Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Book Review: Amazing Grace

Packing for holidays can be a stressful time. Deciding what needs to be taken, and what can be left behind is always a struggle. But while some people agonise over whether to take that extra bikini or the sixth pair of sandals, my decisions focus on the books to be taken with me. My first sun holiday saw me run out of books - as well as reading all of Lynsey's - and needing to buy more books in the resort to keep me going on the flight home.

This year, my holiday reading was a work in progress for about three weeks. A pile had been established, with careful consideration given to what was being included, the variety of the list, as well as the weightiness (both theological and physical). Some of the smaller paperbacks in my upstairs library - some which I didn't even realise I possessed, and can't remember buying or borrowing - made it into the bag. One of them was this: Amazing Grace by Marcus Loane, the former Archbishop of Sydney.

A while back, I had lamented an absence of books on grace, and so it was that I discovered this among my books. It had to be read, given the title. However, on reflection, I'm not sure that this book was correctly titled. In one sense, I can see that the book is a testament to the grace of God in Paul's life as it charts some key areas of his life, ministry and thought, but perhaps there would be a better, less misleading title.

Concentrating in the early chapters on Paul's conversion, Loane writes that 'it is fortunate for us that Paul was so willing to let others see what God had wrought in his soul.' (9). He points out the 'noble progress of humility' in Paul's descriptions of himself in his writings - from apostle, to saint to sinner. The conversion is set within the context and reconstruction of Acts 6, where Paul had been kicking against the pricks (goads) of conscience in watching Stephen die his martyr's death. From there, on that Damascus road, 'his world was turned upside down in one swift, astonishing experience' as he saw Jesus' glory and became a witness and apostle.

The next chapters focus in on Romans 1, on Paul the letter writer and missionary. His description of the salvation of God bears careful reading and rejoicing, but the thing that chimed with me (and was later picked up in other books as well) was his debt to the peoples to preach the gospel.

In his chapter on 'Who shall deliver me?' I'm not sure that Loane got it quite right - or at least isn't consistent in his explanation. On one page, he maintains that Paul's cry of being a wretched man in Romans 7:24-25 is 'the recollection of old struggles' from his pre-conversion days. That 'his cry makes a crisis in the inner thought and structure of this letter. It was a kind of bridge in his spiritual development.' All well and good. I'm not sure I would hold that it's pre-conversion only or at all, but on the next page, Loane then argues that 'he spoke rather as one who knew the grace of God, but who still found the power of sin surging through his mind and members.' Slightly confusing, to my mind.

A better chapter was found on Christ our wisdom, where he expounds the cross of Christ in 1 Corinthians 1. There, we are told that where Christ is made our wisdom for righteousness, sanctification and redemption, 'these terms have to do with the most basic needs and problems in life.'

The latter chapters focus on Jesus being Lord of creation, becoming a curse for us (the battle over legalism in Galatians), and the pattern for our service and sufferings in ministry. The book ends with some chapters on themes from Hebrews, namely the encouragement that comes from the ongoing intercession of Jesus; the vision of the invisible God which sustains and brings endurance; and the promise that God will never forsake us - once given to Joshua and Solomon, but now to each believer in Hebrews.

These are mostly good Bible studies, with useful reminders of some important themes. The ordinary Christian will be encouraged, the preacher will find a solid reserve of truth and a helpful restatement of our faith. The slight negatives are that sometimes the language is dated in terms of style, and also that it is hard to see what binds the book together as one. Amazing Grace is available secondhand from Amazon.

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