Patron Saints for Postmoderns by Chris Armstrong is an inviting volume of ten essays about people “from the past who speak to our future.” The author’s recurring theme is a demonstration of how these individuals translated the gospel for their own times and the significance of their doing so.
Because the twenty-first century church didn’t spring up from nowhere, we need to be acquainted with movements of a couple thousand years of Christendom, because this is the foundation on which we’re now standing.
Armstrong, though, makes the point that church history is made up of people, not movements; at least it was real people who were moving the movements . . . flawed, clever, cranky, nuanced individuals. And he found ten of them to highlight, to show how ordinary people took the gospel and interpreted it for their own times. Some are familiar—e.g., Dante, Newton, Sayers—though he gives these fresh treatment. Others are lesser known, especially to the casual reader, but worth getting to know.
Armstrong’s word “saint” is carefully chosen. Some Christian traditions venerate individuals who were more than routinely prominent, influential, godly, charitable in their day; others insist that all believers are saints, citing Paul’s use of the term. Armstrong, though, chooses a diverse group of featured saints who “pierce our complacency,” again, observing their own times and discerning when and how the state of church affairs needed to be shaken up. Several of his saints were writers, creators, who put truths into innovative forms.
The author’s saints are ones who were “barrier-crossing and bridge-building” at pivotal moments in the history of the church. Amanda Berry Smith led in crossing racial boundaries, despite the triple whammy of being poor, female, and black in the nineteenth century. John Amos Comenius understood the importance of education during his day, and his work is still influential. None of his saints reinvented the gospel, but understood how it especially applied to their times. Florentine politics played a role in defining Dante’s redemption story. Each journey is personal, yet also universal.
Armstrong tosses in a few parenthetical statements throughout the book, reminding us that he is an engaged, reacting person, not someone writing merely as a historian or a reporter. Patron Saints remains enriching and interesting throughout.
— Reviewed by Pamela Pugh
* Thanks to Adrianna at IVP for this review copy, and to Pamela Pugh, editor extraordinaire at Moody, for her guest review.