What’s So Amazing About Grace? By Philip Yancey. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997. 304 pp. Cloth, $19.99.
I was delighted to get a chance to read this new book on grace. We can not have too many. I was not disappointed with the book, but it was not exactly what I expected. I thought there would be more of a treatment of the subject from the Bible. But Yancey treats the subject not like an expositor, but like an artist trying to illustrate biblical truth.
The book has a powerful beginning with good explanations and illustrations of grace. You sense his yearning for the beauty of grace. Yancey never shows much of the Bible, but you can tell he has been there. He tends to develop his ideas more responsively as he is stimulated by the writings of others. He is very well read; the book reflects deep research.
The book is obviously written to and for Christians. While there is an emphasis on God’s grace revealed in His unconditional love for us and in Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, this side of grace is more often illustrated with parables and stories than explained. Yancey seems to assume that we all agree on what response grace requires from us for salvation. So while he makes it clear that salvation is not earned, deserved, or merited by our performance, he never enters into an articulation of the terms that are at the heart of the salvation controversy today, such as faith and repentance. This is unfortunate, for it seems a valuable opportunity to throw light on the gospel debate is lost. Indeed, you wonder whether Yancey is even aware of the controversy. Given his whole treatment and understanding of grace, however, the reader will be tempted to assume that Yancey holds to a Free Grace gospel. We will “Amen” statements like “Grace does not depend on what we have done for God, but rather what God has done for us” (p. 55).
It was a bit distracting, at least from my expectations; to have several chapters devoted to the topic of forgiveness of one another so early in the book. Certainly he is rightly applying grace to human relationships; it is just that the book spends a lot of time there. I would like to have seen more reflection on God’s grace towards us. Also, though he does apply grace to salvation, there is little discussion about its relationship theologically to sanctification. Romans 6–8 is hardly dealt with, yet that Scripture is the heart of grace-in-life theology.
Also, the book seems to lose a little focus near the end when he applies grace and graciousness to the subject of Christians, culture, and politics. It is a good call to graciousness in those arenas, but probably not where I expected the book to end up.
Yancey draws information, insight, and inspiration from a broad assortment of people. Some may feel uncomfortable with him favorably quoting theologians of a more liberal persuasion or politicians who have no theological definition at all. Yet we should remember that even the apostle Paul quoted pagans approvingly when they got it right (Titus 1:12)!
The book is good reading because Yancey is a polished and thoughtful writer. It does not say everything about grace, but approaches the subject reflectively and leaves the reader appreciating God’s grace and motivated to practice it towards others.