What do you think of when you hear the title Evangelical Christian? I suppose that it depends upon whether you consider yourself to be one, know one, or have been helped or hurt by someone who calls him/herself one. In his new book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, Philip Yancey explores why “Evangelical Christian” can tend to have a negative connotation in post-Christian America and Europe while still being quite a ray of hope for the rest of the world, challenges Christians to examine their lives and ways of reaching out to others, and points out why the Christian faith is so important to the lives of both Believers and unbelievers alike.
In Vanishing Grace I hear the voice of Philip Yancey as a coach during the halftime of an important game: “This is what you are doing right, this MUST be done better, ignore this, focus on the goal, don’t give up!” He is straight forward when pointing out the unloving, ungraceful, sometimes unthoughtful ways by which many of us Believers have handled evangelism and ministering to the whole person, but he also points out many examples of Grace done well and lives changed for the best–whether the change more so affects the life of the minister or the one being ministered to.
Yancey explores the fact that there are different aspects to being a follower of Jesus Christ (Pilgrim, Activist, and Artist) and that each of us embody all three but tend to specialize in one particular area, more often than not. He fleshes out the importance of the pilgrimage of a Believer developing a relationship with Christ, with the church, and relating to the world at large. He then looks into the activism of a Believer and describes that, though we do not all or always have an agenda, despite what many on lookers may assume, we are to be actively working toward changing the world for the better. Such may include standing up for the unborn, but it may also be as simple as sitting beside someone who is having a hard day, or providing care for others following a disaster, using the skills we have in order to help or teach someone else. He goes on to talk about the arts and glorifying God through such things as the visual arts, music and, yes, writing. Noting that, though it may not seem as important a work as taking care of physical needs up front, the impact of the arts on the souls of humans is undeniable.
Since reading Yancey’s Vanishing Grace I find myself challenged to reevaluate how I respond to different people and ideas that are outside my Christian bubble, making sure that I leave that bubble to begin with, and to think about why I respond as I do. Am I answering a nonbeliever’s honest questions merely out of head knowledge with a desire to be “right” or to prove a point, or am I looking past the question to the thirst of that individual for a real soul answer? Am I continuing to seek the Lord myself, to serve Him in serving others who may or may not respond to my motivations to serve? Am I using all of the skill and passion He has put in me to creatively praise Him and put Him on display for others to get to know or come to know more deeply? What is it all for? Am I doing well to communicate my answer to that question?
Wow! Vanishing Grace is a thought provoker, for sure! I do encourage every Believer to pick it up and be challenged. I would also encourage nonbelievers to pick it up and do a little “spying”. Perhaps you will be better able to understand those Christians you’ve met and where they are coming from (or trying to come from in their own fumbling way). Either way, Yancey is a skilled and highly interesting writer who pulls together his research with a true artistic touch.
Alyssa Katanic is a wife and homeschooling mother of 7 children under 11 years old. She loves reading and collecting great books to share with others and knows that one can never have too many!
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.