.296-373), Augustine (354-430), Anselm (1033-1109), Martin Luther (1483-1556), Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Richard Baxter (1615-1691), John Wesley (1703-1791), Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).
While each of the biographies can stand alone as helpful overviews, they fit cohesively together so as to form a continuous narrative throughout major periods of church history as each figure portrayed represents the major concerns of the Church of each era. At the same time, each biography vividly illustrates the manner in which each of these individuals shaped their times, how their times shaped them, and their appropriation of the Christian Faith.
Among the ten biographies, the ones which stand out particularly are those on Cranmer, Baxter, and Bonhoeffer. The inclusion of Archbishop Cranmer in this book is refreshing, distinguishing it from the common tendency of such works, especially popular ones, to include only the supposed Continental “Giants” like Ulrich Zwingli, and even more often, John Calvin to exclusion of any representative of the English Reformation, except for the occasional mention of William Tyndale. Devotion to Cranmer is significant because he fundamentally represents in his career and overall life the concerns, complexities, contradictions, and evangelical vitality of the Reformation in England. It is also especially interesting that Richard Baxter appears on behalf of the Puritan tradition. A dissenter who held unwavering convictions, but demonstrated an irenic and pastoral outlook, Baxter embodies the best of the Puritan ethos. Finally, the editor strikingly captures the existential tension between faith and totalitarian tyranny during the first half of the twentieth century in his selection of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the last personage of the book.
Further enhancing this book’s usefulness is a list of suggested reading after each chapter. Making it more accessible are the amusing sketches interspersed throughout. 10 Dead Guys You Should Know serves as a suitable introduction to Christian biography in general to a variety of audiences. One can incorporate it effectively into Bible study groups, Sunday School classes, upper elementary, middle, and high school curricula as well as freshman undergraduate students. 10 Dead Guys You Should Know is indeed an invaluable primer to the living faith of those who preceded us.
Andre A. Gazal
Montana Bible College