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Volume 2 . Issue 32

Whats So Amazing About Grace?


A Quick Focus
The Book's Purpose
Explore grace at "street level" and interact with it biblically Define grace as the cornerstone of the Christian faith Demonstrate grace at work in real-life stories Grapple with personal implications of grace and "ungrace" Examine contemporary moral issues graciously
By Philip Yancey
Published by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan
ISBN: 0-310-21904-3

Each person~if he or she is willing to leave the comfort zone to embrace a more vigorous Christianity~can become Christ's answer to a world that desperately wants to know what's so amazing about grace.

The Book's Message


God has commissioned Christians to dispense grace in a world more familiar with unforgiveness than mercy. To Christ's followers, God has given the tools to dismantle and break the vicious cycle of "ungrace."

Seven Main Points

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Forgiveness: An Unnatural Act . . . . . 5 Mixed Aroma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Oddballs Are Welcome . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Serpent Wisdom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Loopholes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 How Sweet the Sound . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

What Grace Is and Isn't . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

WHAT GRACE IS AND ISNT


GRACE:
The Last Best Good Word
Grace is a grand theological word that has not spoiled or lost its meaning even in modern times. Use of this word often points us to the fact that God is the Source of good things in our lives. Saying grace before a meal recognizes that daily bread is a gift from God. We are grateful for someone's kindness. A person is congratulated when successful. A gratuity is left when service is pleasing. Businesses extend grace periods to extend deadlines for paying bills. Composers include grace notes to embellish the score.

A Parable of Grace
Babette's Feast, a novel by Isak Dinesen, is a startling parable of grace. Babette, a penniless widow who has fled for her life during the French civil war, seeks protection and employment in an impoverished Danish village. The small village's view of God is dominated by a strict religious sect whose regulations call for the renouncing of worldly pleasures. All parishioners wear black and a bland gruel dominates their daily diet. A pair of middle-aged spinster sisters, daughters of the deceased leader of the sect, agree to take her in as their maid and cook. Babette brings new life to the dreary community. When she learns that she has won 10,000 francs in the French lottery, Babette asks for one favor: to cook an authentic French dinner for the villagers. Pleased with Babette's faithful service, the sisters grudgingly agree. The lavish feast works a kind of magic on the brothers and sisters of the sect, as exotic food seems to usher in a lively and uplifting attitude to replace the drab grayness. In the final scene, the sisters thank Babette and say farewell, assuming she will soon return to Paris. Only then does Babette expose her secret: she has spent all of her winnings on the feast. She cannot afford to move back to Paris. Thoroughly exhausted, she enjoys the sweet C B satisfaction of introducing her friends to fine food. S Grace~in the form of a memorable meal~comes to the village free of charge, with no strings attached. Its giver spends everything on it; its recipients spend nothing. And it changes lives. C B
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The many uses of the word in English convince me that grace is indeed amazingly~ truly our last best word. It contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun.
According to the Apostle Paul, the Church exists to

communicate the "gospel of God's grace." The Greek word charis is translated "I rejoice, I am glad." So the Church exists to proclaim the gospel of rejoicing.

holy and righteous!), people who have already cleaned up their acts~not people who need to. Perhaps the underlying reason people go to church is to satisfy a hunger for grace. "The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the Church," says Gordon MacDonald. "You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace."

But unfortunately, many people do not think of gladness when they think of the Church. They think of Church as a place for holy, righteous people (or people who fancy themselves as

GRACE:

Misunderstood by the Church

A spirit of moral superiority or a fierce attitude toward opponents in the "culture wars."

