Recommended. Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is research professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School. He has written several books, including Heaven on Earth, the Pages of Church History, and Ancient Word, Changing Worlds.
If you’re not a church history scholar but are interested in the main players of Christian ecclesiology, this is the book for you. Progressing from the 1500’s and on, Dr. Nichols traces the rapid movement of Christian doctrine through history without boring the contemporary church member to death. This book captures the main characters in Reformation history covering everyone from Martin Luther to Thomas Cranmer and even including people like Johannes Oecolampadius. Without going into too much detail about the intricacies of theology but just enough to give general ideas, Nichols conveys a clear picture of the historical events that brought about certain doctrinal pillars that still stand today.
Each chapter gives insight into a specific time period and geographical location of the Reformation. Starting with Luther in Germany, Nichols moves to Zwingli/Calvin/Anabaptists and the Swiss Reformation, and then to the Anglicans/Puritans and the British Reformation. Within each chapter, there are spotlights with more information on certain people or events that stand prominently in church history. Though these spotlights can be somewhat distracting when reading straight through the book, they are helpful nonetheless.
The part of the book that I appreciated the most was Nichols’ focus on the women of the Reformation, found in the last chapter of the book. I felt this chapter shed new light on the progress of Christianity through history, breaking away from the stereotypical patriarchal image that most Americans gather about the Reformation. As the Reformers championed the institution of marriage and family, there was a need to develop a theology of marriage. What does a minister’s family look like? was one of the questions that ran through the minds of the Reformers. But as Nichols writes, “They had formidable wives to help them figure it out.” Women like Katherina von Bora (Martin Luther’s wife) and Lady Jane Grey (who was persecuted Bloody Mary) were pillars and defenders of correct theology and faithful women in the life of the church. One of the book’s strongest points, Nichols does a great job of capturing the loyalty of strong-minded women during the chaos of the Reformation.
To begin to understand the sacrifices, martyrdoms, and persecutions that our Christian brothers and sisters had to go through in order to stay faithful to God’s word is humbling at the very least. In a world where most American Christians live comfortably without demand to be decisive about our theology, this book made me wonder whether I would have been so loyal to such doctrines, which therefore makes me examine my convictions more thoroughly. If our goal as Christians is to stand firm upon the truth of God’s word, then it is only fitting to be encouraged by those who sacrificed for the truth in centuries past. Though a short and concise book, The Reformation will give you a clear picture of the men and women who did just that.