What's So Amazing About Grace? (1997) by Philip Yancey
What's so good about this book? Yancey ignites my understanding of God's grace and challenges me to be a dispenser of grace in my life and faith. When my friend died due to cancer, I was very frustrated but God helps me through Yancey's writing to "wrestle with God" as Jacob did when I read Where Is God When It Hurts? When I was having the crisis of faith regarding the historicity of Jesus' and the Bible, one of the books that helped me was The Jesus I Never Knew. I'm not a Yancey fan or have read every book by him, but when I do, it is timely. The same goes with What's So Amazing About Grace? When I read it, I reflect on myself and there were times (recently) when I'm un-graceful toward others. I called myself Christian, that means I'm the recipient of God's grace for the Scripture says "by grace you have been saved, through faith" (Ephesians 2:8) and yet, I'm behaving like morally-righteous believer. This book is easy to read, but hard to swallow. It is old yet still urgent. It is intellectually satisfying but with a cost: by God's Spirit, I can and must reveal the grace the world is searching for!
When Nicky Gumbel asked "What is grace?" during an interview, Philip Yancey said that he tries to explain it throughout the book, but if he were to give a definition, he said and wrote in this book: "Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God loves me more and nothing I can do to make God love me less. It means that I, even I who deserve the opposite, am invited to take my place at the table in God's family." I love this definition. Grace doesn't depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us. We can read about this truth all over the New Testament. It's not new! "In Christian theology," explains Yancey, "Jesus reversed [the] ancient pattern: when the servants erred, the King was punished. Grace is free only because the giver himself has borne the cost." Grace, the last best word, is so desperately needed in the world today.
The church, of all places, has abused this truth. Sadly, some (if not, most) churches communicate un-grace by how we treat sinners (of different kinds), apply laws and moral legalism, judgmental and by its lack of unity. In the book, Yancey points out about his childhood church (I recommend reading his shorter book entitled Church: Why Bother?) was very racist, and other heart-breaking stories that people who have been and are in the church today reading this book would agree to some degree. I'm part of the church and so, I too, act in un-grace ways. Christians are more concern (rightly so) about homosexuality than divorce; attending religious activities than attend to AIDS patients; and quick to judge with open eyes than to listen with open ears. There are times for everything – love and hate, justice and mercy, forgiveness and punishment – but the church must remember that "dispensing God's grace is the Christian's main contribution." “…The world can do anything the church can do except one thing – it cannot show grace.”
Yancey also shares great examples of Christian ministers and churches that have the Jesus' distinguishing mark – not political correctness or moral superiority but – LOVE. I believe homosexuality is sin and so does divorce which is very prevalent in Christianity today. Abortion is another issue. Woman preaching in the church issue recently where John MacArthur, a Bible teacher, told Beth Moore, a Bible Study author, to "go home." What is this? As Yancey advice in the book and so here I say: we Christians can have firm views about ethical behavior or bold stand about the theological matter but we MUST demonstrate love foremost. Love allows us to be compassionate, vulnerable and empathy. When the church displays God's love and grace first without discounting justice and sin, we show the world: the real Jesus. The One who the world hate and at the same time attracted to. This statement by Yancey is so powerful: "The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it." Amen!
There are so many lessons that I learned from this book. I've underlined and made notes. I will reread it (together with the newer book, 2014, Vanishing Grace). Yancey is such a good story-teller. Although he is a journalist, I see him as a theologian. Usually, when I read a book, I research it: read articles, reviews, listen to podcast interviews and YouTube videos. Some people disagree with Yancey and some of his writings are controversial. No write is flawless. With that said, I want to recommend fully this book especially to Christian leaders who have greater influence in shaping the way people think about the Church and Christianity in general. If you've been hurt by the un-grace believers, read this book too. In fact, come back to God or draw near to Him. Remember this: "There is nothing [you] can do to make God love [you] more. There is nothing [you] can do to make God loves [you] less."
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.
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