by Stephen J. Nichols
The Church today owes more than it knows to the reformation, particularly to the faithful brothers and sisters who valiantly stood against the Roman Church in the face of fierce persecution. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen J. Nichols “offers a look at this cast of characters and what they accomplished for the life of the church. It tells various stories that make up the one, grand narrative of the Reformation.” (11) I have read many books on church history, but I can think of few books that were more fun than this book. In fact, Nichols builds this book on two principles. “First, the Reformation matters.”(13) Second, history can be fun.” (13) To those of you who may be skeptical of to the second of these two points Nichols adds this:
I’m almost convinced, with apologies to my colleagues, that history teachers themselves are responsible for history’s bad reputation. We have sometimes been so concerned with the vital task of conveying information that we have neglected to see the people we teach about as flesh and blood, as three-dimensional characters. In the quest to convey dates and facts, we have failed to see the people of history in their family roles and dealing with the foibles of life. We have often missed their sense of humor, their sense of wonder at life.” (22)
To be sure this book is not guilty of this error. In the chapter on Martin Luther Nichols particularly went to great lengths to show the humanity of Luther. Nichols even adds one of my favorite Luther quotes of all time: “But I resist the devil, and often with a fart chase him away.”
The one shortcoming that this book may have is its title. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World is very catchy, but it seems to imply that this book is primarily about Martin Luther’s part in the “grand narrative of the Reformation.” This, however, is not the case. Each chapter of this book is dedicated to a different reformer or group of reformers from Martin Luther to the Puritans. The book even contains a helpful chapter that includes a look at the often forgotten women of the reformation.
This book is filled with facts and details that make the reformation come alive. For instance, did you know that Katharina von Bora, Martin Luther’s wife, escaped from a convent along with a dozen other nuns in empty fish barrels? Or, that a parking garage has been built over the grave of the Scottish reformer John Knox? In addition to facts you will also learn about the people of the reformation. You will appreciate the courage and theological clarity of Lady Jane Grey, the famed “Nine Day Queen.” And you will stand in wonder as you read about the 12 year imprisonment of John Bunyan. With this book Nichols connects his readers with the men and women of the reformation and thus with the reformation itself.
It is for these reasons that I would highly recommend this book. In fact, as I read through this book I couldn’t help but to think how appropriate this book would be for students who may otherwise have a hard time with the subject of history as well as fellow lovers of history.