acteristic, the cornerstone of the Christian faith. The Hindu doctrine of karma, the Buddhist eight-fold path, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law all offer ways to earn approval. Only in Christianity is God's love unconditional. And Jesus talked about it often, though he seldom used the word. His parables~stories of extravagant grace~all had endings too good to be true. Perhaps his most notable ones were the three that dealt with loss, discovery, and jubilation. In The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son, Christ does the following respectively: Underscores the loser's sense of loss Explains the thrill of discovery in vivid detail Ends the story with a scene of celebration These three tales demonstrate forgiveness and mercy that are shockingly personal. Parables are not given to teach us how to live, but to correct our inadequate and twisted notions about who God is and who God loves. God welcomes anyone who will have Him; in fact, He has made the first move already! The parables are not just nice stories to hold listeners' attention. They are the template of Jesus' life on earth.
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Christians are known for their A lack of unity. Denominapursuit of truth; every church tional strife and bickering, defends its particular version. often under the guise of But what about grace? Jesus' "doctrinal purity." revolutionary message of grace gets diluted, distorted, or even "Ungrace" has a way of creepoverlooked in the Church. ing up in subtle ways in the lives of Christians. Its tentacular grip Sadly, grace is not often the results in pride, judgmentalism, aroma Christians give off in this and a drive to earn God's approval. world. When people look to the Church for grace, they often find shame, a sense of judgment, and the threat of punishment. The verbal and nonverbal messages decree that one gains the Church's (and presumably God's) approval by adhering to a prescribed pattern of behaviors. It is so easy for Christians to slip into the trap of trying to earn God's~and the Church's~favor through "acceptable behavior."

The devil succeeds in laying his cuckoo eggs in a pious nest...The sulphurous stench of hell is as nothing compared with the evil odor emitted by divine grace gone putrid. ~Helmut Thielicke

Apparently grace is not the aroma Christians give off in this world.
Forms of "Ungrace" in the Church:

GRACE:

The Centerpiece of the Christian Faith


In stark contrast to Christians' perceived need to earn God's favor is the notion that God's love is available free of charge, no strings attached, on the house. This concept flies in the face of every instinct of humanity.

A pecking order of moral prohibitions. People become spiritual by attending to these gray-area rules in a ladder-like approach to faith. An assumption that people suffer because they deserve it; God is punishing them.

The concept of grace~God's love available without cost to the Uptight joylessness; a form of recipient~is unique among world "piety" that is skeptical about religions. It is the defining charfun and laughter.

GRACE:

Atrocious and Unfair


The Bible is full of evidence that God's economy is different from man's. While we operate on the basis of cause and effect, the God of the universe introduces his own system: the "new math of grace." To the finite, rational mind his calculations don't make sense. They just don't add up. Consider a shepherd who left 99 sheep unprotected in dangerous territory to hunt for one lost lamb. How about the woman who took an entire pint of perfume~worth a whole year's wages~to pour on Jesus' feet? Or the poor widow who quietly dropped two coins in the offering plate; Jesus singled her out and told his disciples that she had invested more in the treasury than all others~ including the donors who made substantial gifts. In one memorable parable, Christ told about a farmer whose workers checked in at different times throughout the day to begin work. Yet all received the same amount in their paychecks at the end of the day. Naturally, the full-day workers com-plained; the master's decision seemed unfair. Yet this story points out a fundamental truth: God dispenses gifts, not wages. From an economic standpoint, this parable doesn't make sense. And that was the teller's intent. He was explaining that grace cannot be calculated like a day's wages. Grace is not about competition or finishing first or last. It's about not counting.

People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in that field rich enough to buy Texas. They are prepared for a God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour's work as for a day's. They are prepared for a mustard seed kingdom of God no bigger than the eye of a newt but not for the great banyan it becomes with the birds in its branches singing Mozart. They are prepared for the potluck supper at First Presbyterian but not for the marriage supper of the lamb. ~Frederick Buechner In a world and a culture where people are conditioned to think in terms of "just desserts" and gain only resulting from pain, God's economy is just plain unfair. No one gets what he deserves. (This is good news, since all deserve punishment and wrath, not forgiveness and love!) Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.

