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Friday, November 05, 2004

What's so amazing about "What's So Amazing About Grace?"

So, Philip Yancey. I've now finished the book and I still think it's really good. If you read it in the right context. The right context being...

1) Don't read it like it's a commentary or a biblical exposition. That's not what it's supposed to be, and yes it's okay for Christian books not to be like that! Nor does Yancey 'define' grace - this is deliberate, although he has been criticised for it. At the start he says he chooses not to 'explain' grace, which is refreshingly non-academic.

2) The fact that he is an American, writing largely about the American church. While it would be wrong to thus think 'ah yes, we in Britain are fine' it is important to remember that much of what he is talking about refers to singularly American issues such as the Bible Belt of the southern states. Nevertheless what he says is relevant to all of us.

What he actually does is identify a severe problem in the church: the lack of grace and its substitute, the 'noxious fumes of ungrace' as he calls them. He cites the severity of this as being not just because God has shown us grace and called us to reflect this grace in our own lives, but because grace is something the church can UNIQUELY offer.

Yancey uses many real-life illustrations to help us understand both God's incredible grace to us and how far we fall short of demonstrating grace to our fellow fallen human beings. He writes cogently and artistically, making for a challenging yet lyrical read.

While he does not 'explain' or 'define' grace he does a good job, in my opinion, of exploring the facets of grace, and showing the reader the wonderful power grace has. Favourite parts of the book include:

1) A story of a Christian black civil rights activist whose close friend is killed by a 'redneck Kluxer' because of his liberal beliefs. After initial feelings of intense anger and frustration that those he relates to best are those who would denounce his religious beliefs, he realises his lack of understanding of grace. Having been challenged before to explain his beliefs in less than 10 words by a journalist, he immediately replies, "We're all b******s but God loves us anyway'. He realises that his Christian dead friend was just as much a "b*****d" in God's eyes as was the man who killed him. He then left the civil rights movement to go and bring the Gospel to racist whites in the Southern states.

2) The story of a leading evangelical, a friend of Yancey's, who chose to leave his wife and family to lead a homosexual lifestyle. He became a prominent leader of the Christian gay movement and received unremitting, vicious abuse from Christians across all of America. When his mother was asked what she thought about the abomination her son was, she replied, "He may be an abomination, but he is still my pride and joy." Yancey goes on to repeat the phrase "We are still God's pride and joy" despite the utter abominations we are to him.

What is perhaps most shocking and revealing, and ultimately refreshing about the book, is Yancey's observation of the hatred that can stem from Christians. He cites many examples of the American Christian right spewing venom towards pro-abortionists, gays, Democrats, you name it. He quotes letters from such people. He tells of personal abuse directed towards him. It is a relief to hear of an American Christian recognise the vicious aggression of the general American church. He writes reams about how American Christians have prioritised politics over the Gospel, and cites one evangelical leader who said, "Revival will come only after legislative reform", saying, "Doesn't he have it the wrong way round?" Yancey's book is a breath of fresh air in that way. Yet it would be all too easy to point the finger and say, "Ah yes, the Americans have got it wrong once again. After all, they voted Bush in... it was those evangelicals who did it." Yet surely this is missing the point. We are, after all, no better than the people who yell abuse at the homosexual, the prostitute, the stem cell researcher, the Kerry supporter. And who are we to in turn fling mud at those who endorse Bush?

Babette's Feast is indeed a story of grace. The giving of something so precious it costs everything for the giver and nothing for the receiver. Yet how often do we withhold what we have to those who need it from us?

One story which particularly struck me, given what I am doing at the moment, was that of a woman who runs a pregnancy crisis counselling centre in the States, near a university. Being Catholic, she is anti-abortion, and counsels the women she sees as such. Her centre is the focus of much protest. One snowy day in the winter lots of protesters turned up to yell about the wrongs of the pro-life movement. Yet instead of yelling back (the American way) or ignoring them (the British way) she ordered doughnuts and hot coffee and served it to them herself.

Now I know you may be sitting there thinking... what a pushover. But actually that is gracious. I know I would never have done something like that.

I can't do the book justice here. It has been particularly helpful during the election, to know that there is at least one American Christian who writes clearly about the relationship between church and state in the USA. But mostly it is helpful for all of life, and I recommend it to anyone who is not going to read it assuming Yancey isn't sound! In my opinion he has done an excellent job of exploring the depths of God's amazing grace. Reading it will make you want to be more gracious. And it will make you want to love even more the God who loved you when you were utterly unlovely and unlovable.


  • Your review has made me want to read it. Can you bring it to Brazil when you come in January please?

    By Blogger Cora, at 6:39 pm  

  • Unfortunately not cos I borrowed it, I had to read it for my course!

    By Blogger Bec, at 12:50 am  

  • We've got one you can borrow, I think, if that's any use. Alternatively, we probably owe the customary number of presents ..... We both found it very helpful as well.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 9:13 pm  

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