One of our readers, CEF, asked me to read and review a book by Philip Yancey called “What’s So Amazing About Grace?“. In fact, CEF even sent me a copy of the book. I have been promising to review it for months now so I figured I had better get to it. I am admittedly only five chapters in at this point but I figured that if I started reviewing the book I’d have more motivation to finish it. (I have a dozen or more books that I have started but not finished — I’m not sure what that reveals about me…) Anyway, in this post I will give some general impressions about the book so far and address some issues about the word grace that have been on my mind in recent months.
First, about the title of this post. I discovered very early on in this book that Yancey uses the word grace as a sort of roll-up word to encompass a lot of good things. Yancey says that to him the word grace means at least these things: charity (aka the pure love of Christ), forgiveness, mercy, humility, and the all of the “fruits of the spirit” like peace and joy. A lack of these things he likes to call “ungrace”. The book then goes on (at least in the first five chapters) to explain that what the world needs is more grace (as he defines it). Of course I agree with him that the world needs more charity, mercy, forgiveness, etc; but I am not convinced that defining “grace” as a roll-up of all good things in the world is particularly useful. It reminds me of how The Smurfs used to call all good things “smurfy” things no matter what specific good thing they actually meant. Basically, it seems to me that Yancey might as well be saying grace=smurfiness and ungrace=unsmurfiness. I guess it works (if one buys his definition) but it seems counterproductive to me to use such roll-up words because I believe we need some level of precision to comprehend these virtues well enough to discuss and comprehend and internalize them.
But the way Yancey uses the word grace does make me wonder how widespread the use of this definition of the word is among non-Mormon Christians. It is not rare on the blogs to see Mormons and non-Mormons alike griping that Mormons don’t talk about grace nearly enough in church talks, lessons, and among one another. But if “grace” is just a roll-up word that means charity, forgiveness, mercy, humility, and the fruits of the spirit then apparently grace is what we talk about in church more than anything else — we just talk about the specifics of such grace.
I have been enjoying this book generally and have found myself mostly nodding in agreement so far. I’ll get into more specifics from the book in future posts. But for now, I wanted to see what y’all thought of this observation of mine — is the word grace often used as the Christian version of “smurfy” or is this something unique to Mr. Yancey?