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.

WORLD | How to read thoughtfully | Emily Whitten | March 22, 2014

Let me preface by saying that this brilliant article was originally published at World Magazine.  I am a subscriber to that magazine, and it is full of great articles, book reviews, movie reviews, and more.  If you like the following excerpt, and I hope you do, head on over to World Magazine to see what else they have to offer.  The subscription really is worth it.


How to read thoughtfully

Books | The Bible and literary criticism

Posted March 22, 2014, 09:58 a.m.

Many intelligent, capable Christian authors and literature professors have sought to connect the Bible with the stories we read. But Christian literary criticism doesn’t seem to trickle down to the general Christian populace—except for criticism of one book, the Bible. That’s where crucial questions are asked: What authority does the author have? What about the reader? And how is God able to communicate to us?

As a book reviewer, among the many influential ideas I have borrowed from Biblical Criticism 101 is the idea of the Trinity. Communication within the Godhead Himself is described in this way: An author (God the Father) speaks, a Word (Jesus Christ) is spoken, and an interpreter (the Holy Spirit) then interprets that Word. As I have sought to apply this framework to the stories I review, I have come to see three links in the chain that must be counted: the author, the work itself, and the audience. From formalism to feminism, so many of the errors I have encountered in my reading tend to exalt one or two of those links to the exclusion of the rest.

The author

Christian circles hold widely the idea that a book exists first and foremost in the mind of its author. In that view, the author defines the meaning of a work. The author alone can unpack characters, setting, or what is meant by the entire story. Later cultures are often tempted to reinterpret the work in ways obviously contrary to the author’s intent (such as the search for phallic symbols in Jane Austen’s work). I can understand why it’s tempting to do so.

As Christians see liberal Bible scholars dethroning God from His place as final arbiter of what the Bible means, it’s easy to make a one-to-one transfer to human works of art. But if we believe that God, as author, has the final say over what the Bible means, then shouldn’t human authors—made in His image—have final ownership of their own writing?

Here are a few problems with that supposition. First, God is authoritative in defining His work and communication in a way human beings are not. Man does not create ex nihilo, but rather, we draw from the stories and music of language around us. We inherit many ideas, symbols, and meanings of which we often are not even aware. Conversely, God does not borrow from anyone in His creation of meaning. He sees His Word truly and exhaustively in a way that human authors simply cannot see their own work. So, while God does have ownership of His work, ultimately He—and not human authors—owns our work, too.

Because man is made in His image, I, as a reviewer, ought to consider how a human author interprets his work. Good authors are often very insightful about their writing. It takes a lot of time and effort to get as close to the subject matter as the original author. But because human authors are finite and often misinterpret their own work, Christian reviewers must still weigh the work itself. We must also consider how that work interacts with its audience, including reader groups, genres, and the history of literature. Ultimately, an author’s view of his or her own work is important, but not authoritative.

In practical terms, the temptation to focus too much on the author’s faith and interpretation of a work is a real and constant danger. If an author or publisher is Christian, many Christians believe the work is Christian and must therefore be given precedence over the work of non-Christian writers. This kind of thinking dominates much of the Christian publishing industry and leads to sites like that promote only one kind of overtly Christian author.

Yet, consider the portrayal of grace in True Grit by two very worldly filmmakers, the Coen brothers. In my review from 2011, I tried to show why that movie is one of my favorites. It was not intended to be a Christian film, but it nevertheless clearly portrays Christ and His justice in profound ways.

Overexalting the author’s role in storytelling denies the imago Dei present in non-Christians. It denies the fact that God has gifted many non-Christians far more than the average Christian in writing skills. And if we only take an author’s word for it, we will miss some of the greatest feasts of truth and beauty that God has prepared in our generation.

The work

According to the Bible, a book exists not just in the mind of its author and readers, but—as the Word is united but also separate from the author and interpreter—on its own.

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This article is continued…  How to Read Thoughtfully at World Magazine.  This is a subscription magazine, and the rest of the article is available to subscribing members.  It really is worth it.

Book Reviews | Review: A Year Of Biblical Womanhood – The Gospel Coalition

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Rachel Held Evans | Review by: Kathy Keller

Rachel Held Evans. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master.”
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012.
352 pp.

Rachel Held Evans had at least two stated goals for writing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, according to the promotional material accompanying my advance review copy. Under “Why She Wrote the Book,” Evans says:

I’ve long been frustrated by the inconsistencies with which “biblical womanhood” is taught and applied in my evangelical Christian community. So . . . I set out to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year to show that no woman, no matter how devout, is actually practicing biblical womanhood all the way. My hope is that the book will generate some laughs, as well as a fresh, honest dialogue about . . . biblical interpretation. (emphasis mine)

Evans wants to show that everyone who tries to follow biblical norms does so selectively—“cherry picking” some parts and passing over others. She also says she wants to open a fresh, honest dialogue about biblical interpretation, that is, how to do it rightly and well. Rachel, I tried twice to get in touch with you when you were in New York City on the talk shows but wasn’t able to connect. So here’s what I would have said if we could have gotten the chance to open that dialogue.

Read more…

via Book Reviews | Review: A Year Of Biblical Womanhood – The Gospel Coalition.