This volume is a collection of biographical studies, each one of which considers the contribution of a prominent church leader. The individuals selected are drawn from different periods of church history. We are introduced to the life and thought of Athanasius, Gregory and Augustine from the early centuries, of Charles the Great, Anselm and Aquinas from the medieval church, of Luther, Bullinger and Calvin from the time of the Reformation, and of Wesley, Nevin and Barth from later on. The chapters were originally delivered as lectures the author gave to a Christian Studies Forum between 1996 and 2006 when he was a pastor in Delaware.
As the title indicates, the individuals mentioned changed the church in one or more ways during their lifetimes and subsequently. We are introduced to their strengths and weaknesses and are given details for further reading. No doubt we are familiar with some names more than others, but it is good for us to discover that individuals can influence the future through ideas connected to their understanding of God and his grace.
Although the ideas presented by the gamechangers could be complicated, the author takes us through their contributions in a clear and interesting way. The book gives insights into how the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated, as well as the church’s understanding of the person and work of Jesus. Other chapters consider the meaning of salvation and of sanctification.
I was interested in the assessment of Nevin because he understood that there is more to the Lord’s Supper than meets the eye and wanted to bring the church back to the position of Calvin regarding the sacraments and other aspects of the life of the church which he thought had descended into individualism. Whether he managed to do so without verging into error regarding other doctrines is discussed by the author, who now lectures in Systematic and Historical Theology at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology.
This is an interesting volume and should whet the appetite of theological readers (Christians, in a word) to read more about those who have influenced what they believe.
This review appeared in the November 2015 issue of the Record of the Free Church of Scotland.