Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey

Thought provoking and challenging!
“Why does the church stir up such negative feelings?” Philip Yancey has been asking this all his life as a journalist. His perennial question is more relevant now than ever: in a twenty-year span starting in the mid-nineties, research shows that favorable opinions of Christianity have plummeted drastically—and opinions of Evangelicals have taken even deeper dives.

The end of the politics-oriented Evangelicalism that was so dominant in the second half of the 20th century is a strong example that we are living in a post-Christian culture.
Yet while the opinions about Christianity are dropping, interest in spirituality is rising. Why the disconnect? Why are so many asking, “What’s so good about the “Good News?”
Yancey’s writing has focused on the search for honest faith that makes a difference for a world in pain. In his landmark book What’s So Amazing about Grace he issued a call for Christians to be as grace-filled in their behavior as they are in declaring their beliefs.
But people inside and outside the church are still thirsty for grace. What the church lacked in its heyday is now exactly what it needs to recover to thrive. Grace can bring together Christianity and our post-Christian culture, inviting outsiders as well as insiders to take a deep second look at why our faith matters and about what could reignite its appeal to future generations.
How can Christians offer grace in a way that is compelling to a jaded society? And how can they make a difference in a world that cries out in need?
Yancey aims this book at Christian readers, showing  them how Christians have lost respect, influence, and reputation in a newly post-Christian culture. “Why do they hate us so much?” mystified Americans ask about the rest of the world.  A similar question applies to evangelicals in America.
Yancey explores what may have contributed to hostility toward Evangelicals, especially in their mixing of faith and politics instead of embracing more grace-filled ways of presenting the gospel.  He offers illuminating stories of how faith can be expressed in ways that disarm even the most cynical critics.  Then he explores what is Good News and what is worth preserving in a culture that thinks it has rejected Christian faith.

My Review

Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey is a thought provoking work that dives deep into the heart of grace and questions whether Christians are accurately communicating the message of the cross to a hungry and hurting world.  As with his previous work:  What’s So Amazing About Grace  published in 1997, the reader should be prepared to have their toes stepped on…ouch!! 

Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey takes a purposeful look at the way the gospel is being presented in churches today.  After reading this book, I have a greater awareness and appreciation for how I communicate the message of Christ.  Philip Yancey presents the idea that a large percentage of churches in America have steered away from grace and veered toward a harsh and often judgmental presentation of the gospel.  The question submitted is one for careful consideration.  Has the church, as a whole, whether purposefully or inadvertently, turned our pews into more of an arena of arrogance and condemnation rather than a place of acceptance and healing?  This question forms the foundation for the entire book.  Yancey does a magnificent job of exploring the possibility that far too many churches are missing the one thing that matters most to effectively share the love of Christ.  That “one thing” is simple the word- grace.  

Vanishing Grace challenges the reader (especially the Christian reader) to consider the possibility that we have in many cases handled the message of Christ with an extreme amount of forceful theology and too little mercy and grace.  Yancey identifies that there are a large number of people he labels “post Christians” (those who have at one time chosen Christianity and then chosen to leave it) in the population that have had a negative experience with the church setting due to an environment of critical perfectionism and useless pious attitudes. 

Philip Yancey does not leave the reader with hopelessness, however.  He does a phenomenal job of drafting ideas for how to live out grace in a more effective manner.  He throws down the challenge that we MUST press on in the fight against injustice.  He references early Christian movements that were paramount in ending human atrocities, such as the Roman time period when gladiatorial games and infanticide were rampant and including recent campaigns against abuses of slavery and sexual trafficking. 

Vanishing Grace cautions that the Christian should choose battles wisely.  He writes, “The more Christians focus on tangential issues, the less we will be heard on matters of true moral significance.”  He asserts that we should keep priorities of the Bible as our focus.  He encourages that a Christian should fight our battles carefully and with an abundance of grace.  Yancey reminds us that the terms “illegal and immoral” are not the same and that our morality cannot be forced on a society.  He warns Christians to keep church and state separate.

This is a very deeply moving book and requires time to fully absorb each of the ideas and challenges that Yancey proposes.  It is not a quick read, as it engages a level of pondering that will bathe you in reflection.  Vanishing Grace will encourage you to be a “grace dispenser” through that of a “pilgrim, activist, or artist” as identified by your calling to Christ.

Thank you to Zondervan Publishing for this Review Copy of Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey through the BookLook Bloggers program.  I was not required to write a favorable review of this work.  The opinions within the review are strictly my own.

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