Archive for March, 2011

Check Out the March Book Giveaway on the Christian Focus BookNotes Blog

March 22, 2011


Review of Transforming Grace

March 5, 2011

I realize Christian publishing is a business. Like any other business a publisher of Christian books needs to turn a profit. This realization, however, has done little to temper my aggravation at the high cost of small group curriculum. Even for individual study, one usually has to buy the book and study guide separately. For example, some time ago I bought Respectable Sins and the study guide ($28.98 retail $17.99 at CBD). Now multiply that amount by the number of learners in your small group.

Recently NavPress has done small groups a big favor by releasing several of their best sellers in new editions that combine the book and the study guide. The Respectable Sins small-group curriculum sells at their website for $7.45. Obviously this is too late for my edification, but a bargain for yours.

Transforming Grace is another of their new small-group releases. Although I originally read this book almost twenty years ago, it is this new edition, which I am going to review.

Transforming Grace is written by one of my favorite authors. Jerry Bridges is still actively serving the Lord although past his eightieth birthday. He has served with the Navigators (a discipleship ministry) for over fifty years. His writing reveals a humble believer who is not afraid to confess his faults. As I read this book, I felt like I was sitting across his breakfast table as he shared the details of his spiritual growth.

The curriculum is broken into eight sessions (covering the thirteen chapters of the book). The text is laid out with a large right hand margin for notes and observations as you read. Following the readings are study questions, most of them insightful, several of them painfully personal. These conclude with a closing prayer, but extra questions for further study follow. Short quotations on grace by various authors finish out each session. In the back of the book there is a section designed to assist group leaders in facilitating a healthy discussion. Group sessions will take at least sixty minutes.

There is a reason that, even after being in print for twenty years, the publishers are still developing resources utilizing Transforming Grace. It is a must read for anyone stuck on the “performance treadmill.” “We are legalistic by nature; that is, we innately think so much performance by us earns so much blessing from God” (p. 12). “One of the best kept secrets among Christians today is this: Jesus paid it all. I mean all. He not only purchased your forgiveness of sins and your ticket to heaven, He purchased every blessing and every answer to prayer you will ever receive. Every one of them – no exceptions” (p. 13). “That is, the entire Christian life from start to completion is lived on the basis of God’s grace to us through Christ” (p. 15).

To be a Christian is to recognize that one’s justification is based on grace. The Christian also realizes that one’s glorification is based on grace. Many Christian though believe that living the Christian life is based on works instead of grace. Throughout the book, Bridges thoroughly deconstructs this notion. “To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainment, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life” (p. 30). He gives what I believe makes a good self-diagnostic tool on page 50. “Are you experiencing both the peace of God that comes with salvation and the joy of God that comes with living by grace each day? If not, you may be saved by grace, but you are living by works.”

The most helpful session to me was “Session Five: The Proof of Love.” This session covered two chapters of the book. (A side note, covering thirteen chapters in eight sessions means that some of the reading was heavier in a few of the sessions.) In the fifth session he dealt with sanctification or holiness. Bridges believes the two words are “virtually interchangeable” (p. 135). He differentiates between what he calls “initial sanctification and progressive sanctification.”

Initial sanctification occurs instantly at the moment of salvation when we are delivered from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Christ. Progressive sanctification continues over time until we go to be with the Lord. Initial sanctification is entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit who imparts to us the very life of Christ. Progressive sanctification is also the work of the Holy Spirit but it involves a response on our part so that we as believers are actively involved in the process (p. 148)

For many people raised in the fundamentalist movement this book may make you occasionally angry, but also might make you chuckle. I saw myself often in Bridges story of his growth in understanding grace. He refers to the fences that we build (many for good reasons) and then how we turn the fences into what I like to call an eleventh commandment. He mentions how he grew up thinking it was a sin to play pool. He thought this because his parents forbad him going to the pool hall, but they did not explain why. Of course, it wasn’t the game of pool; it was the environment of the pool hall. “But there is a lesson in my experience for all parents: Don’t focus on the fence…Take time to explain and re-explain the reason for the fence” (p. 166).

I highly recommend this book, for personal or group study. Bridges takes the reader ever deeper into an understanding of the life changing and liberating grace of God. He exposes our legalistic tendencies and points us to the finished work of Christ. He shows us our spiritually bankruptcy and then how to enjoy our spiritual riches.