What's So Amazing about Grace?

What's So Amazing about Grace?

by Philip Yancey

Paperback(Revised ed.)

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In 1987, an IRA bomb buried Gordon Wilson and his twenty-year-old daughter beneath five feet of rubble. Gordon alone survived. And forgave. He said of the bombers, "I have lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge. . . . I shall pray, tonight and every night, that God will forgive them."His words caught the media’s ear—and out of one man’s grief, the world got a glimpse of grace.Grace is the church’s great distinctive. It’s the one thing the world cannot duplicate, and the one thing it craves above all else—for only grace can bring hope and transformation to a jaded world.In What’s So Amazing About Grace? award-winning author Philip Yancey explores grace at street level. If grace is God’s love for the undeserving, he asks, then what does it look like in action? And if Christians are its sole dispensers, then how are we doing at lavishing grace on a world that knows far more of cruelty and unforgiveness than it does of mercy? Yancey sets grace in the midst of life’s stark images, tests its mettle against horrific "ungrace." Can grace survive in the midst of such atrocities as the Nazi holocaust? Can it triumph over the brutality of the Ku Klux Klan? Should any grace at all be shown to the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed and cannibalized seventeen young men? Grace does not excuse sin, says Yancey, but it treasures the sinner. True grace is shocking, scandalous. It shakes our conventions with its insistence on getting close to sinners and touching them with mercy and hope. It forgives the unfaithful spouse, the racist, the child abuser. It loves today’s AIDS-ridden addict as much as the tax collector of Jesus’ day.In his most personal and provocative book ever, Yancey offers compelling, true portraits of grace’s life-changing power. He searches for its presence in his own life and in the church. He asks, How can Christians contend graciously with moral issues that threaten all they hold dear? And he challenges us to become living answers to a world that desperately wants to know, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310245650
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 02/17/2002
Edition description: Revised ed.
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 91,820
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Philip Yancey serves as editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine. He has written thirteen Gold Medallion Award-winning books and won two ECPA Book of the Year awards for What's So Amazing About Grace? and The Jesus I Never Knew. Four of his books have sold over one million copies. Yancey lives with his wife in Colorado. Learn more at philipyancey.com

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Last Best Word

I told a story in my book The Jesus I Never Knew, a true story that long afterward continued to haunt me. I heard it from a friend who works with the down-and-out in Chicago:

A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter -- two years old! -- to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable -- I'm required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.

At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. "Church!" she cried. "Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They'd just make me feel worse."

What struck me about my friend's story is that women much like this prostitute fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers. What has happened?

The more I pondered this question, the more I felt drawn to one word as the key. All that follows uncoils from that one word.

As a writer, I play with words all day long. I toy with them, listen for their overtones, crack them open, and try to stuff my thoughts inside. I've found that words tend to spoil over the years, like old meat. Their meaning rots away. Consider the word "charity," for instance. When King James translators contemplated the highest form of love they settled on the word "charity" to convey it. Nowadays we hear the scornful protest, "I don't want your charity!"

Perhaps I keep circling back to grace because it is one grand theological word that has not spoiled. I call it "the last best word" because every English usage I can find retains some of the glory of the original. Like a vast aquifer, the word underlies our proud civilization, reminding us that good things come not from our own efforts, rather by the grace of God. Even now, despite our secular drift, taproots still stretch toward grace. Listen to how we use the word.

Many people "say grace" before meals, acknowledging daily bread as a gift from God. We are grateful for someone's kindness, gratified by good news, congratulated when successful, gracious in hosting friends. When a person's service pleases us, we leave a gratuity. In each of these uses I hear a pang of childlike delight in the undeserved.

A composer of music may add grace notes to the score. Though not essential to the melody -- they are gratuitous -- these notes add a flourish whose presence would be missed. When I first attempt a piano sonata by Beethoven or Schubert I play it through a few times without the grace notes. The sonata carries along, but oh what a difference it makes when I am able to add in the grace notes, which season the piece like savory spices.

In England, some uses hint loudly at the word's theological source. British subjects address royalty as "Your grace." Students at Oxford and Cambridge may "receive a grace" exempting them from certain academic requirements. Parliament declares an "act of grace" to pardon a criminal.

