Published on April 4, 2012 by Mary Wimberley  

Martyrdom plays an important role in the history of Christianity because Christianity itself began with a martyr, historian and biographer Mark A. Noll said at Samford University Tuesday, April 3.

"The blood of the martyred Jesus Christ is the greatness of God on fullest display," said Dr. Noll, adding that modern martyrs "are privileged to imitate the greatness of God on display."

Noll preached on the theme, Modern Martyrs and Glory of the Lord, at a service to observe World Christianity Focus Week at Samford's Beeson Divinity School.

The service included the presentation of Beeson's 2012 John C. Pollock Award for Christian Biography to writers Noll and Carolyn Nystrom for their book, Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.

Samford president Dr. Andrew Westmoreland presented the biographers with the award, citing their significant "contributions to Christian scholarship."

The award honors the late Christian biographer John C. Pollock. This year's presentation marks the first time since it was established in 2001 that the award recognizes a book that is about more than one person, or was written by more than one person, noted Beeson dean Dr. Timothy George.

Noll is a history professor at the University of Notre Dame. Nystrom, author of more than 75 books, is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Ill. Their book tells the life stories of 17 Christian leaders from Asia and Africa.

In his sermon, Noll focused on one, Ugandan martyr Janani Luwum (1922-1977) to illustrate the place of martyrdom in recent Christian history.

After a Christian upbringing by parents who had been taught by Anglican missionaries, Luwum was converted and took up fulltime Christian service, said Noll. 

A good preacher and administrator, Luwum rose in Anglican rank, culminating in his election as archbishop of Uganda in 1974. His earlier installation as bishop of the northern province had been attended by military dictator and Ugandan president Idi Amin, who would later accuse Luwum of supporting deposed leader Milton Obote and rebel forces that were against Amin. In 1977, Luwum was shot and his body was never recovered, said Noll.

The aftermath of his suffering and death encouraged many Ugandans and others to turn to Christ.

"Luwum teaches us not to brush over the aftermath of violence," said Noll, who had cited scripture from Habakkuk, which references that the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

 Luwum is among six 20th Century martyrs represented by stone busts in Beeson's Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel at Samford, and is the subject of an information display in the school's Global Center. A statue of the Ugandan archbishop is also on display at Westminster Abbey in London, England.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.