I can never get enough grace, both in life and in my reading. Some of the best books I have ever read are on the subject of grace, and a recent book by Andy Stanley is no exception. The book is The Grace of God, and should find it’s way to the top of your reading list.
Stanley, like his father, is a great teacher and outstanding thinker. His book covers the topic of grace in a unique and refreshing way. While most books deal with grace from a topical/theological perspective, Andy’s approach was almost storylike. Chapter 1 begins in Genesis 1-3, showing how from the very beginning, God has based everything on grace. From there, Andy goes through other key passages and texts in Scripture, proving that grace is the foundation of everything God does and says. His two chapters on the Ten Commandments reveal that the law of God is not opposed to the grace of God. His insights and explanations on this topic are the best I’ve read.
I really appreciated Andy’s frequent allusion to the fact that the grace of God is free to all, and that eternal life is given to anyone and everyone who simply believes in Jesus for it (cf. p. 191). I say “allusion” because he is not as clear on this as I would have liked. He gently criticizes the view that works help keep or prove one’s salvation (p. 52), but doesn’t elaborate, and so the point is easy to miss. In various places he writes about the importance of praying a prayer to receive eternal life (pp. 90, 163). He is careful in how he introduces these prayers (he says they are only to verbalize or express your acceptance of God’s invitation), but due to the long tradition of requiring a “sinner’s prayer” to receive eternal life, it may have been best to leave them out.
Finally, he writes that we receive God’s gift of eternal life by placing faith in Christ’s death as the full and final payment for sin (p. 163). It’s hard to criticize this, since it’s better than 95% of the statements out there. I would have preferred something closer to the actual statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John where it is simply stated that anyone who believes in Jesus receives eternal life. But that’s just me. I commend Andy for sticking faithfully to a works-free offer of eternal life.
One final note. I really appreciated the final chapter where Andy pleads with churches to become agents of grace. He started and founded his church in Atlanta as a church for the unchurched, and the key to this, he says, is unlimited, unmerited grace. This is a great chapter for all the pastors and church leaders and Christians out there who like to talk and write and teach a lot about grace, but don’t really show grace in their lives, ministries, and churches.
Of course, even here, I differ with Andy on some points. He is, after all, a leading proponent of mega-church ministry. He says we must begin by asking, “What church is best suited for my unbelieving, unchurched friend?” I personally think this is the wrong question. It assumes that “church” is the answer, when in fact it is “Jesus.” It also assumes that the target is unchurched unbelievers. But what about churched unbelievers and unchurched believers? A better question, I believe, and that I have been asking myself for the past three years is, “What way of living is best suited for my friends and neighbors to see Jesus in their life?” This question does not assume that the answer will take place inside four brick walls on a Sunday morning from 10 am to Noon, and only when I can get my “unchurched” friends to come.
Be that as it is, the book is great. I highly recommend it, and I hope my review wasn’t too ungracious!