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St. Paul, MN
4 Stars Out Of 5
fun way to engage with church history
January 12, 2013
St. Paul, MN
Zondervan has released 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.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Zondervan. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
I love Church history. I think that one of the most important things we can do to help our kids face the future is to help them understand the past. In fact, I think one of the great tragedies that has occurred in both education - and in the Church - is that we no longer know where we came from. We don't know who has gone before us. We don't know our history.
A new product from Zondervan and author Norman Jeune III can help.
When we're evaluating political issues, if we don't understand Marxism - and the tremendous pain it has caused over the decades - we may not recognize the danger it carries with it. Even worse, we may not recognize Marxism at all (for it is inevitably packaged as something else). How do we solve this? We educate ourselves - and our children. We learn about Karl Marx - who he was, and what he taught.
Likewise, in the spiritual realm, if we don't understand Arianism -- and recognize the heresy that it is - we may not recognize it when it shows up in the pulpit, on the page, or on the television. We may not understand the fight against Arianism that has been occurring for centuries - and we may not understand why. The solution? Education. We need to know who Arius was, and what he taught. We also need to teach it to our kids.
That said, educating our kids about the great thinkers in the Christian tradition can be an arduous undertaking. There are increasingly fantastic resources available to help our children learn, but those only touch the tip of the iceberg. The tip is important, but what about the body of information beneath? What if our children don't go to seminary? Will they ever know the people who shaped Christian thought? Will they know why we sometimes hear things that don't seem to match the words of Jesus?
I am SO excited to tell you about Norman Jeune III's Theologian Trading Cards (Zondervan). Norman Jeune III is the lead Chaplain at CHOC Children's Hospital, and Field Education Supervisor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Mr. Jeune told me that he originally designed Theologian Trading Cards as a way to assist undergraduate and seminary students when he was in seminary at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
We homeschoolers adapt college-level products for our kids all the time. However, these cards need no adapting. They are written using language that is worthy of college students, but students with a decent vocabulary should be able to track with the information, even if some of the theological concepts that are briefly mentioned are new to them. I think these cards would be fantastic for high school students, and sharp middle school students.
My boys (3rd and 4th grade) love memorizing information, and they can't get enough of trading cards (or LEGO mini-figures, truth be told). I tried to hide my galley sheets for the cards, but they caught sight of them, and they are insisting I add Theologian Trading Cards to their Christmas gift list. (So much for surprises!) I know they'll have every one of the cards memorized within a year or two. They may not understand all the concepts right away, but I believe the cards will give them a great framework for future studies.
Enough about why we parents should care about Christian history and Jeune's Theologian Trading Cards. Here is what they are:
There are 288 important figures in church history divided into 15 different theological teams. Each team has its own color which borders the cards, and is a collection of figures related to a particular theme.
Each card front bears the portrait or photo of one important Christian figure, their name, and their "team". The reverse side of the card has a small picture (or a silhoutte with a question mark when no physical information is available), the name, date of birth and death, a brief biographical blurb, and a statement explaining the figure's significance. The information on the card is concise - no more than a few sentences - but it is enough to orient your child with the person and the history. Moreover, I think that categorizing the people will be helpful - there is no confusing the heretics with the post-Reformation Roman Catholics.
There are also a few blank cards - kids can add new figures to their deck. This is a great feature, as the cards inevitably do not cover all of the important people in Christian history.
The Fifteen Teams:
*Orthodoxy Dodgers (Heretics - ex: Arius, Marcion, and Pelagius)
*St. James Padres (Church Fathers of the Patristic Era - ex: Augustine of Hippo, Cyprian of Carthage, Gregory of Nyssa)
*Avignon Crusaders (Medieval excluding Mystics and Monks - ex: Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, John Wyclif)
*Constantinople Hesychasts (Orthodox Church - ex: Cyril of Constantinople, Vladimir Lossky, Alexander Schmemann)
*Munich Monks (Hermits, Monks, and Mystics - ex: Antony of Egypt, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila)
*Geneva Sovereigns (Later Reformed Church / Early Reformers - ex: Jakob Arminius, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli)
*Wittenberg Whistle-Blowers (Early Reformers / Later Lutheran Church - ex: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, George Spalatin)
*Canterbury Monarchs (English Reformers / Angelicans / Puritans - ex: Thomas Cranmer, John Knox, William Tyndale)
*Los Angeles Knights (Fundamentalists / Evangelicals - ex: Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, D.L. Moody)
*Berlin Aggiornamentos (Contemporary - ex: James Cone, Gerhard Ebeling, Albert Schweitzer)
*Jerusalem Resourcers (Contemporary - ex: Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, T. F. Torrance)
*St. Pius Cardinals (Roman Catholic primarily post-Reformation - ex: Desiderius Erasmus, John Paul II, John Henry Newman)
*Serampore Preachers (Missionaries - ex: Boniface, John Eliot, George Whitefield)
*Athens Metaphysicians (Philosophers - ex: Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx)
Did you catch that last category? Those aren't theologians. They're not even Christians. Yet, the work of secular philosophers has had a tremendous impact on the Church.
Theologian Trading Cards are a fantastic resource for teaching kids about the history of the Christian Church, and the major influencers of theology throughout history, in a fun and engaging way. Better yet, their learning can occur amongst themselves as they trade cards, compare information, and quiz each other on their knowledge of Christian history.
Theologian Trading Cards could be used in your home, school, or co-op.
I want to thank Zondervan and Academic PS for providing me with copies of Theologian Trading Cards in return for my honest opinion.