New York publishers also suggest the theological meaning with their policy of gracing. If I sign up for twelve issues of a magazine, I may receive a few extra copies even after my subscription has expired. These are "grace issues," sent free of charge (or, gratis) to tempt me to resubscribe. Credit cards, rental car agencies, and mortgage companies likewise extend to customers an undeserved "grace period."

I also learn about a word from its opposite. Newspapers speak of communism's "fall from grace," a phrase similarly applied to Jimmy Swaggart, Richard Nixon, and O. J. Simpson. We insult a person by pointing out the dearth of grace: "You ingrate!" we say, or worse, "You're a disgrace!" A truly despicable person has no "saving grace" about him. My favorite use of the root word grace occurs in the mellifluous phrase persona non grata: a person who offends the U.S. government by some act of treachery is officially proclaimed a "person without grace."

The many uses of the word in English convince me that grace is indeed amazing -- truly our last best word. It contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun. The world thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognize; little wonder the hymn "Amazing Grace" edged its way onto the Top Ten charts two hundred years after composition. For a society that seems adrift, without moorings, I know of no better place to drop an anchor of faith.

Like grace notes in music, though, the state of grace proves fleeting. The Berlin Wall falls in a night of euphoria; South African blacks queue up in long, exuberant lines to cast their first votes ever; Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands in the Rose Garden -- for a moment, grace descends. And then Eastern Europe sullenly settles into the long task of rebuilding, South Africa tries to figure out how to run a country, Arafat dodges bullets and Rabin is felled by one. Like a dying star, grace dissipates in a final burst of pale light, and is then engulfed by the black hole of "ungrace."

"The great Christian revolutions," said H. Richard Niebuhr, "come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there." Oddly, I sometimes find a shortage of grace within the church, an institution founded to proclaim, in Paul's phrase, "the gospel of God's grace."

Table of Contents

1. The Last Best Word
Part I: How Sweet the Sound
2. Babette’s Feast: A Story
3. A World Without Grace
4. Lovesick Father
5. The New Math of Grace
Part II: Breaking the Cycle of Ungrace
6. Unbroken Chain: A Story
7. An Unnatural Act
8. Why Forgive?
9. Getting Even
10. The Arsenal of Grace
Part III: Scent of Scandal
11. A Home for Bastards: A Story
12. No Oddballs Allowed
13. Grace-Healed Eyes
14. Loopholes
15. Grace Avoidance
Part IV: Grace Notes for a Deaf World
16. Big Harold: A Story
17. Mixed Aroma
18. Serpent Wisdom
19. Patches of Green
20. Gravity and Grace

