Home > apologetics, Calvinism, Christian Authors, church history, doctrines > Steve Lawson’s “Pillars of Grace” Volume 2: Church History and the Doctrines of Grace

Steve Lawson’s “Pillars of Grace” Volume 2: Church History and the Doctrines of Grace


A few weeks ago I mentioned a special offer for the electronic version of Steve Lawson’s  Pillars of Grace (A Long Line of Godly Men, Volume Two).  (The special offer is over; regular pricing now.)  The “Pillars of Grace” series highlights the doctrinal beliefs known as the “Doctrines of Grace,” sometimes nicknamed Calvinism.  The first volume looked at the doctrines themselves, and volume two traces the history and development of doctrinal thought, from Clement of Rome in the first century to the Reformation, showing that the “Doctrines of Grace” did not originate with John Calvin but are rooted in the church’s history.

The highlights of this book:  It is very easy reading, well organized with clear sentence and chapter structure.  Headings and subheadings are also well put to use, with the same familiar structure from one chapter to the next.  For a book of such size (over 500 pages) this is a pleasant surprise.  I haven’t read anything before from Steve Lawson, and have only listened to a few of his sermons, but now know that his writing style is very approachable for the common layperson.  After the foreword (by J. Ligon Duncan) and introductory chapter, each chapter highlights one of many of the great Christian thinkers.  Each chapter begins with a portrait and quote from that individual, along with a biographical sketch (including the time period, location, and major life events for that man) and that man’s important contributions to Christian theology.  The next section within each chapter describes that person’s theology, with sub-section “Doctrines in Focus” and the specific writings from that individual concerning the various doctrines, which vary from chapter to chapter as appropriate for that person’s writings:  divine sovereignty, radical depravity (original sin), sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, preserving grace, divine reprobation.  A chapter summary, footnotes, and a study guide with several questions, conclude each chapter.

The chapters are arranged chronologically, and include overall development descriptions at key points, explaining the overall situation of the church within the overall society at that point in time, and introducing the new sub-groups, such as the “Apostolic Fathers” who had some connection with the original apostles, and the “Apologist Fathers” who first defended the faith in writings to pagan unbelievers.  Later chapters introduce the Latin fathers (Ambrose, Augustine), various early and later monastics (Isidore, Gottschalk, Bernard of Clairvaux), the scholastics (Anselm, Thomas Bradwardine), and the pre-reformers and the Reformers.

Through this great survey, we meet the saints brought up in Christian homes as well as those from pagan Greek backgrounds, and how they came to faith in Christ as adults, such as Josephus (in his mid-thirties) and Cyprian (converted at age 47, and martyred only 11 years later).  Most of the names I had at least heard before, though in varying degrees of familiarity; but I learned more about all of these great Christians, their lives and their writings.  A few were previously unknown to me: Cyprian of Carthage and Gregory of Nazianzus.

One of the interesting things that comes out is that — contrary to the first impression from the foreword and introduction — the Doctrines of Grace as a set of five points of belief, did not all develop at the very beginning of church history but came gradually through several hundred years.  The earliest writers, the apostolic fathers immediately after the canon closed, primarily quoted and used the language of the scriptures themselves rather than develop great commentary.  Later saints showed understanding of some of the various doctrines regarding God’s sovereignty, especially divine sovereignty, radical depravity, and divine reprobation; some of the writers showed particular understanding of other ideas such as definite atonement and preserving grace.  Yet many of the early writers also contradicted themselves especially in the area of free will, something not yet fully systematized and understood: in some places affirming the necessity of the new birth, that apart from the work of God a person could not choose to believe; and yet in other places writing of man’s ability to choose and come to faith in Christ.  Lawson especially considers the context of their writing:  in the face of martyrdom for the faith, needing to explain their beliefs to unbelievers, while also responding to various heresies about the nature of Christ, the early church leaders had higher priorities than developing systematic theologies.  They also lived in a time of gnostics and the Greek passive fatalism, and thus emphasized man’s responsibility, man’s action, which unfortunately led to such not well thought out and even contradictory statements.  Full development of the understanding of the will and its bondage would come later.  The details of doctrinal development attest to the scriptures themselves, as John 16:13 described: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth,” a truth mentioned by S. Lewis Johnson in his “The Divine Purpose” series.

With an overview look at so many great leaders throughout church history, their lives and the particular issues of each time period, and the development of several important doctrines, this second volume of the Pillars of Grace is an excellent addition to studies in church history.

Advertisements
  1. November 23, 2012 at 2:22 am

    Wow thanks for this review! Now I regretteed not getting this book!

  2. November 23, 2012 at 4:08 am

    I did get vol 2, thanks, Lynda. Now you can get vol 1 ebook for $5. Yummy.

    http://www.ligonier.org/store/foundations-of-grace-ebook-download/

  3. November 23, 2012 at 4:53 am

    Offer valid only for today “black Friday.”

    • November 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks for that info, bography!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: