Vanishing Grace (by Philip Yancey)

Philip Yancey is one of my favourite Christian authors, so I try to acquire and read his books as soon as they are out in paperback. However it took a year or two for me to put ‘Vanishing Grace’ on my wishlist. I was given it for my birthday over six months ago, and have just finished reading it.

Overall, I thought it a helpful book. It’s realistic about the state of the church, and the way that evangelical Christians (at least in the United States) are often seen negatively. In surveys, respondents mention things that evangelicals are ‘against’, such as alcohol or abortion, rather than seeing them as offering or celebrating any kind of good news.

Yancey, with Scriptural backing, proposes reclaiming the word ‘evangelical’ to refer to the great news of God’s grace. He is quite frank in places about what Christians have done wrong, and the ways in which we have often stuck in our own cliques rather than going out into the world, as Jesus did, and meeting with those who need the Good News. He suggests that we need to show love and grace, not condemnation and rejection.

I have to admit, I didn’t find this book as compulsively readable as some of Yancey’s earlier books. In places it feels a bit heavy-going, and I found my mind wandering, sometimes, after just a few pages. But the points he makes are excellent. People are thirsty for recognition, for loving acceptance, for friends to be with them in all circumstances. We in the Body of Christ need to reach out in the ways Jesus did, meeting people where they are, showing them a positive way forward rather than condemning their current lifestyles.

The book is divided into four sections, which the author states are almost like four separate booklets in his mind. The first section, ‘A World Athirst’, looks at where we are, how we are perceived, and what the needs of the majority of people are. The second section, ‘Grace Dispensers’, takes as its premise that people who don’t follow Jesus are unlikely to listen to preachers or evangelists. However, they very often take notice of ordinary Christians, whom the author divides into three broad categories: pilgrims, travelling alongside others; activists, who work to make changes in the world; and artists, in the broadest sense (including writers), who offer metaphors and anecdotes that help people open up to spiritual issues.

The third section of the book is called, ‘Is it really good news?’, looking at why faith matters, and why we are here - looking at typical questions which post-modern people are starting to ask, and the ways we can address these issues with grace. And the final, shortest section, is called ‘Faith and Culture’. This looks partly at faith as related to politics - and is inevitably somewhat US-centric. However the author proposes that instead of trying to get ‘Christian’ laws passed, it is better for us to be subversive, a ‘voice in the wilderness’, perhaps, pointing people in the right direction when appropriate.

It’s a positive book, I thought, on the whole, and contains a lot to think about. Yancey expresses eloquently many things I had pondered, or which had vaguely occurred to me. However, we in European countries are far less inclined than those in the US to see issues in absolute terms, and thus are less likely to find the world quite so antagonistic. Instead, we’re more likely to be apathetic; accepting other viewpoints, certainly, but not taking any action at all.

I hope this book will act as a wake-up call to some who call themselves evangelical but are more critical than grace-filled. But also to some of us who, even if we avoid criticising, also avoid anything much that is positive.

Recommended. But note that it’s a book written for Christian believers, or at least those on the fringes of the church, and probably not relevant to those without faith.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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