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Customer Review

34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yancey told one side of the story well, 13 July 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: What's So Amazing About Grace? (Hardcover)
Well-written as are all of Yancey's books, full of passion and good ideas, What's so Amazing About Grace is also seriously out of balance, in my opinion. The uncritical adulation heaped upon the book by the Christian community, and Yancey's willingness to accept that adulation (see his own comments above, and also the reviews on the cover of the book) reveals, it seems to me, a corresponding lack of balance in contemporary Christian thinking which accounts for a lot.
I found four serious problems with the book. First, it seemed to me the word "Ungrace" was left ill-defined. When a father spanks his son, is that ungrace? When a judge sentences a thief to prison, is that ungrace? When a soldier fires on an enemy in combat, is that ungrace? The examples and tone of Yancey's book lead the reader naturally to include all cases of retribution and punishment in this category. At the least, he set the ball rolling in that direction and erected no clear barrier to it. And yet in each of these cases the person involved may be doing his duty as a Christian, may even be exercising courage, wisdom, and yes, love that border on the heroic, in an attempt to obey God. Should actions which arise out of a desire to "Love God and love others" be lumped with mass-murder and child molestation in a single category? "Ungrace" seems to embrace all actions not arising specifically out of an urge towards forgiveness and unmerited kindness. It abstracts a single virtue out of the matrix of the complete Christian life and makes it absolute, which, as C.S.Lewis pointed out, is a dangerous thing to to.
Second, while Yancey discussed the cost of grace to the agent of grace, he did not discuss or adequately consider the often much greater cost to the recipient or to innocent bystanders. Many point in the book, the question almost brought itself up, but without eliciting the attention from the author that it deserved. For example, Yancey mentioned the murder rate in Japan, which is a tiny fraction of that in the U.S., and ascribed it (in part) to society's ungrateous treatment of criminals. The obvious question, which he did not raise, might be stated thus: is the personal cruelty the families expressed towards those criminals too high a price for the tens of thousands of lives that the system saves every year? Or to put it another way, should we sacrifice the lives of ten potential innocent victims, not to mention the freedom of everyone to go out at night (I live in Japan) so that one actual criminal might be shown mercy? If Christians think the example of Jesus on the cross provides an easy answer to that question in the affirmative, it seems to me position at least replies a more rigorous and systematic argument. Again, Yancey noted that since divorce has been tolerated in the United States, the divorce rate has risen to one half. SO then are all the children who miss out on a father or mother an acceptable sacrifice to what he calls grace?
The example Yancey began his book with was the most extreme, and made my blood boil. Having myself worked in places where girls were sold into prostitution for the sake of their parents addictions, my reaction may have been somewhat different from that of most readers. If it were up to me, I would send that woman to the prison for life, or the electric chair, in an instant, if it would save her little girl from the abuse she was subject to. At the very least, I insist that the good of the victim should be considered before that of the person who is preying upon her, and I think the Bible says so too. Yancey, on the other hand, didn't seem to even think of the little girl, except as part of the shame her mother experienced. The woman complained that church would "only make me feel worse," he reported What, should the thought of proximity to the Christian God make a person who is selling her daughter into prostitution feel better?
Third, the Bible does talk about judgement as well as grace, and not just the first half. Can Yancey ignore those passages and still call his view Christian? As Yancey wrote with Dr. Paul Brand in their book on Pain, there is no substitute for physical pain for reminding us to take care of our bodies. Does not the threat of judgement (ungrace) play the same role in encouraging us to see to our spiritual health? And what are we to do with the words of the prophets? Has human psychology and the character of God really changed so radically that we can now interpret the rest of the New Testament exclusively in the light of a few chapters in Romans?
It seems to me that many examples of "ungrace" Yancey gave involved blue-collar workers or other simple Christians who lack his education or subtlety of expression. They may lack wisdom, I agree, but I know some Christians like that who on paper would sound equally "ungracious," but in practice show true Christian love. I think it possible some of them were just trying to stand up for God in the only way they knew how.
Finally, Yancey wrote that "some studies" show that Christians are equally likely to rent x-rated movies, divorce, and have abortions, his point being that legalistic preaching on sex hasn't worked. Yancey didn't argue that the studies were accurate, and they sound suspicious to me, because I know that the warnings of the Bible have an effect on some people, anyway. But if in fact Christian preaching against evil has no impact on anyone, why do we bother with it at all? Why does Yancey think anyone will really listen to him, either?
In any case, his conclusion here, that fundamentalist rules have if anything an opposite effect to their design, conflicts with his other examples, which show that Japanese legalism, for one, succeeds very well, resulting in dramatically reduced crime.
Having grown up like Yancey in a strict Christian church, it seemed to me the church is not too strict about sex, but far and away too lax. Even good pastors seem afraid to bring the subject up, or maybe they don't realize how important it is to young people. Having listened to sermons in hundreds of churches and youth groups, I can only vaguely recall hearing someone venture to guide Christians on this subject a few times. In this case, as Chesterton put it about Christianity in general, Christian morality has not been tried and found wanted, it has been found difficult and not tried at all -- at least not recently.
We are all in need of God's grace, myself no less than anyone. And praise God for the wonderful examples of grace Yancey gave. But surely we can find a way to integrate the laws of God and the love of God in a more wholistic, and truly loving way? Yancey is a fabulous writer, but in my opinion he does not show a very complete grasp of the Biblical approach or the real-life complexities of this problem.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Feb 2010 15:19:03 GMT
i'm half way through Yancey's book, and your review fits what i've found very well. There is much to enjoy of God' grace in this book, and much to challenge our selfish natural reactions to many situations, but there is a lot that needs to be dismissed as christian pop rhetoric, unhelpful and even dangerous.

Posted on 10 Aug 2011 02:41:33 BDT
J McMurdo says:
I'm glad you've said all this. I think the book is deeply flawed and I am somewhat bewildered by how few people see this.

Posted on 17 Apr 2012 19:07:44 BDT
Alison says:
Oh come on, at the very least write under your real name if you want your views to be taken seriously. Can't help thinking you miss the grace point entirely like most people do. That's what happens when you are confronted with grace, deconstruct it till there's nothing left. Just ungrace.

Posted on 1 Apr 2013 19:37:11 BDT
Raymo says:
Religion, like politics,tends to lurch from one extreme to the other whenever big problems develop in the Church. A vengeful God(fire / hell) gets replaced with the modernist interpretation of an all-loving/all-forgiving God. Perhaps we should all remember that the New Testament contains the dual concepts of love combined with judgement. This middle course is usually the best position to adopt in most(not all) situations.
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