Breathing Grace (by Harry Kraus)

I had never heard of Harry Kraus. Probably I would not have done so, but for the fact that one of his e-books was on special offer last year - free for a few days - and showing quite high on the Kindle list of downloads for Christian books. He is apparently an American missionary surgeon - something which became apparent from the start of this book, and which really made me want to like it.

I often download a selection of free books for the Kindle to see what they are like; unquestionably some of them are junk. Usually, in those cases, the books are not available in any other format. However, ‘Breathing Grace’ has been available as a book for many years, and is still available in hardback.

This book is subtitled “What you need more than your next breath“, taking as its theme the idea that most Christians go through life in ‘grace deficit’. This might not threaten our physical lives as much as oxygen deficit, but it certainly affects us spiritually.

Each chapter begins with the dramatic telling of a true medical incident, most of them involving the author in some way. He gives some relevant terminology, and explains what emergency doctors and paramedics do in life-threatening situations. In particular, I learned about the essential ‘ABC’ - Airways, Breathing, Circulation - which he then translates into metaphors for the Christian life.

It’s a clever idea. The medical anecdotes are clearly written, giving a clear picture and providing a modern parable that I found tends to stick in the memory. Unfortunately, I found the latter parts of each chapter a bit too repetitive, once the initial point had been made. Yes, there are blockages to grace. Yes, we need to focus on God. Yes, we need to turn away from known sin. And so on. Grace is a powerful concept to those who are not aware of it, and certainly not something I want to take for granted. But somehow it didn’t feel to me as if there was enough real content in the book to follow the different medical dramas.

Having said that, it's true that the message of grace needs to be taught, and probably re-taught. It’s all too easy to get caught up in worldly things, or distractions of one kind or another. Perhaps the book was written for a particular time or culture - I'm not sure. But as I read - and it took me a couple of months to get through this book - it began to feel to me as if the author was proposing an ABC of turning to God, a quick-fix in an emergency situation, rather than an ongoing indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Clearly he was aware of this possible misinterpretation, since he warns against it in the final chapter; yet, the nature of the medical examples given imply, somehow, that it's only in emergencies that we need to pause and remember God - and that, having done so, we should be fine thereafter.

I don't recall finding anything that I would disagree with in this book. The theology is standard, the writing clear. But somehow I didn’t find anything new (other than the medical terminology!) or particularly inspirational either.

Still, I didn’t pay for it, and the Kindle edition of this book is inexpensive even when it’s not free, so I can’t really complain. For some, it may be a good way to think about the subject a little differently. For others, it may be new and refreshing. But if I want to read a book about grace, I would prefer to re-read Philip Yancey’s classic ‘What’s so Amazing about Grace’.

Note: the Amazon links are to the hardback version of this book. The Kindle editions, which I cannot easily link to, are a great deal less expensive - under a pound (UK) or dollar (US). Reviewers on the Amazon US site liked this book very much.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 22nd February 2013

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