Stephen J. Nichols
Reviewed by: Jack W. Sawyer
Date posted: 09/28/2008
For Us and For Our Salvation: The Doctrine in the Early Church, by Stephen J. Nichols. Published by Crossway Books, 2007. Paperback, 172 pages, list price $14.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Jack W. Sawyer.
Professor Nichols has provided the church with a trenchant, scholarly, yet highly readable account of the doctrine of Christ in the ancient church and its importance for salvation, then and now.
Taking as a starting point the recent furor over The DaVinci Code and the resulting renewal of public awareness of the Nicene Creed, Nichols demonstrates from the early church fathers how heresy refashions biblical teaching and makes doctrine conform to foreign presuppositions. Second, he shows how, once a system has a false starting point, it sets off a chain reaction of false teaching. Third, he shows how heresies set up sects of divisive people who imagine themselves to have privileged, enlightened status.
The genius of this book is the author’s ability to provide an insightful summary of the first five centuries of Christian dogmatics, an epoch filled with heroes such as Athanasius, Leo, Flavian, Augustine, and the Cappadocian fathers, and fraught with villains such as Marcion, Arius, Eutyches, Paul of Samosata, and Appollinaris. The church fathers’ reflections on, and refinements of, the scriptural doctrine of Christ are surveyed all the way from the Ebionite heresy of the first century to the triumph of Chalcedonian orthodoxy in AD. 451. An epilogue presents historical and present reminders of why these events and these doctrines remain crucial and includes references as varied as Faustus Socinus, Ben Franklin, J. Gresham Machen, Mohammed, and Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Nichols’s style is like that of Luther in places, occasionally making for a good, virtuous laugh. I remember wading through any number of books on this subject twenty-five years ago as I worked toward my own degree in church history. I wish that such a compact, competent resource had been available then.
For Us and for Our Salvation is recommended as a timely resource for Sunday school classes, and yet as a sufficiently serious tool for seminarians and candidates preparing for the gospel ministry.
Nichols rightly calls the church to remember the foundational truth of the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds. “The ancient church labored and sacrificed to ensure that the belief that Christ is fully God and fully man would be preserved. This was for them the very heart of the church’s faith and practice.” Our generation has no less a sacred calling, for us and for our salvation, and for every generation to come.