I recently had the sad experience of watching two dear members leave our congregation; and after two hour-long phone calls, I was able to get to the root of the issue: my recent sermons on the doctrine of election from Acts 9. Though I tried my best to dissuade them against leaving the fellowship, they were resolute: "We cannot, in good conscience, stay in a church that preaches predestination." Although they had seen it in our written confessions, heard of it in our new member's class, and been made aware of our doctrine in Sunday school, this was the last straw.
It is because of this event that reading Steven Lawson's second volume of his "Long Line" series was such a healing salve to my bruised Calvinistic soul. Lawson takes great pains to trace the history of the preaching of the doctrines of grace, all the way from the Early Church Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, Justin Martyr), through the venerable pens of men such as Augustine and Anselm, and ultimately to the Magisterial Reformers (Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin). Lawson adequately demonstrates that the preaching of the sovereignty of God is by no means an aberrant teaching, confined to the peripheries of extremists, but rather is in fact the heartbeat of generations of orthodox evangelicals.
All told, Lawson provides twenty-three biographical sketches outlining the circumstances that shaped some of history's most critical figures. Among them, Lawson's treatment of the life of William Tyndale stands out. Like a fast-paced novel, the book chronicles the Reformer who risked life and limb to translate the Bible into his beloved English vernacular. Often the reader will be awed at the providence of God and the incredible dangers his servants endured to give witness to his saving power. Lawson then surveys the influential writings of each man, often recommending their more persuasive books, letters, and tractates to the reader.
Following these biographical sketches, Lawson proceeds to give ample evidence of the doctrines of grace in each man's teaching and writing, and provides over one hundred citations of a particular man's life and writing per chapter. He follows a predictable format by showing how these men consistently taught divine sovereignty, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, preserving grace, and divine reprobation. It is in these "sampling" sections that the reader will discover just how pervasive the doctrines of grace have been. Lawson has done a lifetime of research on our behalf, and pastors in particular will find deep resource material for doctrinal sermons.
Although Lawson's theological sections (essentially the last third of every chapter) grow repetitive at times, often stringing together quotation after quotation, his point comes across loud and clear: preaching the sovereignty of God is hardly a fringe "minority report" held by Calvin and a few of his more zealous followers. On the contrary, election, predestination, and the total depravity of man are at the very center of historic gospel preaching.
Ultimately, Lawson's work provided this pastor with much for reflection and preaching material. Even more important, Lawson restored my confidence that my pulpit orations on the radical nature of God's electing grace are not so "radical" after all.