Toxic Ungrace
Unforgiveness is damaging~ more so for the one who harbors it than for the one who is not forgiven. And its deadly force is not limited to one person or even one generation.
Ungrace does its work quietly and lethally, like a poisonous undetectable gas...the toxin steals on, from generation to generation .

Forgiveness is an unnatural act; its very taste seems wrong somehow. Our human nature demands that people earn their way back. Consequently, most people do not forgive easily or find themselves easily forgiven. Not surprisingly, God's take on the subject is diametrically opposed to man's. Jesus instructs us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." He links our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of fellow humans. And His next statement is powerful: "If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
The Lords Prayer pulls these two together: As we can allow ourselves to let go, to break the cycle, to start over, God can allow Himself to let go, break the cycle, start over .

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace sounds a startling note of contradiction, of liberation, and every day I must pray anew for the ability to hear its message.
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Christ's teachings are straightforward. By denying forgiveness to others, we are in effect determining them unworthy of God's forgiveness, and thus so are we. While the world runs on the rules of ungrace, Christ demands a response of forgiveness and mercy. C
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FORGIVENESS: AN UNNATURAL ACT


Why forgive?
Why would the God who created us and who knows us so intimately require that we do something that goes against our natural instincts? God commands that we love one another as He loved us. Furthermore, He assures us that He'll take care of justice. "Do not take revenge, my friends: it is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord." Forgiveness is an act of faith in a God who can be trusted. Forgiveness can loosen the stranglehold of guilt in the perpetrator. Guilt does its corrosive work even when it is consciously repressed. As we offer forgiveness and the healing takes place, a humbling process occurs. A remarkable connection takes place. The forgiver realizes that he is not as different from the wrongdoer as he thought. When you forgive someone, you slice away the wrong from the person who did it. You disengage that person from his hurtful act. You recreate him. ~Lewis Smedes
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Theological Reasons:
Christians are called to be like God, to bear the family likeness. God is love; God forgave our sins and gave us another chance. By sending Jesus into our world, God unequivocally took the initiative toward us. Christ absorbed the worst man could do to him~ crucifixion~and fashioned out of that cruel deed the remedy for the human condition.

Pragmatic Reasons:
Forgiveness alone can halt the cycle of blame and pain, breaking the chain of ungrace. Forgiveness is the only effective way to reverse and correct the effects of resentment and bitterness.

MIXED AROMA
If indeed grace is so amazing, what prevents Christians from showing more of it? How should a person who has been "graced" by God's unconditional love act~as a spouse, a parent, a church member, or a citizen? Two trends impact the answers to these questions. First, the Church has become so swept up in political issues that it finds itself playing by the world's rules~the rules of power~which are the rules of ungrace. When operating in the public square, the Church is at risk of losing its calling. Second, fear drives ungrace. Christians feel under attack in a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to our values, and the natural inclination is to tremble, fearing the worst.

The Psalmist asked an important question: "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" How can Christians uphold moral values in a secular society without emitting the noxious fumes of ungrace? How will we feel if historians of the future look back on the evangelical church of the 1990s and declare, "They fought bravely on the moral fronts of abortion and homosexual rights," while at the same time reporting that we did little to fulfill the Great Commission, and we did little to spread the aroma of grace in the world? Christians must be careful not to confuse politics and religion, since politics often allures us to trade away grace for power. And we need to concentrate more on the Kingdom of God than on the kingdom of this world. C B
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ODDBALLS ARE WELCOME


In contrast to a cradle-tograve environment dominated by the "fittest and best," Jesus' kingdom welcomes everybody equally. There is no hierarchy. Those judged undesirable are infinitely desirable to God. Scriptures make it plain: We are all undesirable, but God loves us anyhow.
Rung by rung Jesus dismantled the ladder of hierarchy that had marked the approach to God. He invited defectives, sinners, aliens, and Gentiles~the unclean!~to Gods banquet table.

