Alton (Al) Gansky has been one of my favorite novelists for eight or ten years now. Wonderful suspense novels. Sometimes with a bit of the supernatural thrown in. Some of Al’s novels are military thrillers co-written with such notable men as Major Jeff Struecker, one of the key players in the real-life event the movie Blackhawk Down was about.
But Al Gansky also writes non-fiction.
As a former Christian pastor, he was well qualified to do the mountains of research necessary to write a book like 60 People Who Shaped the Church. In his Introduction, he says, “History intimidates us; historical characters intrigue us.” I suspect that’s one reason historical novels are so popular.
Would I have pored through a history book about the French Revolution even once? I doubt it seriously. Would I read A Tale of Two Cities, not once but three or four times (so far)? Absolutely!
But 60 People is not a novel. It’s a 316 page look at the “sinners, saints, rogues, and heroes” who played a key role in shaping the Christian church as we know it. Al admits–not surprisingly–that cutting the number of people down to sixty was a challenge.
Al starts with Jesus’s disciple, Simon Peter, and the apostle Paul and moves smoothly through 20 centuries, ending with Dr. Billy Graham. Many of Al’s vignettes–few of the chapters are longer than three or four pages–are about men one might expect to find in it book like this: Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Isaac Watts, John and Charles Wesley (yes, the brothers do have separate chapters), Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Sunday.
But Al has some real surprises. Like scientists Copernicus and Galileo. And mathematician Blaise Pascal.
And writers. Like John Bunyon, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. And T. S. Elliott, who was important for far more than his poetry and plays. And C. S. Lewis and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
And composers like Handel and prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby.
Included in this collection are some people who would seem highly unlikely to play a role in shaping the church. Like the emperor Diocletian, “who persecuted the church and in doing so helped spread the gospel.” And King Henry VIII, “who separated church from state and started the Anglican church.”
Because of the way this book is organized into short chapters, I found it convenient to read just a chapter or two a night. I wish I could remember all of the fascinating details Al Gansky presented about each person, but one stands out even months later.
Slave trader John Newton was quite a rough character during the earlier part of his life and he once fell overboard while drunk. His crew (reluctantly) saved him by harpooning him in the leg and pulling him back to the ship. He bore that scar the rest of his life.
If you’re the least interested in the history of Christianity, but totally disinterested in reading a book about Christian history, you may find 6o People Who Shaped the Church to be just the kind of read you’ll enjoy.
Next on my list is another of Al Gansky’s books, 30 Events that Shaped the Church.
What do you think of the idea of 60 People? How about leaving a comment?
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