Reviewed by: Larry Wilson
Date posted: 08/19/2007
Portraits of Faithful Saints, by Herman Hanko. Published by Reformed Free Publishing
Assoc., 1999. Hardcover, 450 pages, list price $32.95. Reviewed by editor Larry Wilson.
This is almost the book I have been wishing someone would write. When I was a student at Geneva College in the early 1970s, I commented to Dr. J. G. Vos that genuine Christian faith basically died out from shortly after the apostles until the time of Martin Luther. Dr. Vos gently reminded me that Jesus promised to build his church and insisted that the gates of hell would never prevail against her. Christ kept his promise. Even in the darkest ages of church history, he always preserved a remnant. I never forgot that. Still, I've often wished that someone would write a popular survey of church history that would demonstrate that truth and capture the drama of the ongoing struggle between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of darkness.
Professor Herman Hanko, who has taught church history at the Protestant Reformed Seminary for over thirty years, has nearly done just that. He provides fifty-two moving portraits of godly men and women in historical order. Here are true heroes for our young people. Since these portraits are presented in historical order, the book gives a sense of the drama of Christ's faithful building of his church through the ages.
The book is nicely designed and attractive. It is interesting and fun to read. Its seven sections represent seven time periods. Every section begins with a time line showing when each saint lived in relation to major historical events. Prof. Hanko reveals a pastoral heart which loves Christ and his church. He draws many wise lessons from the facts of the past. In his foreword, he reveals his perspective: "Church history is the most important part of any historical study because it describes God's activities, both supernatural and ordinary, among His redeemed people To study church history is to come to know the work of God in Christ among His people."
The book reflects a commendable commitment to the Reformed faith, although it is slanted to espouse certain Protestant Reformed distinctives. Occasionally Prof. Hanko speaks as if earlier controversies explicitly addressed Protestant Reformed concerns. The final section of the book treats three "Twentieth Century Reformers in the U.S." Two of them are the founders of the Protestant Reformed Church! The third is J. Gresham Machen. The chapters on these three men are good, but the final section seems too narrow for a book with such a catholic vision.
Notwithstanding these weaknesses, this is a fine book. Its fifty-two chapters would lend themselves wonderfully to reading on your own or aloud to your family each Lord's Day afternoon for a year (if you can wait a whole week between readings!).