• Author: Norman Jeune III
• Category: Church History
• Publisher: Zondervan (2012)
• Format: glossy cards
• Count: 288 individuals
• ISBN#: 9780310328582
• List Price: $26.99
• Rating: Recommended
Next month, Zondervan is releasing an interesting twist on studying church history and theology: Theologian Trading Cards: A Fun Way to Learn Church History and Theology developed by Norman Jeune III. These cards are promising as a tool for educators and parents who seek to make the study of church history and theology fun.
The cards have a glossy finish with colorful borders surrounding black and white photographs, or more frequently classic portraits or artists’ depictions of the various characters. The 288 individuals highlighted in this set span all of Christian church history from the early second century down to influential theologians and philosophers today. Just like a typical sports card, the back of each card gives biographical information and details the significance of the “player.” It isn’t stats that are given pride of place, however, instead the series highlights influential works, famous events and the martyrdom of the various “athletes.”
The set of cards is divided into several “teams” or groupings of characters by theme, era or some other distinguishing factor. Some of these teams seem a bit of a stretch when you see who makes up that particular team, and others make you wonder why they were included in a set of “theologian” trading cards. But for the most part, the groupings are understandable. I’ll list them below:
- Orthodoxy Dodgers (Heretics)
- St. James Padres (Church Fathers, Apostolic Era)
- Avingnon Crusaders (Medieval, excluding Mystics and Monks)
- Constantinople Hesychasts (Orthodox Church)
- Munich Monks (Hermits, Monks and Mystics)
- Geneva Sovereigns (Later Reformed Church and Early Reformers)
- Wittenberg Whistle-Blowers (Early Reformers and Later Lutheran Church)
- Munster Radicals (Radical Reformation and Anabaptists)
- Canterbury Monarchs (English Reformers, Anglicans and Puritans)
- Los Angeles Knights (Fundamentalists and Evangelicals)
- Berlin Aggiornamentos (Contemporary)
- Jerusalem Resourcers (Contemporary)
- St. Pius Cardinals (Roman Catholic, particularly post-Reformation)
- Serampore Preachers (Missionaries)
- Athens Metaphysicians (Philosophers)
Before I critique these cards, I should stress I saw a pre-published version of them. So some of the criticisms may not apply. I noticed a few inconsistencies, such as not marking Jan Hus or Balthasar Hubmaier as martyrs, yet noting on their cards that each was burned at the stake. And then John Knox is marked out as a martyer but he did not die a martyr’s death. Some of the descriptions too, of the figures included don’t contain some pertinent details, such as Athanasius’ letter which included the first list of the canonical 27 NT books, and no mention of the lasting hymns authored by Bernard of Clairvoux and Ambrose of Milan. The absence of Peter Waldo and Michael Sattler and the scarcity of female figures (one could imagine Lady Jane Grey’s inclusion in the Canterbury Monarchs “team,” for instance) also are notable. And when it comes to the inclusion of the Puritans or later Fundamentalist and Evangelical figures, many will notice the absence of such men as Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, J. Frank Norris, J.C. Ryle and Billy Sunday. And the most glaring absence of all, is that of Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers.
I hope some of these deficiencies were corrected before publication. I’m at a loss to know what the differentiation is between the Berlin Aggiornamentos and Jerusalem Resourcers which both seem to be a list of influential theologians. I’m sure the descriptions of those groups were beefed up prior to release. Also puzzling is the blank picture with a question mark that adorns the front of some of the cards. Perhaps this indicates there is no picture or artist’s depiction available for the individual.
I don’t want to downplay these cards too much with the above minor criticism. By and large they are informative, interesting and fun. The cards are attractive and will appeal to those of a Reformed or scholastic bent. I can envision them being used in homeschools and Christian schools in the junior high to high school level, or even younger than that. They will spur more research into the various figures, but I’m not so sure they’ll actually be traded. Since you get the set, there’s nothing to trade for. Unless teachers use them as rewards and then, the trading would ensue!
These cards would make a great gift for a young theologian-to-be, and I expect they’ll find their way beneath many a Christmas tree this year. If you’re looking for more ways to keep your children interested in the study of the Christian faith, this set will be a tool you won’t want to ignore.
Norman Jeune III coordinates the provision of pastoral care to children and their families as the Lead Hospital Chaplain at Children’s Hospital in Orange, California. Norman holds a M.A. from Talbot School of Theology, Biloa University and is also the cofounder of the popular theological blog Christians in Context, ChristiansinContext.com.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Zondervan. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.