4 Stars Out Of 5
January 30, 2011
The new book Amazing Grace by Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divnity School, is a wonderfully clear and thought provoking presentation on the theme of grace in the Bible. Even more, Dr. George unpacks the doctrines of grace in a way that both those familiar to Reformed theology and those who are not can easily learn something. Dr. George starts out the book identifying what grace really is: God's Riches at Christ's Expense (20). He goes onto make the points that grace really begins with God, not just in the idea of grace but in the activity of grace, God is the one who initiates grace (20). Dr. George then goes onto posit that God's grace is both inexhaustible and at Christ's expense, for grace cost the Father his Son, even his Son's death on the cross (21). As Dr. George continues throughout the chapter entitled Our Gracious God he mixes church history, theological vision, and practical application in talking about grace. At the end of this chapter, the author calls the reader back to the heart of grace in saying, "God's sufficient grace radiates its adequacy to meet the deepest needs of the vilest sinner who ever lived" (32). God has gone to the uttermost depths of hell on Earth to save his people through his Son's work on the cross. Lastly, Dr. George realizes the need for practical application and applies the teaching of grace when he recognizes how we experience grace: as pardon, acceptance, joy, peace, power, hope, love and gratitude (33).
In the second chapter Dr. George lays out for the reader the doctrine of God's providence. He starts out the discussion with four possible terms that many have used to describe God's relation to the world; contradiction, antimony, paradox and mystery (36). He opts to understand God's governing over the world through the word "antinomy" which is two thoughts or truths true in their own right that we cannot harmonize (36). George is careful to appropriate his writing to the Baptist context in which he lives, yet he is also aware of the concerns of the questions that all Christians have in regard to God's providence. Readers may well be familiar with the term "compatiblism" which relates the idea that although God is sovereign over the affairs of men and creation, humans are also responsible for their own actions. The beauty of Dr. George's analysis of divine providence is that he does not stretch the antinomy too far in explaining how everything melds together. At one point he says, "Note carefully that the Bible never explains how the sinful acts of men coalesce with God's sovereign purpose, but somehow mysteriously they do work together concurrently" (44). At the end of the chapter he lays open four possible roadblocks that run counter to the biblical message of God's divine upholding of all things and sovereignty over all events (Deism, pantheism, fatalism, process theism) (45-47).
Chapters 3 and 4 are more explications of the doctrine of salvation from a Reformed approach, drawing insights from the historical debates between Augustine and Pelagius, Luther and Erasmus. In chapter 3, Dr. George makes a claim that many Calvinists should take to heart. He says in the debates about predestination that, "For them (Beza and Perkins) the doctrine of predestination became the starting point for theology. This was going to far beyond Calvin, for whom predestination was a fact of Scripture but not the controlling principle of all Christian doctrine" (71). Doctrines concerning decrees and God's election are good but can be used to overshadow other key teachings of Scripture. Dr. George lays out for the reader the historical situation in which the five points of Calvinism were formed. Lastly, Dr. George is careful not to typecast all Arminians in a derrogatory manner, by which he talks about the ministry of John Wesley and his relatinship with George Whitefield (73). On pp. 84-95 Dr. George addresses what the five points of Calvinism mean in context of God's grace, all the while phrasing the points differently (ROSES, 84). His discussion of these points is helpful and points us to passages in the Bible that sustain these arguments. Secondly, Dr. George points out two applications of Calvinism that run counter to gospel teaching (legalism and abuse of liberty, 95-99).
Chapter five is devoted to the discussion of grace and the Great Commission or rather what does grace have to do with evangelism. Dr. George is wonderful at providing great missionary examples of people who held dearly to the doctrines of grace yet were also sold out to proclaim the gospel to the nations (William Carey 106-113). Carey, the father of modern missions was viewed as crazy by his peers, because they bought into a type of Hyper-Calvinism that said that God doesn't need messengers to proclaim the gospel, he can do it by himself. Carey, knowing the Scriptures was called to go to India to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Dr. George notes that "Carey knew that Christian missions was rooted in the gracious, eternal purpose of the triune God-to call unto himself a redeemed people out of the fallen race of humankind" (110). Based upon this belief of the triune God, Carey was called to India.
Chapter 6 looks at the application of grace to the believers life, causing us to live differently than those around us. Dr. George calls us to see grace as unexpected, undeserved, and inexplicable (125-128). Lastly, George notes how grace has a way to change our worship in saying, "Once we understand who God really is,...it will change the way we worship" (134). In reading this part, I was challenged to see God's gracious grace as compelling me to gratitude and service in his kingdom. If I could finally say one more thing about this book, it is that this work calls people to worship the truine God in a much deeper way. This work also calls me to see God's grace in all its facets, from creation to providence, from the cross to the second coming. This book is great resource for pastors, students, Calvinists and Arminians, and anyone wanting to know about grace.
Much thanks to Crossway for this wonderful book to review.