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I’m so lazy with book reviews, and it is to my own detriment that I don’t write more of them, as writing a review does help solidify the content in your mind. This book I read over a few months this year:

131 Christians Everyone Should Know, from the Editors of Christian History Magazine, forward by J.I. Packer, Holman Reference, 2000.

The strength of this book is perhaps also its weakness. It highlights 131 Christian historical figures in brief 2-4 page summaries of their life. It is a great reference. However, it could be rather overwhelming to those lacking much familiarity with Christian history! Yet, you must start somewhere and these mini-biographies are written in an interesting way, not simply dry recitation of historical facts. This could be a springboard to further investigate one or more of these individuals who sounds particularly interesting to you.

These mini-biographies are not in chronological order, but presented by categories such as: theologians, denominational founders, poets, missionaries, activists. There is a historical timeline at the beginning, and a subject index at the back so you could find people connected to a certain topic, event, movement, etc.

I was familiar with about 75% of these people, but the rest were new to me. Of course, there was subjectivity involved in deciding who to include in the book, and you may find that a figure you deem important is not among the 131, or wonder if certain individuals really warranted inclusion.

In an age when too many folks seem to be constantly on their smart phones, this book could be ideal for picking up instead of your phone and reading one or several of the brief biographies!

I’ll highlight several interesting tidbits…

♦ Karl Barth was a brilliant and influential early/mid 20th century theologian and professor who penned a massive Church Dogmatics multi-volume work. He was scholarly, and lay folks may not be familiar with him. I loved this:
When asked in 1962 how we would summarize the essence of the millions of words he had published, he replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” (page 48)

♦ Catherine of Siena was a Catholic mystic and activist. I liked the wording of this in a letter she wrote to the pope. While she was writing about a particular issue, I think it can apply to many situations and each of us: “Respond to the Holy Spirit who is calling you! I tell you: Come! Come! Come! Don’t wait for time because time isn’t waiting for you.” (page 260)

♦ Soren Kierkegaard is a name I’ve often come across especially when reading about matters of faith and doubt. I vaguely knew him as a Scandinavian Christian philosopher from a couple hundred years ago, and the slightly over 2 page summary gave me better understanding of Kierkegaard. Here is content from page 228 that highlights key points from his later writings (in the 1840s) where he tried to clarify the true nature of Christianity:

The greatest enemy of Christianity, he argued, was “Christendom” – the cultured and respectable Christianity of his day. The tragedy of easy Christianity is that existence has ceased to be an adventure and a constant risk in the presence of God but has become a form of morality and doctrinal system. Its purpose is to simplify the matter of becoming a Christian. This is just paganism, “cheap” Christianity, with neither cost or pain, Kierkegaard argued. It is like war games, in which armies move and there is a great deal of noise, but there is no real risk or pain- and no real victory. Kierkegaard believed the church of his day was merely “playing at Christianity.”

Kierkegaard became increasingly convinced that his calling was in “making Christianity difficult.” He was to remind people of his day that to be truly Christian, one must become aware of the cost of faith and pay the price…

Kierkegaard was not just a suffering prophet, though. He was a man of deep, almost mystical faith, and his acerbic pen could also compose lyrical prayers like these: “Teach me, O God, not to torture myself, not to make a martyr out of myself through stifling reflection, but rather teach me to breathe deeply in faith.”

– My own thoughts to close this review: There is much to learn from history, but you can’t learn from it, if you don’t know history! Regarding Kierkegaard, it seems the church today, although different, needs similar reminders as too many have fallen under the influence of a detrimental “positive” and “prosperous” Christianity where we should all be having the “best life now” and difficulty means we have failed to have enough faith.