Jesus' stories showed His heart about people rejected by the world: He told of a great banquet, with invitations given to the
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ODDBALLS ARE WELCOME continued from page 5

poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. There was a good-for-nothing son who had soiled the family's reputation. He spoke of a hero who gave aid to a robbery victim. (The hero was a despised Samaritan.) Jesus' actions, many of which violated Jewish regulations regarding "clean" and "unclean," clearly demonstrated his compassion and commitment to care for the "underdogs" of society. A naked madman was healed and sent home as a missionary. A woman with a longstanding hemorrhaging problem was healed. Jesus touched a corpse and breathed life into a dead girl. Though Jesus broke the Levitical laws against contagion, He was not contaminated. In fact, He made others whole; He reversed the process. Through these incidents, the Scriptures show us that in an unclean world, we can look for ways to be sources of cleansing and holiness.
The sick and the maimed are for us not hot spots of contamination but potential reservoirs of Gods mercy. We are called upon to extend that mercy, to be conveyors of grace, not avoiders of grace, not avoiders of contagion. Like Jesus, we can help make the unclean clean.

walls which once separated us from each other and from God have been demolished. We're all oddballs, but God loves us anyhow. While God remains the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, through his Son, He has made himself accessible. Like early Christians in Acts, we are welcome to address him as Abba ("Daddy"). There is no need to be self-conscious or anxious about cleanliness issues. He simply loves us~no matter what. Jesus' revolution of grace also makes us realign our view of "different" people. In their New Testament writings, both Peter and Paul talk about "dispensing" grace to our world. The image brings to mind one of the old-fashioned "atomizers" women used before the perfection of spray technology. Squeeze a rubber bulb and droplets of perfume come shooting out of the fine holes at the other end. A few drops suffice for a whole body; a few pumps change 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. Jesus was known as a Lover of sinners when He walked on Earth. A couple thousand years later, His followers are at risk of losing this focus. C
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ditional love do not extend that far! People generally divide into two categories: those who are guilty and admit it and those who are guilty but deny it. The only "catch" to grace is that a person needs a stance of openness in order to receive it. The Christian term for that act of receiving is repentance, the doorway to grace. Using three analogies, the Apostle Paul examines the questions "Why be good?" and "What can I get away with?" in Romans 6 and 7. First he says we've died to sin, so we need to count ourselves dead to sin and refuse to let sin reign in our bodies. Then Paul talks about bondage to sin in the past tense and slavery to righteousness in the present. Finally, drawing on the metaphor of marriage, Paul explains that we express love to God through holy living~not out of compulsion, but out of desire. God doesn't want performance; He desires our hearts. The primary New Testament motivation for "being good" is gratitude. The best reason to be good is to want to be good. Internal change requires a relationship. Only a person who truly knows God will be inclined to please Him. It is compelling that both Jesus and Paul summarized the entire law in the command, "Love God.
If we truly grasped the wonders of Gods love for us. the devious question that prompted Romans 6 and 7~What can I get away with?~would never even occur to us. We would spend out days trying to fathom, not exploit, Gods grace.
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LOOPHOLES
Grace Abuse
But what about people who exploit this grace, who commit sins with an awareness of God's bountiful forgiveness? Surely God's forgiveness and uncon-

The message of the gospel is piercing and resonating: The

LOOPHOLES continued from page 6

Legalism, in its pursuit of purity, is an elaborate scheme of grace avoidance. It is also proof that people can know the law by heart without knowing the heart of the law! It is significant that the group of people who made Jesus the angriest was the very group he most resembled, at least externally. But it was the internals, their legalistic mindset, that infuriated Christ. In Luke 11 and Matthew 23 Jesus exposed five key elements of legalism. 1. An emphasis on externals, impressing others and public recognition. Christ knew that the proof of spiritual maturity is not how holy one appears, but an awareness of ones own impurity. 2. A spirit of law-keeping, stiffening into extremism. Legalism is always progressive; it seeks to enlarge its domain of intolerance. 3. Focusing on trivialities, neglecting more important matters.
I met South African students who came from churches where young Christians did not chew gum or pray with their hands in their pockets, and where blue jeans made a person spiritually suspect. Yet those same churches vigorously defended the racist doctrine of apartheid.

