The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

The Grace of God

My Takeaway: Grace really is the central message of the Gospel.

I have been meandering through this book for a while.  I bought it pre-release when it was sold at church (full disclosure, I go to Buckhead Church, Andy Stanley is my pastor.)  Then Thomas Nelson gave away the ebook if you signed up on the Facebook page.  So I waited for the ebook to come out.  Thomas Nelson only distributed it in PDF (they really should know better).  So I tried converting it to kindle format using Calibre and it did not look that great.  I eventually finished the book by reading it as a pdf on the iPad, a far from perfect experience.

This is my first of Andy Stanley’s explicitly theological books.  I have read some of his leadership books and I think leadership is where he really shines.  He is a great preacher and having attended the church for a while I can recall some of the sermons this was based on.  It is not a sermon series turned to book form.  But there are a few things that I recognize from earlier sermons.  I think there is just as much that will be in future sermons.  In fact, I recognize a couple quotes from the book as being in the last two week’s sermons and the book has been in my house for the past couple months.

I think the best insight of the book is “God’s law is never given to establish a relationship; God’s law is given to confirm an existing relationship.”  I think this is the root of much misunderstanding in the Christian world.  Too often we want people that are not Christians to act like Christians.

Another quote from the book is about fairness. “Fairness is a tricky thing.  Here’s something I’ve noticed: I only complain about things being unfair when unfair works against me.  When unfairness works to my advantage, I call that answered prayer…Fortunately for us, the kingdom of God does not operate according to the principles of fairness.  At least not the way we measure fairness.”

This is a good book on grace.  Grace is the central message of the gospel.  Any gospel that is not essentially about the grace of God is not really the gospel.  Because this is the central message of the gospel there are a lot of good books on grace.  That is good, because as different people we need different messages on grace in order to help us where we are at.  For some reason, Brennan Manning‘s Ragamuffin Gospel has always been my ‘go to’ book on grace.  I think ‘The Grace of God’ is a good book on grace.  I think it is particularly good for people that grew up in the church but have strayed from it.  That seems to be a group that Andy Stanley is particularly good at reaching out to.  This book follows along with that focus quite well.

Purchase Links:  HardcoverKindle EditionAudible.com Audiobook

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I want to do a short little rant about a habit of Andy’s that drives me nuts.  He refers to Jesus referencing Jonah in the book.  (And he does this in sermons regularly.) And says, “Apparently he [Jesus] thought Jonah was a historical figure and that the events recorded in the book of Jonah actually happened.  So that’s my view.  I always side with Jesus on debatable matters.”  But it is unclear to me that Jesus’ reference to Jonah really means that Jesus thought that Jonah was literally true.  It really doesn’t matter to me whether you think Jonah was literally true or not.  But I think that this type of claim does not really show anything.  People refer to stories all the time and referring to a story does not mean that a person believes that the story was literally true.  It just means that they refered to a story.  Jesus referring to creation does not mean Jesus thought that creation happened in 7 days.  Jesus referring to Noah does not mean that the entire world was covered in water for either 190 or 187 days (depending on whether you follow the calendar references or the count of days in the Noah story).  I think we can know many things about scripture, but I do not think that we can know the ‘literal’ meaning of things just because those events were reference later in scripture by someone else, whether it was Jesus or Paul or someone else.

2 Comments

A brief reply to your “short little rant.” But, first, THANK YOU for all you do to help us “Kindlers” find great books!

I used to agree with Stanley’s position on the historicity of Jonah, but then I, like you, considered the argument that non-historical characters can be used as examples. Then I wasn’t so sure that we can know that Jonah was truly an historical character. However:

1) Even at that stage in my thinking, I thought that it was more likely than not that Jonah was indeed an historical person. For one thing, that’s what Jesus’ original Jewish hearers believed and what they would have understood Jesus to believe. (The same is true of Jesus’ references to Adam, etc.) For another, Jesus references Jonah at times in parallel with references to other historical figures, such as Solomon, with no indication that one is historical and the other not. In fact, I don’t think we have any examples of Jesus referencing a fictional literary character to make a moral point–outside of his own parables, of course, which are quite another literary situation and would not have been confused in his original hearers’ minds with questions of historical claims. Jesus clearly was leaving the impression with his original hearers that he considered Jonah to be an historical figure. It is only with our modern skeptical ears that we consider other possibilities. (I think similar observations can also be made about the NT references to creation and the flood.)

2) Even more importantly, at a later point I noted that Jesus did not just make a reference to the story of Jonah as a past event. He also made a prophecy about the future: “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt. 12:41 ESV). This clearly indicates that Jesus understood the story of Jonah’s mission to Nineveh to be an historical reality. One would not make that kind of prophecy about a fictional literary character! (And he again parallels this prophecy with one based on another historical account: “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” Matt. 12:42)

Given these observations, I am now thoroughly convinced that Jesus did, indeed, believe that the OT story of Jonah really did happen.

Thanks for listening, and grace and peace to you!

    Thanks for your comments Dwight. I am not opposed to thinking of Jonah (or Adam) as historical characters. I just don’t think that it is necessary based on Jesus’ references. I agree, that your second point is likely to be referencing Jonah as historical. But I don’t think it is the only way to read the passage.

    All in all, I think the historicity of Jonah is a fairly minor issue and so I would not make a big deal of it one way or another.

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