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What's So Amazing about Grace 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
hosswj More than 1 year ago
Challenges the Christian Community to exercise Grace rather than judgment. Leave the task of judging to Jesus and just love like God loves. Accountability is left to the Godhead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book more times than other other book besides the Bible. Phillip Yancey has created a classic book about grace that I believe every person would greatly benefit from reading. There are many, many true life examples that have encouraged me, given me insight, expanded my understanding and taught me compassion for others. I highly recommend this gem. Buy it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book. It has changed my life. It has helped me to become a better person and a more loving, graceful Christian. I am so excited to be in a book study of this book this Summer. It is a life changer that everyone should read and then maybe more people would be changed by Love rather than judgment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a young man I am at a point in my life where I find myself struggling to find the answers to some of life's biggest questions. This book was helpful to me by showing me how powerful a gift grace really is. The grace of God is a powerful thing. Mr. Yancey shows his readers how grace relates to every aspect of our lives and is not restricted to a faith community, but open to all God's creation. Grace, as well as this book, is something that all Christians should share.
bkluver More than 1 year ago
I've always been a fan of Philip Yancey. This is one of my favorite books. Philip Yancey has a way of making you feel like you know him. He shares his thoughts and encourages you. Grace is something that we all need a lot more of. Thanks, Philip Yancey!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Author Philip Yancey offers a refreshing viewpoint of grace in his spiritually challenging book What¿s So Amazing About Grace? He effectively uses the scriptures as a lens to focus on the life we lead today. His illustrations help the reader to turn that lens on himself or herself ¿ not in a critical way, but in a soul-opening way. He has chosen some of the most startling and effective illustrations I have ever encountered. This book, already being used in our Christian colleges, needs to be required reading for anyone who takes his or her Christian life seriously.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book literaly changed my life. It allowed me to grow in God because I learned what his grace really meant. I have bought copies of this book for family members and friends and it has changed their life as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book that I have ever read. I could not put it down. This book is life changing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this book from the library and its taking me forever to get thru it even though I normally inhale a good book! After each passage I have to get a kleenex and then do some deep thinking and praying. Give it as a gift - both to yourself and to a loved one!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors. As a pastor, I recommend this book to my peers. Our culture is sick and tired of right-wing, fundamental, and legalistic rhetoric from Christian leaders and churches. This book is a breath of fresh air for us to return to Jesus' ministry of grace, a ministry of love and forgiveness.
jaygheiser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brilliant book. Perhaps the best Christian book I've ever read. It helps me feel more comfortable with some of the 'radical' ideas I have about the state of today's Christianity--ideas that I've struggled with for years.
l_millsaps on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Serving God joyfully and wholeheartedly is only possible when we understand the depth of His love for us, the depth of His grace. In the book, "What's So Amazing aboutGrace?", Phillip Yancey points out its shocking nature - grace cost Jesus everything....and costs us nothing. We don't deserve it, we cannot earn it, and we are completely unable to repay Him for it, yet it is ours for the taking, a gift from God. Once you have truly grasped this, you will be overcome with a willingness to love Christ and serve Him in any way you can....not because you have to, but because you want to. A grace-filled life is a Christ-filled life - when as Christians we show little grace to others, we are also showing very little of Christ. Yancey tells the story of C. S. Lewis - when asked what makes Christianity different from all other religions, he responded with one word...grace. It is what we need, what the world needs. Yancey's book makes me want to be a full-of-grace person, loving Christ and loving others - not because I feel guilty or fearful, seeking to earn God's love....but as a response to the love God has already given.
libraryclerk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Was so good I read it again this year, 2010
coffeebookperfect on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A real wake-up call for the "modern" church about their place in society and calling as Christians. Yancey's writing is always intelligent and thoughtful whilst still being practical, compassionate and confronting.
librisissimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Substance: excellent discussion of grace, forgiveness, charity, etc. Yancey laments the "gracelessness" of too many evangelical Christians (and others) still fixated on the "letter of the law" than on the spirit of the gospel. I think he unfairly targets evangelicals, but he was brought up in one of the more virulent, racist, bigoted congregations so he has some right to talk. He mentions the demonizing of Christianity by the media simultaneously with the paucity of "graceful" Christians but does not seem to connect the dots: how can we "call to mind" acts of real Christian charity when the main-stream-media relentlessly avoids printing the ones that actually do occur? Politics aside, his gospel points are well-taken.Style: Yancey is a clear, articulate, informed and very readable author.
rybeewoods on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the Grip of Grace is where I started, but it was through this book that I came to a more healthy understanding of true godly grace.
DSlongwhite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Last summer at Camp Meeting, Lonnie Melashanko said, "If you read only one book this year, I recommend 'What's so Amazing About Grace' by Philip Yancey." So Karen chose it for bok discussion group. She specifically chose it for this date because Yancey was speaking at Congress in Boston and several of us were going to hear him. He was excellent and after his talk, I was able to get the book signed. I expected the book to be mostly about God's grace to us - and it was. But the majority of the book also dealt with our grace towards other people. It was a message Adventists certainly need to hear After reading the book, however, I realize this is a lesson people in all conservative religions need to hear.Yancey starts the book with the story of a prostitute who sells her young daughter as a prostitute to get money to live. Someone asks her why she doesn't attend church and she responds, "Church! Why would I want to go there? i already feel bad enough about myself - they would only make me feel worse."Yancey asked the question - what has happened to the church - in Jesus day, prostitutes flocked to Jesus but no longer feel welcomed by his followers. He says he himself left the church because he did not find grace there, but he returned because he did not find it elsewhere. He discusses the strict rules of his Bible College and how they defended cultural decisions with unrelated Bible texts as if they were moral issues. He says he wrote an article about sympathy for those in pain and many people wrote to him saying pain was a punishment from God. He says he "yearns for the church to become a nourishing culture of grace."
new3 More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have ever read on the subject of grace. Yancey is a modern day C.S. Lewis. I could not more highly recommend this book for any pilgrim or Christian trying to understand what grace truly is. I give this book away as gifts to family and friends. Definitely on my top 10 Christian books of all time.
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