Within the church, legalism fails miserably at the one thing it is supposed to accomplish~ encouraging obedience. And it often sets a trap for those who conform~scars of shame resulting from feelings of failure. Outside the Church, people reject the faith because of their perception that Christians are petty and legalistic. For some, legalism makes apostasy easy. The tragedy is that legalism causes people to miss the ulti-

mate goal of Christianity~ knowing God. The Church has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that she has made us like ill-taught piano students: we play our songs, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music, but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch. ~Robert Farrar Capon
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SERPENT WISDOM
Amid a society that is veering away from God, Christians are called to dole out grace, acting as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves in the process. Without doubt, that is a challenging assignment amid todays culture wars. No matter what the future brings, these three conclusions, based on Scriptural principles, provide helpful warning. 1. Dispensing grace is the Christians main contribution. The weapons of mercy can be potent. Jesus declared that our distinguishing mark should be love. Somehow Jesus managed to separate the policy from the person. Anyone, even a half-breed with five husbands or a thief nailed to a cross, was welcome to join His kingdom. The person was more important than any category or label. As Christians deeply concerned about a culture that is hostile to absolute truth, we must correctly identify our enemies. Abortionists? Hollywood producers polluting our culture? Politicians threatening moral principles? If our activism drives out love, we have misunderstood the gospel of Jesus. 2. Commitment to a style of grace does not mean we will live in perfect harmony with the government. Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, correctly stated, What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot. Christians should exercise care in selecting issues to support or oppose. We can not afford to get sidetracked. Yes, we have led the way in abolition and civil rights. But Protestants have also veered off on frenzied campaigns against Catholicism, against immigration, against Freemasons.
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4. Hypocrisy, putting on a mask. 5. Feelings of pride and competition, trying to impress one another with spiritual calisthenics.

SERPENT WISDOM continued from page 7

Government dilutes the essence of Jesus' commands and translates them into a form of external morality, which is the exact opposite of grace. A state government can give subsidies to the poor but cannot show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness. It can encourage virtue but not holiness.

Michael & Cheryl Chiapperino


Published on the World Wide Web at ChristianBookSummaries.com.

HOW SWEET THE SOUND


Bill Moyers
produced a documentary film about the popular John Newton hymn "Amazing Grace" with footage shot at Wembley Stadium in London. A rock concert had been organized to celebrate changes in South Africa, but promoters scheduled opera diva Jessye Norman as the closing act. On the heels of twelve hours of entertainment from groups like Guns 'n' Roses, the time came for this majestic African American woman to sing. A single light followed her. No backup band, no musical instruments, just Jessye. A voice called for more Guns 'n' Roses. Others joined in. Alone, a capella, Jessye Norman began to sing: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found-was blind but now I see. A remarkable thing happened in Wembley Stadium that night, as 70,000 wild fans fell silent. By the time she reached the third verse, several thousand fans were singing along. Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. I think I know. The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.

The mission of Christian Book Summaries is to enhance the ministry of thinking Christians by providing thorough and readable summaries of noteworthy books from Christian publishers. The opinions expressed are those of the original writers and are not necessarily those of Christian Book Summaries or its Council of Reference.

What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. Copyright C 1997 by Philip D.Yancey. Summar-ized by permission of the publisher, Zondervan Publishing House, 5300 Patterson Ave. Southeast, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530. 292 pages. $19.95. ISBN 0-310-21327-4. Available at your favorite bookstore or by calling 800-727-3480. The author: Philip Yancey is an award-winning author and the editor-at-large for Christianity Today. He and his wife live in Colorado.

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3. A coziness between church and state is good for the state and bad for the Church because the state, running under the rules of ungrace, drowns out the Church's message of grace.

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Volume 2, Number 32
Publisher

David A. Martin
Editors