In Pillars of Grace: AD 100-1564, Dr. Lawson walks readers through the ups and downs of church history, profiling these voices for the truth. The inescapable conclusion is that the doctrines of grace are no innovation, but the consistent witness of some of the greatest men of the church.
The doctrines of grace are often known as the five points of Calvinism, but they were not the invention of John Calvin or his reforming cohorts of the sixteenth century. Rather, they are biblical doctrines, as Dr. Steven J. Lawson demonstrated in his book Foundations of Grace (2006).
Now, in the Pillars of Grace series, Dr. Lawson shows that the doctrines of grace have been understood and taught sometimes in embryonic form, sometimes with great clarity throughout church history. From the time of the early church fathers to the years of the Reformers, there have been key men in the church, pillars as it were, who stood on the foundation of Scripture and upheld the truth of God's sovereign role in salvation.
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Review 1 for Pillars of Grace
Helpful Historical Survey of TULIP
Date:October 13, 2012
In this second volume of the series, “A Long Line of Godly Men” Steven J. Lawson walks the reader through almost 1500 years of history calling attention to the development and defense of what later became known as the doctrines of grace. If the reader is looking for sophisticated historical and theological analysis, they will not find it here. What they will find, however, is something that is greatly needed in the evangelical world today, namely a framework for understanding their theology in the broader context of Church history. In addition to his introductory and concluding material, Lawson examines the doctrines of grace in the works of 23 influential Christian teachers between the years of 100 and 1564, including:
Clement of Rome Ignatius of Antioch Justin Martyr Irenaeus of Lyon Tertullian of Carthage Cyprian of Carthage Athanasius of Alexandria Basil of Caesarea Gregory of Nazianzus Ambrose of Milan Augustine of Hippo Isidore of Seville Gottschalk of Orbais Anselm of Canterbury Bernard of Clairvaux Thomas Bradwardine John Wycliffe John Hus Martin Luther Ulrich Zwingli William Tyndale Heinrich Bullinger John Calvin
Lawson is able to demonstrate that although the emphasis and systemization of the doctrines of grace during the Reformation was dramatic it did not simply appear out of nowhere. He capably shows, with brief biological and historical sketches, that the trajectories of Reformed thought were familiar to Christian teachers in every age. The Reformers saw themselves as defenders of classic Christian teaching but sadly, many who identify as Reformed today have little or no familiarity with any pre-Reformation writers other than Augustine. Lawson does this generation a service in providing an accessible account of this history.
The historical and theological segmentation of the book make the book a bit redundant but the advantage is that each of the segments can stand on their own making it useful as a quick reference or to those who are only interested in particular eras or teachers. The repetition gives it an almost devotional quality as the same themes are introduced and reinforced in segment after segment. The biggest drawback is that at times, Lawson seems to stretch a bit in his analysis. Often quotations are given and applied to themes that were unlikely to have been intended given the context of the original quote. In places, Lawson admits this and does a fair job of pointing out that although the original writer may not have always fully appreciated the consequences of their own ideas and observations that the seeds of those conclusions were nevertheless present.
I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in early Church history and especially the doctrines of grace. It should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves “Reformed” and is unfamiliar with the development of these doctrines prior to the Reformation outside of Augustine. While being an apology for Reformed history it avoids the polemics of earlier works on the topic (Toplady, Gill, etc.). I believe that many will find it interesting and informative.
*A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost in exchange for a review. The review is not required to be positive and all opinions expressed are my own.