“Pages From Church History: A Guided Tour of Christian Classics” by Stephen J. Nichols

Really nothing you and I believe is original. It comes from somewhere. And that somewhere is the ever-flowing river of thought called history. That’s why one of my favorite literary genres to read is the biography of those who made a significant impact on history and thought.

And the Christian thoughts and beliefs you and I have come to us through the writings and teachings of Church history’s pastors and teachers. At the initiative of my son who is led a book discussion, I recently read a book entitled, “Pages From Church History,” by Stephen J. Nichols. It’s like reading twelve chapter-long mini-biographies of key teachers and writers in Church history (as well as world history, for that matter). It’s just a little over 300 pages, with each mini-biography being about twenty-plus pages long. So it’s easy to read at one chapter per setting.
Whether you’re already fairly well-informed about the major figures who have significantly shaped the Christian thought of the world and the Church, such as:
Polycarp (70-155 AD)
Augustine (354-430 AD)
Anselm (1033-1109)
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
John Bunyan (1628-1688)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
John Wesley (1703-1791) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
William Carey (1761-1834)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945),
…or whether most of these names are unfamiliar to you, I believe you’ll benefit from reading this book on these men’s lives and contributions to Christian thought and beliefs. I personally found Nichols’ insights well worth my reading.
Just to wet your own appetite to read this book, one particular mini-biography that stirred me was the last chapter on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’d read a few things about him before, and seen a nice documentary on him at Ragtag a few years ago. But this particular chapter gave me a new appreciation for Bonhoeffer, and an aspiration to purchase and read some of his classic books for myself.
Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the reign of Hilter. That historical setting already has enough drama, but then add in the fact that Bonhoeffer was one of relatively very few in the Church in Germany who had the guts and convictions to openly speak out against Hitler’s tyranny and racism. Eventually he was imprisoned and executed by Hitler’s orders only days before the Allied Forces arrived at Buchenwald, the concentration camp at which he was executed.
The prison doctor at Buchenwald recorded Bonhoeffer’s final moments as follows:
“On the morning of that day between five and six o’clock the prisoners … were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of the court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
Bonhoeffer’s own last words were spoken to a captured British officer: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

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