Review of Zondervan’s Theologian Trading Cards
They’re a real thing, and they’re the best conversation starter I’ve brought into my office in a long time.
Creator Norman Jeune III came up with the idea of Theologian Trading Cards in seminary. It’s a good one. I remember, as a kid, memorizing and quoting statistics and quizzing friends with the back of baseball cards. I could tell you how many home runs and runs batted in Andrew Dawson of the Chicago Cubs had had for the last five years. It’s a good size for a learning tool.
The product description from Zondervan reads:
Patterned after the all-American baseball card, Theologian Trading Cards provide essential information about the major teachers, leaders, and trouble-makers throughout the history of the Church. At a glance you will have access to information regarding 288 important figures in church history, including when and where they lived, their contribution to the church, and enduring significance.
Jeune has organized the cards into 15 teams, each grouped by chronological or historical or theological commonality. The “Orthodoxy Dodgers” (great name) are the church’s heretics. Marcion (85-160), for example, “created his own canon [of Scripture], exlcuding the Old Testament and introducing numerous edits, compilations, and omissions to the New Testament.” The “St. James Padres” team consists of early church fathers: Ambrose, Augustine, Cyril, Justin, and so on.
The cards aren’t really “trading cards,” since there’s no trading to be done–you can only buy it as a complete set. But they’re just as fun as the baseball cards I collected as a kid… well, if you think theology is fun. (Which, of course, it is!) Jeune introduces a creative medium in a field that can be challenging for students. There are a lot of facts, figures, and beliefs to keep straight in a basic church history course.
The front of the card consists of a photo (except where none is available; see below), the name of the figure, and his or her team. The back of each card has dates and two sections: biographical and significance. Of course it would be impossible to cover everything (even all the significant things) in each figure’s life on just the back of a card. But Jeune does a good job of hitting the main points.
And the cards are fun. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything on my office coffee table picked up as much as these cards. Folks want to leaf through and see who’s there, what is written about them, etc. I’d imagine that they aid exam preparation, too. The handy size makes them easy to stuff in backpack, or put a small stack in a purse for on-the-go quizzing.
Of course a set like this is prone to criticism–which figures Jeune includes, which ones he doesn’t, how much detail he includes, what detail he leaves out. There is somewhat decent representation of more than just white males–users of this set will find cards for Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Teresa of Avila… though still one wants for more. There is James Cone, but no MLK? Julian of Norwich, but no Perpetua? This must be impossible to get right in a set like this, but those omissions are noticeable. I’m holding out for a “booster pack” to add to the set.
Another quibble I have is that while each of the 15 teams has a checklist, there is no comprehensive checklist for the set. Even if spread out over a few cards, it would be useful to be able to quickly see all the persons that Jeune includes in the set. (Perhaps he will upload a list online in the future? If so, I’ll post here.)
A distraction in the set is the number of cards that have a blank silhouette with a question mark on it. For these the publisher was not able to procure an image. There is a good reason for this, and it’s worth reading Jeune’s explanation here. All the same, an original sketch, however basic, would have been preferred. (Remember those Facebook friends who joined but didn’t add a profile pic for months? It looks like that, only with the super-imposed question mark.)
The idea of Theologian Trading Cards is a great one, though. The cards aim to be “a fun way to learn church history and theology.” They are that, but I hope future editions or additional sets/booster packs will be more thorough in covering all the areas and players in church history and theology. Until then, this is still a set worth having. Jeune’s layout makes it easy to fill in the gaps in one’s knowledge of church history and theologians.