The Riddle of Grace. By Scott Hoezee. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. 164 pp. Paper, $14.00.
What does it mean to be “saved by grace” and then—as a result of that salvation—to live “graciously”? Do Christians know what it means to be a “graced people”? This is the basic thrust of the author, Scott Hoezee, pastor of preaching and administration at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While he initially warns the reader of the fact that the Reformed tradition has “misconstrued” the need to live “the grateful life” (p. 7), his decidedly Reformed mindset has left an indelible mark on his attempt to adopt a “new” approach: “Only those who know just how bad sin is can also know how great grace is” (p 46, emphasis mine).
Hoezee has divided his thoughts into four chapters. First, he traces the biblical data for the doctrine of grace. Second, he explores the “dimension of the gracious life” (or, how to find ways to say “Thank You” for the greatest gift that God can give). Third, he attempts to grapple with the implications of grace in a capitalistic world. In the final chapter he wrestles with the difficult questions surrounding grace and church discipline (or, how can the church handle sin/scandals in ways different from other societal institutions). Interspersed between the chapters are short “meditations on grace” which Hoezee has drawn from OT passages.
The author’s treatment of the biblical understanding of grace (pp. 11-46) is especially noteworthy—readers will find several helpful insights from both the OT and NT passages he explores.
Unfortunately, Hoezee’s second chapter, “Grace and Gratitude,” is basically the standard Reformed position on sanctification, complete with reference to “antinomianism” (p. 53). While the author subscribes to the fact that works have nothing to do with our salvation, “the power of God’s grace is so enormous that it inevitably will result in a distinctive kind of life” (p. 57, emphasis his).
I found his thoughts on “Grace and Capitalism” (chapter 3) confusing: “What effect has the capitalist way of life had on the church, its theology, and most importantly, its view of grace?” (p. 89). Hoezee has somehow concluded that American capitalism and the “modern preoccupation of the Self” (p. 91) are synonymous, and therefore dangerous, even though he recognizes that the great reformers all put great emphasis on the “lay life.” While stopping short of equating socialism with “gracious living,” he warns that the business “ethos” is affecting the Church (p. 92) and not the other way around. The pastor has become the “spiritual C.E.O.” and “bottom-line results” are more important than “preaching the Word.” I sensed here more of the author’s frustration with the megachurch concept than capitalism per se (even though Hoezee grew up in Ada, Michigan, which just happens to be the corporate home of Amway!).
Hoezee seems to consider the concept of rewards—whether earthly or heavenly—as detrimental to a proper focus on grace:
The idea that we must each “make it on our own” [the author’s understanding of the “American spirit”], the seeking of rewards (and the proffering of rewards to motivate right behavior),…are difficult ideas to transcend in our culture (p. 110, emphasis mine).
Moreover, any emphasis on the biblical view of accountability (“…feared punishments [especially punishments from God],” p. 118) should be carefully phrased by parents and teachers with “well-tuned theological antennae.”
This issue of accountability appears further diluted when the author discusses his concept of “Grace and Discipline” (pp. 129-59) with regards to sin/scandals within a church body. He summarizes his discussion of Matt 18:15-19 and Jesus’ emphasis on proper exclusion from fellowship—”treat as pagans and tax collectors”—by stating: “But we do not for that reason cease having contact with him (i.e., the recalcitrant brother)” (p. 141)—even though later Paul gives specific instructions to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 5:11 “not even to eat with such a man”! This chapter contains many good intentions, but falls far short of a well-reasoned biblical explanation of corporate discipline.
I cannot recommend this book to GES members for a proper view of the foundation of God’s grace and its work in one’s life. This book is well named: it is indeed a riddle of grace.
R. A. McCreless
Fort Collins, CO