20/06/2005

What's So Amazing About Grace? (by Philip Yancey)

I've been reading this book for about a month now, a little each day. It's probably the best-known of Philip Yancey's excellent Christian books, but although I skimmed it a few years ago I had never read it through thoroughly before.

It's a quite amazing book, one I would recommend to all Christians whatever their background, and to anyone who's interested in knowing about Christianity, or indeed anyone who's been hurt by Christians.

Recently I saw, posted to a mailing list I'm on, a series of harsh quotations from the so-called 'religious right'. The link no longer exists, which is probably just as well. But they illustrated perfectly what Yancey calls 'un-grace' - a spirit which, sadly,  seems to permeate much of the church today, particularly in the USA but also in Europe - and probably elsewhere too.

Grace, as CS Lewis once pointed out, is the one thing that makes Christianity stand out from other religions. We don't have to strive to reach God - he reached down in Jesus. No matter what we do, he can forgive us if only we ask. Jesus said that Christians should know each other by their love. The only people he was angry with were the hypocritical religious leaders of the time who passed judgement on those around them.

Jesus mixed with prostitutes, tax-collectors, people of different religions and lepers. He reached out to them in love, and they responded positively. Too many Christians today look at the divorced, the unemployed, the gay, and AIDS victims in judgemental anger. This, as Yancey tells us repeatedly in his book, is not grace. It's un-grace.

Of course, in saying this he runs the danger of running into un-grace himself. It's easy to be tolerant of everything other than intolerance! But he makes his points well, without pointing the finger at any individuals; instead he shows what grace is, and what it should be, and many examples of grace around the world - where people do reach out to the unloved and unlovely, and show them a tiny little bit of God's love.

The book's been criticised by fundamentalists; not surprisingly perhaps since Yancey grew up fundamentalist - and racist - himself. But now he accepts that God is found in many places and people, and can be part of all denominations whether Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic. His writing makes such intuitive sense, and is so well expressed, that I find it hard to see how anyone could disagree with it.

This is how the church should be, and it's a massive challenge for the 21st century where Christianity is more often associated with anger and critisism than with compassion and grace.

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