Friday, November 17, 2006

What’s so amazing about grace?

Book Review

Philip Yancey, What’s so amazing about grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997).

In What’s so amazing about Grace?, Yancey opens his book by telling the readers that grace is ‘the last best word’, of which he tries to prove it throughout. Grace is the unmerited favour and forgiveness is the undeserved ‘gifts’ from above. Yancey expounds on what real grace is, based on the Scripture- scandalous. Real grace from God is amazing and incredibly boggling to the mind as it introduces a new theory in math that does not add up. We who deserved wrath received grace we do not toil nor earn. God is forgiving us, who finds it hard to forgive wrongs done against us of the size of anthills, of our mountainous debt! Real grace loves the unlovable, forgives the unpardonable, embraces the outcasts. The church is given this mandate to exuberate this real grace to the world. Sadly, most of us fall short of living what we preach, and many have chosen to be the agents of judgment instead of agents of His divine grace. Yancey, with the telling of histories and contemporary stories, is challenging the partakers of the divine grace to impart grace to the world of ungrace. When this takes place, we taste the incredible freedom from the bondage of unforgiveness and bitterness of our hearts.

Philip Yancey was awarded the Gold Medallion Christian Book of the Year award for this book in 1998 by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. It went on to be an immediate bestseller, for the obvious reason- we experience grace so rarely, let alone linking the word ‘amazing’ with it. This book brings back the biblical concept of grace- the core of Jesus’ message when he was walking on earth. It provokes my mind when all we are asked to do is to receive the love God has for us- accepting it freely. Truly, the world is starving for grace, and it is through this channel of grace, our hunger for love, justice, righteousness are satisfied and finds its rightful place.

Yancey guides the readers gradually to a clearer understanding of grace by using stories, in much the same way Jesus did! The honest stories of ungrace opens our spiritual eyes to see the world is in dire needs of real grace from the one agent that is able to give- the Christian community. Yancey does not provides systematic approaches and methods in giving grace for those whom we labelled as ‘undeserved’, nor does he teaches us how to forgive those who hurt us and brings us resentment. I believe this was left out intentionally -simply because there are no methods to remedy a bitter situation unless there is a change of hearts. ‘I am commanded to, as the child of a Father who forgives’. Utterly simple and utterly confounding. There is no place for grace if there are no potential reservoirs of God’s mercy.

Everyone who read Yancey’s book would be drawn into his genuine approach, his own vulnerability and his honest flaws. His point on churches being legalistic on trivial matters deserves applause. We have much to say against hairstyle, jewellery and fashion trends of our young people, but not a word about racial injustice and the plight of the destitute. Whatever happens to social actions? Whatever happens to exposing our people to contemporary issues of the nation and having an answer (biblically) to them? Have we been so inward looking that we lost the gist of being the light of the world and be the answer to the nation’s plight? This book is especially challenging and fearless in tackling the ‘uncommon’ or ‘unheard’ off issues such as homosexuality, politics, abortion and other tough issues that evangelical Christianity refuse to deal with.

God is a god of grace, not judgment. The church must be the instrument of grace, and not the channel of judgment and wrath. We are defeated of our efforts to shine if what comes out from us is darkness (ungrace), not light (grace). We must rebuke the spirit of distrust that hold the church down for centuries, and it all starts with us:
“Squeeze a rubber bulb, and droplets of perfume come shooting out of the fine holes at the end. A few drops suffice for a while body; a few pumps changed the atmosphere in a room. That is how grace should work, I think. It does not convert the entire world or an entire society, but it does enrich the atmosphere.” [emphasis mine-158]

I am reminded again that we are called to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ (2 Cor 2:15) among the people surrounding us. Let us not forget our calling as disciples of Jesus- to be the dispensers of God’s grace. This reminder to preach grace and forgiveness- ‘the talk’ of the Kingdom of God as the alternative to the pagan kingdom’s eye-for-an-eye concept comes in aptly for my church and ministry. Grace works on two levels. It transforms the relationship between God, and us; and transforms the relationship between the world and us. This book taught me about how the divine relationship can and should transform my earthly relationship with people. God went through such extent to show amazing grace to me, who am I to treat others any differently!

What is left to say now, in the words of Douglas Coupland, who coined the term ‘Generation X’:

“I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”


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