Book Review: What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey

What's So Amazing About Grace, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997
What’s So Amazing About Grace, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997

Grace is a small word with a big meaning. It deserves to have an entire book devoted to the subject (or multiple books) and Yancey is an excellent choice to tackle the subject. He delves deeply into grace here. What is it? What does the Bible say about it? Why is it important? And what does grace look like in our world? In our churches?

At the heart of the gospel is a God who deliberately surrenders to the wild, irresistible power of love.

Yancey examines stories like the parable of the Prodigal Son or Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman to show the grace that Christ demonstrated and desires from us. He details instances of legalism and its damages – both among Christians and non-believers – and Yancey exhorts the church today to learn grace. This is definitely a book aimed at Christians and Yancey acknowledges the fact that, without Christ, grace makes no sense. But for those who know Jesus, it is the most important thing of all.

The church falls short of this again and again and has throughout history. (By the way, when I say “the church”, I mean both the church as a whole and those individuals who make up that whole.) When people speak against religion or church they speak of judgement, of legalism – they are speaking about a lack of grace, whether or not they would use that term.

In comparison, we have been offered the ultimate gesture of grace from God: the sacrifice of Jesus. We never have and never will deserve that grace but it has been given freely and so we are called to respond.

The solution to sin is not to impose an ever-stricter code of behaviour. It is to know God.

There’s lots to challenge Christians in this book and I think that’s a good thing. Although written in 1997, it struck me that the current events and issues Yancey talks about are still hugely relevant today. News that has dominated this year: homosexual marriage, the Syrian refugee crisis, racism and civil rights; these are major issues in North America and the church needs to be leading the way in grace toward others.

Jesus did not let any institution interfere with his love for individuals.

Yancey has often been open about the lack of grace and the extent of the legalism in which he was raised. He speaks at length in this book about how his childhood church fight for segregation in the southern United States. It was a church without grace. When I was in university, for a while I had the job of writing regular e-mails on behalf of a Christian group on campus. I was once taken to task by a local pastor for including a quote by Thomas Merton in an e-mail, because Merton was a Catholic. It’s an experience that still bothers me and it came to mind as I read What’s So Amazing About Grace? I finally realized that what hurt me most in that encounter was a lack of grace. The church needs grace. A grace-filled church will ooze grace outwards. And grace will change the world. It already has.

Next Week’s Review: The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston

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