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Vanishing Grace

By Philip Yancey
April 2016 | Review by Geoff Cox
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
  • ISBN: 978-1-444-78900-3
  • Pages: 294
  • Price: 9.99
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Book Review

Years ago, I read the author’s What’s so amazing about grace? and noted his lack of theological precision and tendency to lump all professing Christians together, irrespective of their doctrinal beliefs. Sadly, this title is no different and flawed in many areas.

How can a book on ‘grace’ not begin with a biblical definition of grace? The nearest it comes to one occurs near the end, where he simply says, ‘Herein is grace, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us”’ (p.243). Hardly an extended definition, and one not really followed in the rest of the book, where grace seems to be about people being kind and nice to one another without reference to the grace of God.

How can a book on grace never mention the cross of Christ? The only use of the word occurs late on, in a quotation from Lesslie Newbigin. What do we make of the biblical understanding of an author who can write, ‘The prophets take up so many pages of the Old Testament because, with a few exceptions, they were spectacularly ineffective’ (p.118)?

This last statement reflects the author’s underlying view that the only reason people do not follow the Christian message is because of the failure of Christians. Throughout, he assembles many criticisms of Christians, especially of evangelicals. Some of these are justified, but most arise from those who reject the gospel itself. Even though he acknowledges that many of these critics have never met an evangelical, he still uses what they say.

The author neglects the biblical data on the human heart’s hostility to God. This is revealed as he argues that the evidence for God is not convincing, because, if it were, everyone would believe in him! He quotes Romans 1:20 to prove this and ignores its context concerning why people reject God. This is not the only time where an out-of-context biblical quotation gives a meaning contrary to the original passage.

In the second part of the book, Yancey analyses well the state of our culture, clearly showing the folly of those atheists who deny absolute standards while smuggling them in when it suits.

There are sections where he highlights those who do live sacrificial lives as Christians, but his definition of ‘Christian’ is vague. All shades are included and the distinctive gospel emphasis on repentance, faith and regeneration is noticeable by its absence.

This is a book riddled with flaws and unbiblical thinking, by a writer who is nonetheless gifted and can carry one along with his reasoning. Although it challenges how well we demonstrate our faith before a sceptical world, I cannot recommend it. The better parts are equally well presented in other, more biblically based titles.

Geoff Cox

Birmingham

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