Steven J. Lawson has begun a project that only be called ambitious. Through a series of five volumes, he has set out to trace the long line of godly men who have taught the foundational truths of God’s sovereign grace. He will begin with the Bible itself and the godly men found there and history these individuals throughout history to the present. Lawson begins with this book, Foundations of Grace, which spans the years 1400BC – 100 AD.
Never before to my knowledge has such work been attempted. With such am ambitious goal, my expectations for this book were high. But Lawson did not disappoint.
Lawson begins in chapter 1 – “A Long Line of Godly Men” – with something of an overview of the book. Lawson talks about the foundations of the reformed theology finding root in the Bible itself, and shows briefly how those truths were brought into sharp focus in the reformation, spread throughout Europe, crossed the Atlantic to the Americas and continue to be cherished today. He also traces what these central themes of the reformed faith are – the sovereignty of God in life and salvation, the primacy of the glory of God, man’s depravity and need of God’s sovereign grace, and the doctrines of grace as a lens to see God’s saving work accomplished and applied.
From there in chapters 2-8, Lawson begins with Moses and takes the reader through to the very end of the Old Testament with the Minor Prophets, demonstrating the continuing teaching and belief of these same truths about God, his sovereign grace, and man’s need of them.
In many ways, the apex of the book comes in the controversially titled chapter “Christ, the Calvinist” (chapter 9). Here and in the next chapter Lawson demonstrates from the gospels that teachings of reformed theology have their root in Jesus himself. Just as the foundation was laid in the Old Testament, so Jesus – the Word incarnate – picks up those same themes and makes them essential to his ministry and teaching. Like George Whitefield, whom he quotes, one can say, “I embrace the Calvinistic scheme, not because of Calvin, but Jesus taught it to me” (pg. 240).
After this, Lawson moves through the rest of the New Testament in chapters 11-18. Beginning with Peter and the book of Acts, Lawson continues to convincingly show that the emphasis and understanding of the reformed faith (i.e., Calvinism) is not something imposed on the Bible, but naturally rises out from it. He demonstrates the fundamental coherence to the Bible’s teaching on these issues.
One of the greatest strengths of Foundations is Lawson’s writing style. Lawson is a more than capable pastor and it shows in this book. His writing is far from dry, but exhibits a style that is passionate and engaging. This shouldn’t be surprising since the original idea and study for this material came from Lawson’s Men’s discipleship class at his church. (I have to say when I found that out, I struggled with envy over the great blessing those men have in Lawson!)
Another great strength is the book’s organization. Each chapter is subdivided into the specific theological themes that Lawson traces out. Themes include things like sovereign grace, definite atonement, choosing and election, etc. This makes the book more coherent (and readable) than if he simply moved from chapter to chapter, book to book, pointing out every verse that spoke to every emphasis in reformed theology.
A final strength is the books the vast mine of material Lawson gives. This book is not only an exceptional work of exposition and biblical theology, it is also a storehouse for quotes and insights from other historic believers. Peppered throughout is something of a preview of Lawson’s other forthcoming volumes, as he quotes and references others who in more recent centuries held this faith, once for delivered to the saints.
Few things can be more encouraging than to see the consistency of men and women believing the very truths you hold dear in your life. When I read the Bible or works like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and see God’s people holding so dear the truths God has revealed – even to the point of suffering and death – it only serves to make those truths more cherished in my life, and encourage me to love more deeply the God who gave them.
Today, there is a slipping away from the theological truths of Zion. Doctrine is becoming of lesser importance than relevance and excitement. Though the reality is, theology that is truly believed will always be relevant and generate excitement, many want the latter without the former. Relationships and belonging have become more important than believing in some cases. This does not bode well for Christianity. Today more than ever we need a renewing of our understanding of who God is. That understanding should come from our own thoughts or the culture’s popular ideas, but from what God himself tells us in his Word.
In light of these things, Lawson’s work shines like a light in the growing darkness. Here is a tracing of the some of the most important truths about who God is from God’s own Word. If we heed Lawson’s teaching from the Bible, we will catch a better glimpse of the glory of God, causing us to more deeply love him and give him the worshipful service of our lives.
Here is the full chapter listing for the book, Foundations of Grace:
1. A Long Line of Godly Men (Servants of Sovereign Grace: Moses to Today)
2. Where The Long Line Begins (The Lawgiver Moses: Genesis)
3. Sovereign Grace In The Wilderness (The Lawgiver Moses: Exodus to Deuteronomy)
4. Strong Men With A Strong Message (Early Leaders: Joshua to Job)
5. Monarchs Bow Before the Sovereign (Kings David and Solomon: Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes)
6. Spokesman of Sovereign Grace (The Major Prophets: Isaiah)
7. Heralds of Divine Regeneration (The Major Prophets: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel)
8. Major Theology From Minor Prophets (The Minor Prophets: Hosea to Malachi)
9. Christ , The Calvinist (The Lord Jesus Christ: Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
10. The Mount Everest of Theology (The Lord Jesus Christ: The Gospel of John)
11. How Firm A Foundation (The Apostle Peter: Acts and 1 & 2 Peter)
12. By His Grace And For His Glory (The Apostle Paul: Romans)
13. Preacher of the Doctrines of Grace (The Apostle Paul: 1 & 2 Corinthians and Galatians)
14. Before the Foundation of the World (The Apostle Paul: Ephesians to 2 Thessalonians)
15. The Pillar and Support of the Truth (The Apostle Paul: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus)
16. Evangelism and Divine Sovereignty (The Physician Luke and the Author of Hebrews:Acts and Hebrews)
17. Sovereign Regeneration (James, the Apostle John, and Jude: James, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude)
18. Throughout All the Ages To Come (The Apostle John: The Gospel of John and Revelation)
Thank you for this book review. I am going to get a copy of this book for myself. This is actually a theme that I have thought was in need of research and writing for quite some time now. I’m glad that Lawson has taken the initiative to do that research and to put it into a form that can be a blessing to the rest of us.
your welcome! lawson’s book is truly a modern classic. i am eagerly awaiting the others in his series.