This post is a part of my attempt to master the art of the book review. It is one of the things I am doing to practice. Critiques regarding whether this is a helpful, and what I can do to improve are welcome.
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Pillars of Grace: Chapter 1
Dr. Steven Lawson was born in the wrong era. Or so many contemporary American church-goers might think. He’s all Reformer. He makes you uncomfortable. He’s doggedly biblical and he preaches like a pit bull. Give him the pulpit in most American churches and they’d kick him out. He wields the two-edged sword of Scripture to attack the easy-believe-ism Christianity light that has plagued our nation for far too long.
In all the sermons I’ve heard from Lawson, I’ve noticed that he often makes reference to figures in church history. Most of the preachers who utilize church history in their preaching do so for anecdotes and interesting stories. Lawson is different. When he takes the pulpit, you wonder if he spends more time with dead men than living. He is sopping wet from swimming in the river of the centuries. He looks like a modern American, but he feels like a Puritan. He references Whitefield as if he’s alive, ministering down the street. And Edwards like he just died last week. He is acutely aware of the giants of church history, the role they play in the church, the necessity for a new generation of such men, and most importantly, the sovereign Lord of the harvest who raises up such laborers. History is made totally alive– and Lawson invites you to join the great cloud of witnesses who lay down their lives to proclaim God’s truth.
So it’s not surprising to me that he wrote a tome on church history and the men who made it. This work, at over 500 pages, traces the doctrines of grace from the Apostolic Fathers (100-150 AD) to the Reformers (1483-1575). The book gives 23 brief biographies of influential churchmen who taught, in some way, the doctrines of grace. He writes, “This volume is devoted to tracing this triumphant procession of godly men from AD 30, with the birth of Clement of Rome, to 1564 with the death of John Calvin in Geneva.”
The volume is built upon a previous work titled Foundations of Grace, in which Lawson goes through each individual book of the Bible to show how God’s sovereignty in all things is demonstrated. He rightly contends that Scripture has laid the foundation, and it is upon this foundation that the pillars stand. I have not read this book, so I won’t be making any comments about it.
Chapter one of Steven Lawson’s book Pillars of Grace is a simple overview of the first 1500 years of church history. He basically gives you the birds-eye view of the Christian story. He lays out three main divisions (The Fathers, The Medeival Leaders, The Reformers) and further divides them up into subcategories. This helps you see the trends of thought that were popular during each age, and how sound doctrine was preserved throughout.
It is to be noted that every man whose story is told on these pages, without exception, has deep oak tree roots in the soils of conviction. These men, like Abel, still speak even though they are dead. Or as Piper says, the swans are not silent. They proclaim the glories of God and the privileges of living and dying for him. Their tone is convincing.
By the end of the chapter, the sweeping overview is inspiring. He creates a chain links of faithful men, showing how they remain consistent throughout the ages. It becomes readily apparent that we are all part of the story, and it is now our generation that must carry faithfully the torch. In the grand epic, you feel quite small. In the same moment, the weight of responsibility is heavy. What great work have we to do.