Friday, April 18, 2014

"For Us and Our Salvation" by Stephen Nichols: A Review

One of my favorite authors and Christian historians is Stephen Nichols. The first book I read by him was Jesus Made in America which traced the history of Christology from the Puritans to the Religious Right and the Passion of the Christ. Recently, I sat down to read yet another book by Nichols, For Us and Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church and was equally pleased.

As the title suggests, Nichols traces the Christological issues debated in the early centuries of the Church. Most interesting about the many names and theological doctrines and debates presented is that things haven't changed centuries later. The debates so central in the opening centuries of the Church remain with us today. The most obvious correlation is seen in the Arian controversy (which denied the divinity of Christ) and the modern Jehovah's Witness movement (which also denies the divinity of Christ).

Nichols traces the Christological debates primarily through two major ecumenical Church councils: Nicea and Chalcedon. Nichols focuses on the major movers and shakers leading up to these major councils, what happened there, and what creeds and confessions of faiths were approved. Men like Arius, Aquinas, Augustine, the Cappodocian Fathers, and many others are discussed in detail.

What was most helpful in this book was the primary sources provided by the author. Nichols doesn't just summarize and interpret the Church Fathers and heretics, but he also lets the reader read these men for themselves. This is very rare in historical books like this. Nichols is gaining popularity in the Christian market and it is pleasing to see how the primary sources remain central to his and his readers' understanding of theology and theological issues.

What sets the stage for the book was the release and popularity of Dan Brown's The Davinci Code. As Nichols rightly points out, the release of the movie and book is a double-edged sword. A lot of people are getting false information on Christ, Christology, the gospel, and Christianity. But on the other end, without such a book in the market, no one would care about these issues. Prior to Brown, no one cared about Nicea, Chalcedon, or Thomas Aquinas. As a result, Nichols calls on Christians not to miss this opportunity to train and teach others on correct Christology and the gospel itself.

I really enjoyed this book. It is rather short (I read it in one day) and yet full of information and important subjects. For those new to church history, this is a good place to start but be aware that you will get lost in all of it. Theology can at times get difficult, but Nichols does a good job explaining it all. Throughout the book, Nichols provides charts to help the reader recall the characters, their theology, and what the Bible actually teaches.

Books like this are ignored by many today and unfortunately so. The Christological debates the Church faced early on are still with us today. And no wonder. If Christ is who He said He was, then we are held accountable. But if we can changed the message by changing His Divinity, Humanity, or message, then we can get off scott free. These issues are still with us and thus we must know them and be grounded in the gospel. 
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