Book Review by Sherwin Salonga of Stephen Nichols’ The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World.

Here’s another book review by my student Sherwin Salonga.

Nichols, Stephen J. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007. $14.99

how monk

The Author of How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World is Stephen J. Nichols. The author has taken another method to explain the Reformation in a way where it matters and the Reformation can be fun. Martin Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were some of the key members that Nichols wrote about in this book. Nichols has a Ph.D. for Theological Seminary from Westminster. Located at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate College is where Nichols teaches theology. Turning to the Appendix part of the book, Nichols lists down his sources with the title “In Their Own Words.” Luther’s Ninety Five Thesis and Calvin’s work is a part of Nichols Appendix. Other Reformation prayers, confessions, and documents are listed as well.

The book contains eight chapters talking about the Reformation. He gives a brief description of important dates and characters in the Reformation. In the first chapter, Nichols explains how the Reformation matters today. Nichols writes that, “The Reformers also revolutionized the daily life outside the church. They gave new meaning to work and to various roles—spouses, parents, and children, employees and employers; civic rulers and citizens” (19). Reformation took a stand and was known for believing that the Word of God was the final authority in everything. Also, the Reformation brought the new idea that justification was through faith in Christ alone.

In the next chapter, Nichols talks about the German Reformation with Martin Luther. He explains the important event of the 95 Theses that Martin Luther did. Nichols proclaims, “Luther’s act gave birth to the Protestant church, now nearly 600 million members strong. Luther’s act brought the world out of medieval times and into the modern age” (11). In the next chapter, Nichols talks about the Swiss Reformation and Zwingli. The Anabaptist, Anglicans, British Reformation, and John Calvin follow. Chapter six talks about the British Reformation and how it started with a king and a divorce. Blood was a key factor in the British Reformation with wars and killings.

With the chapter title of “Men in Black”, Nichols talks about the Puritans. He gives them the right credit that they were theologians, politicians, soldiers, farmers, and scholars. He provided an informative chart on page 110. He also talks about their weaknesses. In the last chapter, Nichols includes the women of the Reformation in his book. This was not common and mentioning the women was not as common in explaining the church history. He mentions women like Katherine Zell. She married a clergyman and was the first one to do so. Her beliefs and writings were unique. She wrote about how women should remain strong and smart. During the age of the Reformation, a statement of women having power was impactful. Nichols also included Marie Dentiere. She had a big influence on the Genevan politics and religion. She preached with big named Reformers such as John Calvin. Nichols writes, “Steven Ozment has led the way for the view that the elevation of women and marriage and families is nearly the singular achievement of the Reformation’s impact of culture” (127).

Nichols speaks upon important events and theology that came from the Reformation such as the doctrine of sola gratia (grace alone). Connecting with the second doctrine, the third one is sola fide (faith alone). Those two components are the only factors for a person’s salvation. Solus Christus explains that Christ is the only way to the Father God. Soli Deo Gloria means the glory of God alone. This means that everything one person does should be aimed to glorify God alone. Christians and non-Christians alike should read this book; for, the Reformation is an important part of history. Nichols then moves on with Martin Luther with his mallet nailing the Ninety Five Thesis. He explains the German Reformation with Martin Luther being the main person of that section. Nichols then moves on to the Swiss Reformation with Zwingli as the hero of this section. Then includes the Anabaptists, the Anglican, British Reformation, Puritans, the women, and John Calvin. This book is a short eight chapter book explaining each of these movements in the Reformation. Nichols reminds us before the books ends that “their stories have too often gone untold. The church today can only benefit by telling and retelling them again”

Nichols last section of his book included a “Reformation Scorecard.” The entire book is in a chart format. This is where he gives different regions of the Reformation, important events, writings that happened and the key players of each place. It is a handy tool for a person to go back to.

I enjoyed the book more than I expected. Nichols gives a different approach to presenting a subject like the Reformation. For the Reformation is an important aspect to history, Nichols does a good job to keep the readers engaged to keep reading. The book itself is small yet it contains a lot of important information. This book is not only a historical book but it is practical. Nichols puts it best writing “these doctrine form the bedrock of all that we believe, and the Reformers give these doctrines their finest expression” 18. There were very few weaknesses that I can point out. It was a short book that explains a significant amount about the Reformation. One that I can think of would be if a reader wants more facts than this brief book. If a person is looking for a more facts based book then this book would not be for them.

Nichols explains the solas of the Reformers, which I found helpful. The first doctrine was sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Scripture was the final authority in a person’s life and in the church. This is a good way to start the book because it gets straight to the point of how the Reformation matters today. The other solas Nichols included were: sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (the glory of God alone).

I strongly recommend book for a non-Christian to read because they can see God from another perspective. I believe that the church that people see is a legalistic church. People may feel like God is a master that one person gives up their life to by force or without joy. The Reformation is can turn anyone’s life around. There are numerous of drawings and notes which can make it easy to go back to or teach.

 Nichols used his resources in an academic way. He provides things such as “In Their Own Words.” He lists his sources in the Appendix, which is useful for future references. He provides a chart of an overview of the entire Reformation he wrote about it. He challenges the readers to take this subject seriously and not take it for granted. He writes, “Congregations didn’t sing in the centuries leading up to the Reformation. In face, Jan Hus, one of the pre-Reformation Reformers, was condemned as a heretic for, among other things, having his congregation sing. Luther and other Reformers restored congregational singing to the church.” Something simple as singing was not allowed in church and depending on some areas in life in general. The Reformers has changed history for the everyday life as much as the church life. I recommend this book to anything that is interested in history.

Reviewed by Sherwin Salonga (Biola University)

 

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