REVIEW: Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid

extravagant graceFormat:  Kindle
Genre: Christian / Theology
Published:  2013

Rating:  2 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Why do Christians—even mature Christians—still sin so often? Why doesn’t God set us free? We seem to notice more sin in our lives all the time, and we wonder if our progress is a constant disappointment to God. Where is the joy and peace we read about in the Bible?

Speaking from her own struggles, Barbara Duguid turns to the writings of John Newton to teach us God’s purpose for our failure and guilt—and to help us adjust our expectations of ourselves. Her empathetic, honest approach lifts our focus from our own performance back to the God who is bigger than our failures—and who uses them for his glory. Rediscover how God’s extravagant grace makes the gospel once again feel like the good news it truly is!

My Thoughts:

I had really high hopes for this book, and I really want to love it. In the end, though, there were too many little details that unsettled me. This book had huge potential, but in my opinion, it missed the mark.

From the beginning, I found Barbara Duguid’s personal story compelling. I really appreciated that she was so willing to be open and transparent with her own struggles with temptation and sin. That is a huge connector between people, to know that we are not the only ones struggling…and failing. In fact, in terms of what was excellent about her book, chapter 5 is the standout. She discusses in wrenching language her struggles with weight and anger…and I could relate, not simply because I share those particular struggles, but also because the way she struggled was something so understandable to so many of us. The lack of desire to change. Feeling overwhelmed by the problem…the sin. Lashing out at others for their failings toward us, when what we are really struggling with is the enormity of our own failings, our own depravity.

In the end, she really should have stuck with her personal story, rather than trying to write a theological commentary on John Newton writings. Her personal story is strong, and full of redemption and grace. On the other hand, her attempt at theological exegesis is inconsistent and weak. Duguid misinterprets or contradicts solid theology, and I had many instances of wondering what on earth she was thinking. In some cases she contradicted her own words in later pages, getting a theological point wrong the first time and right the second time. This was extremely distracting to me, and I believe detracted from the impact her book could have had. Further, I do not know if the points she makes are Newton’s points, or if she has conflated her own opinions with Newton’s, and given us a confusing (or confused) understanding of his theology.

What was perhaps the most unsettling aspect of this book, however, was the nagging feeling that she seemed to sanction a sort of wallowing in our sin. She kept making the point about how we are, as Christians, are meant to try and fail. That sometimes we are not going to grow, and that it is ok. That we need to learn to find contentment despite our inability to overcome certain sinful behaviors. This kind of language is ubiquitous in the book, and in my mind, this is a monumental misunderstanding (and misrepresentation) of sanctification. Recall in John 8:3-11, when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, and Jesus responds in love and kindness, without condemning her, but he also calls on her to “go and sin no more.” He doesn’t give her an out. He doesn’t sanction her sinfulness. He doesn’t tell her to find contentment in her inability to conquer her sin. He tells her to go and sin no more. This is our commandment too.

I have read a lot of commentary and reviews on this book, more & more as I found myself more unsettled. I am linking to reviews by Jason Webb (…), and his review of Extravagant Grace should be his first review. He rated the book 1 star, which I believe is harsh, given than Duguid’s story is a compelling one for anyone. However, I do concur with his analysis of the theology.


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