Standing on Their Shoulders
Heroes of the Faith for Today
Acorn Press, 2015
We live in an age where many people in the church will know more about the Marvel or DC comic superheroes than the historical heroes of the Christian faith. This small book from Rhys Bezzant seeks to redress at least some of this paucity of knowledge. Standing on Their Shoulders consists of twelve brief vignettes of Christians who have greatly impacted our modern faith. These vignettes begin with the church fathers—Athanasius and Augustine—through the Reformation era of Luther, Calvin and Cranmer. Continuing with the post-Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, William Wilberforce, and Charles Spurgeon, before finishing in the 20th century considering the impact of Pandita Ramabai, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Billy Graham. Each of the twelve vignettes provides a short and succinct overview of the hero’s life and context, along with the biblical, ecclesial and social impetus that underpinned their ministry. Helpfully, each focuses on a relatively narrow aspect of the individual’s ministry while remaining historically broad. This allows the reader an insight into each person and their context without being overwhelmed with new information. Concluding each chapter is a series of reflective questions that help the reader to draw connections from history to their life. These questions also enable the book to be used in a teaching setting. (Bezzant originally presented these vignettes to his students).
While some attempts at this form of historical reflection end up in hagiographic territory, Bezzant here helpfully gives a rounded picture of each figure. The vignettes do not shy away from seeing the failings and troubles of each character, and even for some highlights how God still used them. However, two gentle critiques may be made. Firstly, the book focuses primarily on Reformation and post-Reformation figures, with Luther being presented in chapter 3. The thousand years of history between Augustine and Luther provides a host of other characters whose various profiles would also serve to edify the church, such as Thomas Aquinas, and John Knox to name but two. This gap causes the book to feel slightly lopsided as a result. Secondly, the book focuses relatively heavily upon Anglo-Saxon males, with Pandita Ramabai being the only female and majority world figure to be profiled in the later sections of the book. However both of these points are likely a product of the original setting for these chapters: as conference training talks and studies. Hopefully the rumoured second volume of the work will expand and address these gaps.
Throughout this book Bezzant’s complementary passions for teaching church history and edifying the saints shine through. The book is written in a pleasant and emotive style that assists in the absorption and understanding of the material. Throughout it seeks to challenge, encourage and edify modern Christians as we realise we are standing on the shoulders of giants to see further. This book is highly recommended for individuals, small groups and churches—indeed the whole body of saints.
Chris Porter, Melbourne, Vic
(originally posted on Euangelion.)