Is it disappearing? – Review of Yancey’s “Vanishing Grace”


“See to it that no one misses the grace of God . . .”
Hebrews 12:15

Have we believers in Jesus turned his gospel—the good news—into bad news? And once spoiled, can the good news ever sound good again?

That’s what Philip Yancey asks us in his newest book Vanishing Grace. And it’s what he’s asking in person as he tours America.

I heard him speak in Opelika, Alabama, last month. Here’s what he told us there and in his book:

Jesus came full of grace and truth. We’ve done the truth part. Now let’s compete just as hard to be full of grace as we are of truth.

Because too often, “we’re perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.” To outsiders. And even to others in the church.

That’s bad news. And it’s time we turn that around.

How? Yancey looked around for examples of people good at giving grace. He saw primarily three kinds of Christians that outsiders to the faith still listen to:

  • Pilgrims
    Pilgrims view themselves as travelers on a journey, ordinary and authentic people who try to follow Jesus, but realize they don’t do it perfectly. Any sense of superiority is eliminated. They view non-believers as thirsty, “not as opponents, but as seekers who are still looking.” (Think of Brennan Manning as an example of a pilgrim.)
  • Activists
    Activists progress from hand (practical acts of mercy) to heart (expressing love) to head (beliefs), not the reverse order that alienates a suspicious culture. “A skeptical world judges the truth of what we say by the proof of how we live.” (Think of Bono of U2 and his missions of mercy around the world.)
  • Artists
    Artists awaken thirst by coming in through a side door—through music or art or literature, for example. Yancey said that “they’re like cats, hard to control, so the church doesn’t know what to do with them. But they sneak in messages at a different level.” (Think of Victor Hugo with Les Misérables.)

In his book Yancey gives many examples of how to give grace through these avenues, as well as others. He quotes from a variety of sources. And he inspires from his own enthusiastic value of grace.

He suggests along with sociologist James Davison Hunter that we abandon . . .

“our talk of redeeming culture and transforming the world, because such language implies conquest and takeover. Instead, Hunter proposed a different goal, to maintain ‘a faithful presence within’ the surrounding culture, best demonstrated by an example of sacrificial love.”

Be a faithful presence within the culture. We can do that, right?

And so I highly recommend this book (and Yancey’s book tour) to all believers who need encouragement to be grace dispensers in a world athirst for grace.

We don’t have to force the thirst on others; we just need awaken to it. And find ways to quench it with the satisfying grace of God.

* * *

Where have you seen grace lately? Please share in the comments.

More from Vanishing Grace:

My thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the review copy of this book

22 thoughts on “Is it disappearing? – Review of Yancey’s “Vanishing Grace”

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Being a guilt dispenser is easy – kind of like the “zero tolerance” school of thought. It absolves one from having to think, and possibly hold two conflicting viewpoints in balance, giving respect to each.

    I find grace in every step, in the balanced dichotomy in which I live, of life and death.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree–it’s easier to be the guilt dispenser. But I’m glad God made it more joyful to be the grace dispenser. I’m glad you’re finding grace all around you, Andrew. Continuing to pray for your journey.

  2. Linda@Creekside

    There are no formulas, no quick fixes, no 1-2-3 steps toward grace.

    But there is being fully present … to Him, to ourselves, and to others. Without fear or judgement or those horrendous guilt trips. Or the need to accomplish something.

    Nobody likes to be someone else’s project.

    Thanks, Lisa … have a good one …

    1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      “Nobody likes to be someone else’s project” is perfect.

      I wish caregivers would understand this. Sometimes their self-identification and sense of generating positive karma completely overshadows the fact that the person for whom they are caring is still a human being.

      It becomes the caregiver’s story. Not invalid, but also not appropriate.

      1. LisaNotes Post author

        Yes, yes, yes, Andrew! My daughter is part of a ministry that befriends teen girls in foster care. The leader of that ministry reminds them that these teen girls don’t represent projects, but friendships. It made me cry; she’s right on target.

  3. TC Avey

    This reminds me of Bob Goff’s book, “Love Does”. In it he says that before coming to Christ he viewed the church as people who were against things/people instead of FOR them.

    Vanishing Grace sounds like a great book. Thanks!

  4. Barbara H.

    I have not liked the terminology about taking back the culture, etc., because I’ve felt such an idea would be foreign to the NT writers, but the idea of “conquest” is another good reason to abandon such talk. Sounds like a good book.

  5. Sharon

    Philip Yancey is one of my very favorite authors. And I just got this book a couple of weeks ago. I have not read it yet, but will soon. I especially appreciate what Yancey has to say on this subject because he grew up in a very legalistic background. He wandered from his faith for a long time. And then he was re-captured by Grace. His words are powerful because of that.

    Yes, may we learn to copy Jesus in everything we do. And, let us be dispensers of His grace, and not people who block others’ view of Him.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yancey is one of my favorites too, Sharon. I’ve yet to grow tired of reading his works; he keeps coming up with good stuff again and again.

      Interesting story he told us in Opelika about the church of his youth: I believe he was living in Georgia at the time, and a couple of young black theology students from a nearby college wanted to join their church. The church wouldn’t let them. One of the students was Tony Evans.

      Now, years later, Tony’s son, Anthony Evans, is on this book tour with Philip Yancey leading the worship! I love how God turned all that around. Grace exemplified.

      And side note: the church eventually did recognize their sin and held a repentance service, inviting back Tony Evans and others that they had wronged.

  6. Jean Wise

    Love your thoughtful book reviews. I never had heard Yancey in person. Sometimes a person writes better than they present. But I imagine no matter how he spoke, lots of wisdom was there. Thanks Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Jean, I discovered sadly a few years back that one of my favorite authors was a horrible speaker. ha. I guess no one can hog all the talents. So I was delighted that Yancey was indeed as engaging in person as he is on the page.

  7. Loren Pinilis

    Huh, a guilt dispenser more than a grace dispenser. That’s pretty powerful – certainly not what I want to be. But at the same time, there’s only so much we can do to control people’s perceptions of us. If someone wants to view as guilt-tripping them, then it’s hard to convince them otherwise.
    I’m also reminded of a quote I heard this week, and I’m paraphrasing – Getting people saved is first about getting people lost.
    What is use for grace before conviction? Grace before conviction is just tolerance. And unfortunately, that’s what a lot of people want – and what a lot of people confuse with real grace.

    I just hope I can speak wisely and truthfully and be known for my truth and my grace. It’s a lot to think about – thanks for this thought-provoking reminder.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re right, Loren—we can’t control other people’s perceptions. It reminds me of what Paul said in Romans 12:18—if it’s possible, as far as it depends on us, live peaceably with all. But it doesn’t all depend on us so we have to let that part go. Easier said sometimes than done…. We need to give grace to ourselves too.

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