Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Grace - A Comparative Review of Two Recent Books

A Comparative Review

Grace is a word that is bandied around the church. It was a word that I heard growing up, but somehow I had missed its real meaning. In the years following my conversion, I missed its meaning. In the four years I spent in a seminary education, I missed its meaning. In ten years of ministry, I missed its meaning.
It was not until I realized just how broken I was that I finally understood a bit about the meaning of grace. As Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I was in tears about half of the time as I finally saw myself as God saw me, and I was living in joy for the other half of the time as I finally realized who I was in Christ.
Part of that process led me to two books that helped me to better understand the meaning of Grace. The first was Dr. Paul Welter's little gem, Learning From Children (Tyndale Press). The second is still a favorite of mine, Charles Swindoll's The Grace Awakening (Thomas Nelson Publishing). I read both books as part of a course on Counseling Skills for the Helping Professional offered at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Though neither was an assigned textbook, I was allowed to read them in preparation for an oral book report that was required near the end of the semester. I remember walking into the classroom that evening with a tape measure and beginning to measure students. Some measured up, some did not. Of course the point was that there was no point in measuring my fellow students or in their measuring me. In fact there was no point in bringing a measuring tape to class. For, as I said at the end of my report, “Grace is not a measuring stick. I don't want to waste my time measuring others, I won't let them waste my time measuring me, and I won't waste my time building measuring sticks.”
That was all over 20 years ago.
This past month two other books on the topic of grace became available for review. Two well-known Christian authors have recently written books on this theme vital to one's faith. Though the lessons are similar, Lucado and MacArthur both approach the theme of Grace from different perspectives. Lucado approaches Grace from the heart; MacArthur approaches Grace from the mind. Of course each tackles the subject from the perspective that they know and understand and communicate with the best. Yet both views are necessary – for ultimately grace will bring changes to our hearts, to our minds, as well as to our souls.
Lucado uses a series of stories and biographical sketches to introduce and to assist us in understanding the meaning of Grace. Stories come from Scripture (e.g. Ruth and Boaz), literature (e.g. Jean Valjean from Les Miserables), the current news (e.g. Victoria Rovolo's disfigurement when a frozen turkey was thrown into the windshield of her car), and Lucado's own life (e.g. his own heart surgery). There are others, but this gives a glimpse of the kinds of stories that Lucado has used to convey how grace has been or can be lived out in the believer's heart. Some may not be as appreciative as others to Lucado's narrative approach to Grace.
The stories are only part of what makes this book valuable. The last third of the book is composed of a study guide that could be used by either an individual or a group in grappling with the topics presented in the book. Kate Etue has brought together scripture, thought provoking questions, and further content to add additional value to the book.
I liked Lucado's approach to Grace – it touched my heart as I read and reflected on the importance of what he said. More than once I was in tears as read how God's grace had reached into another person's life or reminded me how that grace had touched my own life. There were times, as I finished a chapter, that I found myself putting down my Kindle so I would have time to process the emotions I discovered as I read. This book is not for the person who is fearful of their own feelings – but it provides the opportunity, if one is willing, to explore the many ways God shapes and works in the believer's life.
As said earlier, that while Lucado touched the heart, MacArthur sought to demonstrate that same grace to the more rational individual. This is not to say that Lucado dismisses the rational believer, but that the two writers compliment each other. They both describe the same grace – but the presentation each makes will appeal to different audiences. MacArthur abundant use of scripture to make his points throughout the book make his monograph appealing to the theological part of my life. In fact Mac Arthur’s theological approach must be recognized as a thoroughly reformed presentation of grace. Whether one is reformed or not, it is recommended that Mac Arthur’s book be read in order to grasp a 21st century statement of the classical reformed theology of grace. This recommendation comes from a writer that decidedly does not abide within the reformed church.
In the past, I have often noted that I am a somewhat strange mixture of right and left brained thinking. With degrees in chemistry and computer science, most would argue that I am clearly left-brained. But when one knows I also have graduate degrees in ministry and counseling, one might conclude that I am clearly right-brained. The advantage of reading both the Lucado and MacArthur texts is that both sides of my personality were assisted in understanding grace and that grace could become a much more well-rounded concept to this reader.
In some ways, one might argue, that grace is neither an aspect of the heart or the mind. Rather, it must touch the soul to be effective. For some the route the soul is through the heart; for some, the route to the soul is through the mind. Both Lucado and MacArthur have something to say to the church – they have something to say that we must hear – both individually and corporately. Pick up these books and allow God to speak, first to you, but then to your (i.e. to the) church.
This review is based on free electronic copies of the books provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.

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