Spend more time in personal Bible study and prayer. Serve more in your local church. Go on a short-term missions trip. Be radical! Both from within and without the church, the general perception is that Christianity is primarily about do’s and don’ts – what we must do rather than what Christ has done for us. The result is scores of “churched” people who reject the Christian faith and church, and scores of others who keep persevering in the church, but feel exhausted from constant striving and distraught from always feeling like they’re never good enough and never doing enough. We think that God’s blood, sweat, and tears got us in, but our blood, sweat and tears keep us in.
Into this milieu, Tchividjian proclaims a message of radical, extravagant, unconditional grace – what he calls “one way love.” This book, in his own words, is a “clarion call away from ‘grace a lot’ and toward ‘grace alone.'” Through countless personal stories about his own rebellion and how it was grace and not law that eventually brought this prodigal home, as well as narratives from the gospels of how Christ drew sinners to Himself through grace rather than law, Tchividjian aims to show that God’s grace is completely one way, that it just gives and does not demand, that it does not expect a return on investment, and that there are no strings attached. God’s love for us has nothing to do with the beloved, and everything to do with the lover; it has nothing to do with our performance, and everything with Christ’s performance on the cross.
Tchividjian writes that “One way love has the unique power to inspire generosity, kindness, loyalty, and more love, precisely because it removes any and all requirement to change or produce.” He shows how the law does not and cannot produce its intended effect – that guilt and fear can be powerful motivators in the short-run, but they cannot change the heart; and in the end, burn-out, bitterness, and shame is inevitable. Legalism eventually makes people give up.
This book proclaims a lot of amazing truths about God’s grace that are truly astounding and liberating. It is absolutely true that justification is wholly a work of God that has nothing to do with us, and that nothing that we do or fail to do can change our standing before God as righteous saints. However, my concern with this book is that it blurs the distinction between justification and sanctification; you almost get the impression that sanctification is monergistic as well. While it is true that sanctification is also by grace and not law, we do have a part to play. And while no sin of omission or commission as believers can make God love us less, we can indeed do things that are displeasing to God; we can grieve Him deeply. And God does, in fact, discipline those He loves. The love with which God saves us is indeed one way, but an evidence that we have received this saving grace is that we begin to reciprocate love through grace-motivated, grace-empowered obedience. The Holy Spirit gives believers a new heart that loves the Law and a new power to obey the Law. And in the New Testament, God commands us to strive, fight, and labor for holiness. These themes are absent from the book. What this book does say about grace is great and absolutely true, but what it leaves unsaid about grace in the Christian life leave the picture incomplete and can be misleading.
My other critique has to do with the fact that throughout most of the book, Tchividjian uses stories from his life, the lives of celebrities, and a few gospel narratives to illustrate his thesis about law versus grace. The whole time, I kept wishing that he would expound upon some of the didactic portions of the New Testament that are clearly and explicitly about law versus grace in the life of the believer. He finally quoted Romans 6:1-4 in the penultimate chapter, but there wasn’t much of an exegesis.
In the final analysis, I recommend this book with caution and encourage readers to also read Kevin DeYoung’s “The Hole in our Holiness” for a popular-level treatment of sanctification that I believe is more in line with what Scripture teaches.
*I received a free electronic copy for review from David C. Cook through Net Galley for review. The views expressed here are solely my own.