Read an Excerpt
Using This Study Guide
Little did I know what I was getting into when I began writing a book on the word grace. I chose the topic out of my concern that some of us in the U.S. church have lost our way and that we stand in danger of losing our most important contribution to the world. As I began my research, I came to see that grace underlies the gospel. Far from being some abstract theological doctrine, grace affects us in very practical ways: in family feuds, marital spats, even international crises.
I truly believe that the future of the church depends on how we master the art of 'dispensing grace.' Other groups--- the Nation of Islam or the Pharisees, for example---excel at morality. Jesus taught us one great distinctive, that of grace, which has its own slow but steady power to change the world.
Thousands of people have bought and used the study guide for my last book, The Jesus I Never Knew, and we have produced this study guide partly in response to their encouragement. What's So Amazing About Grace? takes the principles I learned from Jesus and applies them in real-life, contemporary situations. Grace is not just about what happened two thousand years ago. It affects how we treat illegal aliens and former enemies, as well as outspoken pro-choice activists or other groups we might disagree with. It concerns what happens today, between you and your father or your unjust employer or the cranky neighbor down the street.
You can use this study guide either alone or in a group. If you use it individually, you should find that the questions build a bridge between my exploration of grace and your own. You may want to buy a blank notebook or personal journal (many bookstores sell these) in which to record your responses. Use this guide not as you would a textbook, feeling obligated to consider every question and fill in every blank, but rather as a series of suggestions. Linger over questions that arouse something inside you. Skip questions that don't seem to speak to your heart, and ignore those activities we've included that are designed for a group. You may find that adding just one person to your study---a spouse or a close friend, perhaps---makes it much more meaningful.
I have filled this book with stories because I believe that is the best way to comprehend grace. I hope they become springboards for your own stories, and that's why I encourage you to use this guide in a small group if possible. A small group is an ideal place to share stories of grace and ungrace. At its core, grace is a relationship word.
The experts I most respect on group interactions and soul-searching questions are the folks who produce the Serendipity House products, including The Serendipity Bible. For several decades they have been leading small groups and training other leaders, and I am thrilled again to have one of their former employees, Brenda Quinn, working with me on this study guide. Just as she did with the study guide for The Jesus I Never Knew, Brenda has taken my personal spiritual journey and adapted it into a form that others can use for their own journeys.
Advice for Small Groups
Ideally, a small group should not exceed twelve or at most fifteen members. Anything larger than that, and you'll likely find yourself reverting to a teacher-student structure in which the group leader dominates the discussion. Often, as you'll see, we encourage you to break into even smaller groups of four to six. Sometimes the best sharing takes place in these smaller groups, which some people find less intimidating.
We recommend choosing a leader in advance of each week's meeting (it need not be the same leader every week). This study guide recommends certain group activities, and each session includes far more content than most groups can cover in a single session. A good leader can scout these questions and activities in advance, deciding which seem most pertinent to the needs of your group. The more willing the leader is to open up and share from his or her life, the more willing the group members will be, so if you are the leader, take the role seriously. Think and pray about the group throughout the week before each meeting.
The study guide works best, of course, if everyone in the group has read the book we're studying, What's So Amazing About Grace? We follow its content chapter by chapter, sometimes combining two or three successive chapters in a session. Yet we also realize that in a busy world some people, no matter how well-intentioned, do not get around to reading material in advance. Others read it so far in advance that by the time the meeting rolls around, they can barely remember the content. For this reason we begin each session with a highly condensed summary of the chapter or chapters to be discussed. Some groups may choose to read this summary aloud to set the tone for the discussion to follow.
Using Music and Movies About Grace
As I said earlier, my book is filled with stories because I believe that is the best way to understand grace. For similar reasons we've included music in this study guide. Like stories, music has a powerful way of reaching the heart. Music penetrates and moves us in a way discussion alone cannot do. We have included a few music options at the end of each session and encourage you to incorporate music into your prayer time at the end of each meeting. You'll find that the suggested music is quite diverse from week to week, ranging from classical to contemporary Christian to gospel to country. You may choose to locate the recordings we've suggested, or you may prefer to use the hymns or praise songs we give as alternatives. You may also know of other appropriate music to use. This time can be one more way of letting God speak to individuals and to your group.