GREAT LEADERS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, edited by John D. Woodbridge; Moody Press, 1988; 384 pp., $24.95, (cloth). (Reviewed by Prof H. Hanko.)
The history of the church, it has been said, is the history of her leaders. Undoubtedly this is true when it is remembered that throughout the church’s history from Pentecost to today, God has been pleased to raise up men of outstanding ability, zeal, courage, and faithfulness through whom He has worked mighty deeds for the welfare of Christ’s body.
Sometimes these men are relatively obscure men, all but forgotten by the church today. Sometimes they are renowned theologians through whom the Lord has given a great heritage of the truth. Sometimes they were men through whose works the Lord was pleased to give the church altogether new direction and startling reformation. They were men like us, men with many sins and weaknesses, men who struggled with the temptations of the flesh, men who themselves were amazed at the great work which God was pleased to perform through them (Luther, e.g., once said that through the years of the Reformation, he felt as if he was being carried along on the crest of a tidal wave over which he had no control). But their story is the story of the church.
This book contains biographical sketches of 64 such men. Each short chapter contains information concerning their lives, their work, their place in the history of the church, and how God used them for the welfare of the church and the progress of the truth in the world. As a bonus, there are chapters on the first monks, the crusades, and medieval monasticism. A map of Paul’s missionary journeys is included, along with several time charts which enable us to place these men in their own time.
We would probably not agree with all the choices which the editor made. A few medieval mystics are included; a couple of popes; here and there a man who was a heretic (Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, Francis Xavier, e.g.). Some of the more modem choices also come as something of a surprise. It seems a bit strange to compare Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Billy Graham, and C.S. Lewis with Tertullian, Augustine, and Luther. And some omissions make one wish he had a choice in this list of leaders in the church: Gottschalk, William. Tyndale, some of the divines at Dordt and Westminster. But the lines had to be drawn somewhere.
This book is of such worth and value that it ought to have a place in our home and school libraries and ought to be must-reading for every graduate from our high schools. Not only can a great deal be learned from it concerning the history of the church, but the story of these great men in the church of Christ is a constant source of encouragement to us in the battle which we are called to fight.