For Us and for Our Salvation by Stephen Nichols
Conservative Evangelical publishers are placing a greater emphasis on patristics, the study of the early church fathers. It’s no surprise. Prominent figures have been jumping off the Evangelical bus and walking towards Rome and frequently (we are told) because Rome better stresses the church fathers. In particular, the Reformed community is reclaiming its rich patristic heritage. For Us and for Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church (Crossway: 2007) by Stephen J. Nichols is one great example.
At 37 years old, Nichols has written everything but a cookbook. He is known as a master storyteller and a prolific writer, the author of several biographies and a lively overview of the Reformation – The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World – the most exciting book we’ve seen in 2007! On top of patristic theology and the Reformation history, Nichols recently published an excellent essay on J. Gresham Machen, B.B. Warfield and Fundamentalism and is now working on a book connecting theology and the blues.
Due out on August 13th, Nichols’ latest release is yet another of his excellent historical studies. Now Nichols travels back into the first five centuries to rediscover the debates and characters who fought and defended a true understanding of Christ in His glory.
“Perhaps in no area of theology is this more necessary or beneficial than in the doctrine of Christ in the early church. … The early church fathers wrestled with the same problems presented by The Da Vinci Code phenomenon and its fanciful speculations about Jesus. They wrestled with the same problems presented by Islam and its adamant denial of the deity of Christ. And they wrestled with the same problems presented by the scholars working in the Jesus Seminar or in Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Judas who quickly dismiss the four canonical Gospels as God’s true revelation to humanity. In the days of the early church, the names of the opponents were different from those faced by us today, but the underlying issues bear a striking resemblance. When the church fathers responded with the orthodox view of Christ, they did the church of all ages a great service” (p. 14).
The book development is split into three historical eras: the first three centuries, the fourth century, and the fifth century. Nichols is a master tour guide through the significant theological works of Church history and sufficient room is provided for the church fathers to speak in their own words. Nichols provides an concise breakdown of the content:
“This book explores these controversies over Christ faced by the early church. This book also looks to tell the story of the people involved – Arius and Eutyches, Ignatius and Irenaeus, Athanasius and Leo. These may or may not be known to contemporary evangelicals, but they should be. The following chapters unfold this struggle in the early church chronologically. Chapter 1 starts with one foot in the pages of the New Testament and stretches to the first decade of the 300s. Chapter 3 tells the story of Athanasius and his arch-nemesis Arius, the two figures behind the Nicene Council in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381. Chapter 5 unfolds the events of the 400s, focusing on Leo I and the Chalcedonian Council in 451. In an unprecedented event, no fewer than 520 bishops met and actually agreed on a very nuanced and sophisticated theological statement that we know as the Chalcedonian Creed. The intervening chapters, 2, 4, and 6, all break from the narrative to provide primary source documents, allowing the major figures in this struggle to tell the story in their own words. A brief epilogue explores the variations on these themes that have occurred in the life of the church since Chalcedon in 451” (pp. 15-16).
TSS Certified Cross-Centered
Nichols’ historical illumination of the church fathers is excellent but more excellent is the Cross-centered focus. Nichols is not content sharpening orthodox Christology until the Cross is brought into focus. At each point Nichols reminds us the greatest danger of misunderstanding Christ is a misunderstanding of the Cross. This repeated emphasis warrants the “TSS Certified Cross-Centered” stamp.
In The Glory of Christ, John Owen said a hearty gaze at the glory of Christ is exactly what we need to cure our spiritual declension and spur us to new levels of Christian maturity. Owen was right (see 2 Cor. 3:18). In For Us and for Our Salvation, Nichols leads us to a great view overlooking the valley of patristic Christology. But more importantly he has led us to a place where we can better behold the life-transforming glory of Christ.
Title: For Us and for Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church
Author: Stephen J. Nichols
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > very readable
Dust jacket: no
Binding: ? (reviewed electronically)
Topical index: ?
Scriptural index: ?
Text: perfect type
Price USD: $14.99 (w/free PDF edition)