John Woodbridge, Sleuth Historian

John Woodbridge, Sleuth Historian April 29, 2011

Those of us who know John Woodbridge, well-known church history professor at Trinity, know that John’s got a bit of the sleuth in him. He’s not just a historian; sometimes he wanders into detective work. Which he has done in newest book: Hitler in the Crosshairs: A GI’s Story of Courage and Faith. This is one of those won’t-stop-till-I-finish book that must be read in one sitting, which I did the other day.

I won’t give away the secret, but it goes like this: sitting down to watch the evening news, John saw the ticker say that a gun believed to have been owned by Adolf Hitler was being put up for auction by the owner of a pawnshop in Bloomington Illinois. The gun had “AH” on it.

When John saw the ticker, he recalled being six years old. His father, a well-known American professor, had called him into his office to show him a gun, a golden pistol. This gun, his father told him, belonged to Adolf Hitler. At this point in the story I’m saying to myself, “It’s just like John Woodbridge to have a father who owned something that incredible.” That gun, too, had “AH” on it.

He also realized, after a brief conversation with his wife Susan, that the story was that a man named Teen Palm had given that gun to John’s dad.

John becomes a sleuth with one intent: to find how that gun got from his father’s office to the pawnshop in Bloomington. The story is riveting, it takes a number of odd and unusual turns, not the least of which is nothing less than a spiritual biography of Teen Palm and discoveries of how Charles Woodbridge, John’s dad, influenced many many young Christians in his days as a professor.

For me, the mystery was resolved, but there are still unknown facts of that gun’s history and we will perhaps never know them all. But this book is well worth your reading, and not just for the sleuthing but also for the faith dimension of the story.

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  • Hey Scot,

    My wife and I did a guided reading tutorial with Woodbridge in 18th and 19th century America. In the midst of reading some stuff on Jonathan Edwards, I found something that made me mighty curious. I asked Woodbridge if he was a direct descendant of Edwards and found out he is.


  • AJ

    He is, indeed, a facinating man! Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    John Woodbridge was the man who taught me what it meant to be a historian, and especially a church historian. He’s a wonderful mentor and friend to whom I and many others owe an immense debt of gratitude.

  • Dr. M: I really enjoyed having Dr. Woodbridge as a professor, although he did put me in my place once. Ouch!

  • Thanks for the heads-up on this! I love reading his books.
    I’m honored and humbled to say that Dr. Woodbridge was my academic advisor, professor, mentor, and friend. I’m embarrassed to admit that he wasn’t my *favorite* professor, however, as he was edged out by a certain New Testament prof with an alluring Synopsis and a legendary jump-shot.

  • First, Dr. Woodbridge has been one of the two or three most brilliant people I’ve met in life – and probably the nicest of that group. Second, the only subject I’ve studied more than theology is World War II. I ordered the book immediately, and was very tempted to upgrade the shipping, though I resisted the Kindle edition – some books just need to be on paper.

  • William F. Luck, sr.

    I also had John for a teacher. He was one of the best I ever had. He could not only make history come alive, he also enabled you to discern what is significant in history and what is not. And in addition to all that, John is one of the finest and most humble Christian men I have ever met. I look forward to reading his work.