Philip Yancey
Vanishing Grace: What ever happened to the good news?

Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2014

ISBN: 978-1444789010

Yancey says the approach taken by the pilgrims, activists and artists demonstrate who a person and a society can best thrive even in the face of a culture that is growing increasingly post-Christian.

A follow-up to his earlier book, What's So Amazing About Grace?, in Vanishing Grace US author Philip Yancey takes a look at the state of grace in today's churches, finds it wanting and then sets about taking a look at how Christians can redress this.

In a text which Yancey describes as "four short books", he starts off by looking at why so many people today have such negative views of Christianity, particularly the group of people he terms "post-Christians" - that is those who have experienced church to some degree and walked away. 

His conclusion is that the church is perceived more as "guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers". The way forward, therefore, lies in the church learning how to present the "Good News" of the Gospel in a graceful and non-judgemental way, and admitting that "far from claiming to have it altogether, Christians regularly confess that we do not".

Yancey writes: "Perhaps the most powerful thing Christians can do to communicate to a sceptical world is to live fulfilled lives, exhibiting proof that Jesus' way truly leads to a life most abundant and most thirst-satisfying. The fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - flow out of a healthy soul and in the process we may attract those who have have found such qualities elusive or unobtainable."

One of the most exciting aspects of the book are the examples Yancey includes of the ways in which Christians are being creative in the way they show grace to the world about them - from a restaurant in Lima, Peru, run by a group of lay workers committed to ministering to the poor, to a community housing otherwise unwanted sex offenders in Florida.

He goes on to look at three groups of Christians who be believes are still successfully communicating the love and grace of Christ to the communities around them - pilgrims who represent themselves as being on a journey rather than having already arrived at a destination, activists who express their faith through their deeds, and artists whose work speaks authentically to the human condition. 

Their experiences show that "instead of fighting a rear guard action against secular opponents, we can communicate our good-news message by living it out among the uncommitted".

In the final part of the book, Yancey takes a look at how Christians can be effective witnesses in the Western cultural and political context and makes a series of five observations for Christians to consider as they interact with a sometimes hostile world. They are worth repeating here: that clashes between Christ and culture are unavoidable; that Christians should take care to choose their battles wisely and fight them shrewdly; that Christians should distinguish between the immoral and the illegal; and that the church should exercise caution in their dealings with the state.

Rather than looking back to time when Christians wielded more power, Christians, concludes Yancey, would be better to regard themselves as "subversives operating within the broader culture", much as Christ Himself did when cleansing the temple.

There is no need for fear "even when it seems that society may be turning against us". "We rest in full confidence that God, in control of human history, will have the final word..." he says. "We each of us do our part, loving others as God loves us, tending the world as stewards of a gracious landlord."

Engaging and easy to read, Vanishing Grace poses a quiet challenge to much of what is the status quo with regard to the way the church in the Western world operates and thinks. And the division of the book into four parts, means it's one that can sit on the shelf and be delved into again and again as you as an individual (or a group - there is a study guide to go with it) grapple with the question of what grace means to a Christian living in the world today.

Follow this link to buy this book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?