Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Review

For Us and Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church
Stephen Nichols

One thing that concerns me about Christians today is their ignorance of Church history. It would be heart-breaking if it were not so deplorable. Sometimes I am left wondering if average church goers even care about the historical background to their faith.

Maybe big fat, multi-volume sets of Church history books can be daunting, but I don't think that is an excuse to ignore it all together. None the less, for those overwhelmed with the thought of having to read a big fat book on Church history, Stephen Nichols has provided the contemporary Christian with a mercifully concise study on the most essential, core doctrine of our faith: the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his book, For Us and Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church, Nichols opens his study by outlining why the biblical doctrine of Christ's Deity is imperative for Christians to understand and defend. It is the essential doctrine which defines who Christ is and why Christianity believes what it believes concerning salvation. The title of his book is taken from the words of Athanasius, the leading figure in the post-Nicean debates with Arian heretics who denied Christ's divinity, and it succinctly captures how Christians should view the person of Christ, it is for us and our salvation.

From there, Nichols starts this engaging story by telling how early heretics began challenging the doctrine of Christ's Deity before the ink was even dry on John's Revelation. With a clear, easy-to-read narrative, he covers every major heretic, the false doctrines he taught, and the responses to those false doctrines by the early Christian apologists.

I particularly appreciated his study of the first century apologists who defended Christ's deity, because it is argued frequently by those who deny this doctrine that it was invented during the time of Nicea in the early 4th century. Nichols demonstrates with this study that this claim is false. The fact that early Christians wrote against heretics who attacked the biblical teaching of Christ's person reveals they affirmed the truths as doctrine way before Nicea was called.

Nichols then moves into reviewing the three major periods of Church history when Christians had to wrestle with false teaching concerning Christ's Deity: The first two centuries after the establishment of the Christian Church, the period leading up to, and after the Council of Nicea in the 4th century, and then Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th century. He covers every major player in these periods. From Arius to Athanasius and all the other sinners and saints who played a role in challenging orthodoxy, defending orthodoxy, and clarifying orthodoxy. In between the chapters on these subjects, Nichols provides a chapter of selected writings from those three periods by the Christian men who with stood the onslaught of heresy.

I also liked how Nichols provides quick reference charts overviewing the heretics and the doctrines they taught. He also does this to help the reader understand Plato's cosmology and how his philosophy of Ideas and Forms played into presuppositions that in turn led to outright twisting of the person of Christ as presented in scripture. There is even a glossary in the back. That's a plus.

The one draw back: End notes. I am like Dan the man, I don't care for end notes. I prefer footnotes so I don't have to turn to the back to hunt around for a reference or keep my finger stuck in between a bunch of pages so I can flip back and forth. What's more, the end notes were at the very end of the book. Just an exhortation for publishers. If you must have end notes put them at the end of the chapter. Its a terrible interruption to have to look for them way in the back.

In spite of the end notes, the books is an outstanding introduction for a history novice to an important battle that took place through out the Church. Its also an excellent review for the seasoned historian. I personally would like to see more of these shorter, concise studies of key historical theological themes in the future. Maybe the Pelagian controversy or the formation of the Canons of Dort. This would be a great series by Crossway.



Blogger Highland Host said...

Ditto on the dislike of endnotes. I can't stand having to flip to the end of a book all the time. I far prefer the old style with footnotes. Even those huge Victorian footnotes that took up most of the page!

11:15 AM, September 27, 2007  
Blogger Reformed Gary said...

I'm looking forward to picking this book up. I read Nichols 'The Reformation - How a Monk and Mallet Changes the World' while on vacation this summer. It was a great read he does an incredible job relating history in a fun, engaging and readable fashion. (Yes, I used fun and history in the same sentence.)

This is an important topic for Christians to understand so I'm glad he has tackled it.

Thanks for the review.

11:38 AM, September 28, 2007  
Blogger Kim said...

Sounds like a good book.

Also don't like end notes.

1:11 PM, September 29, 2007  

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