Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book Review: "Grace Is Greater" by Kyle Idleman

Kyle Idleman.  Grace is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Plan, and Rewrite Your Story.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017.  188 pp.  $15.99.

Grace is a major conversation topic within Christianity.  The front matter of this book alone attests to that: Of the 13 advanced praise statements, 11 are from author who have a book with the word “grace” in the title.  It, honestly, leads one to question why we need another book on grace.  The answer, equally simply enough, is that the doctrine of grace is multi-faceted.  It is wide-ranging and requires a multiplicity of voices to help us understand it.  And, as you will quickly learn through his stories, Idleman is one who is learning what grace is all about.

Following an introductory chapter, the book is divided into three sections.  Each section focuses on a particular area of concern, an area that Idleman argues that “grace is greater” than: mistakes, hurt and circumstances.  The first unit focuses on the mistakes that can separate us from experiencing God’s restorative grace (guilt, brokenness, and regrets).  For me, the chapter that really stood out in this section was the chapter on regret (chapter 3).  In this chapter, Idleman explores the difference between regret and shame, with regret being defined as “feeling bad about something you have or haven’t done” (p. 51) and shame being defined as “feeling bad about who you are or how you think you’re being perceived by God or others” (p. 52).

The second unit focuses on the hurts that can prevent us from experiencing God’s healing grace (wounds, bitterness, vengeance and resentment).  For me, the chapter that really stood out in this section was the chapter on vengeance (chapter 6).  It was a refreshing chapter because of Idleman’s opening words: “If you’re in ministry, some people won’t like you.  At all” (p. 103).  As one who has been burned in ministry before, Idleman’s focus on releasing my rights to hold on to that pain was very enlightening.  Ministers are often quick to speak about grace, yet we move slower than most when it comes to extending it.

The third unit focuses on the circumstances that can derail us from experiencing God’s guiding grace (disappointments, weakness and despair).  For me, the chapter that really stood out in this section was the chapter on weakness (chapter 9).  In a culture that has tried to “Christianize” suffering by adopting cliché mantras like “just pray about it” or “God has a plan for your suffering,” Idleman addresses how these trite views actually devalue the powerfully redemptive grace that God offers us through Christ and the daily indwelling of the Spirit. 

Overall, I really liked this book from Kyle Idleman.  It was thoughtful, humorous, decently researched (often a shortcoming of “Christian living” books) and practical.  In addition to the lack of solid research, “Christian living” books are often impractical.  What I mean is that they sound really good, yet they fail in actually providing instruction on how to integrate their concepts into the life of the reader.  While his book is not as practical as books by, say, Arron Chambers or John Ortberg, Idleman does try to give some ways of integrating his concept of accepting God’s grace.  For example, in the chapter on weakness (chapter 9), he asks the reader to state a weakness.  Then he offers two reflective questions to help the reader process why this is a weakness and how to find strength to overcome the weakness.  Finally, he walks the reader through the process of accepting grace and integrating this into the reader’s life.

Finally, this book would make an excellent discussion topic for a small group or book club study, a recommended read for a “new Christians” class, or even as a guide for a preaching series.  Idleman’s easy-to-listen-to style makes for a quick read and can easily be accommodated for the preacher who is looking for a practical way to speak about such a central doctrine of our religion.

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