John Piper shares a story of his experience at a sky-scraper construction site in Minneapolis. The foundation was in place and he gazed, astonished, into the depths of the hole — four, five, six stories down into the soil of middle America, ensuring a sturdy foundation. His application from this experience was that a deep foundation is needed to support a lofty truth. Deep into the fertile soil of Scripture, Christine Hoover has dug, laying the foundation for the lofty truth of a grace-oriented gospel in From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. She trumpets the life-changing pronouncement that God loves and saves, not because of what we do or contribute or accomplish, but because of what He did through Christ on the cross. This mystery changed the foundation of her own theology from moralism and legalism to dependence upon “the righteousness which comes from God by faith.”
She writes of her years devoted to the “goodness gospel,” whose foundation is performance. Everything from extending hospitality in the home to personal devotions and service in the church are evaluated according to “results” — the response of others, the sense of “accomplishment” they produce. Adherents to the goodness gospel must be “good enough” to win the approval of others and the heart of God. The truth is that the goodness we seek in our daily lives is a work of God the Holy Spirit. This turns the goodness gospel on its head because a life of following the Spirit’s leading may not add up to measurable results and impressive resume material. Christine helps us to see that “the reason we obey is to please the God who loves us. The results are up to Him; they’re His concern, not ours.” I was reminded over and over again that my obedience is a result of my relationship with God, not a qualification for earning His approval.
The scriptural basis for From Good to Grace has been tested in the crucible of a church-planting ministry in which Christine and her husband are in the process of “birthing” a fellowship of believers — everything starts from the ground up. Chapter by chapter, Christine’s growing understanding of grace provides the backdrop for rich scriptural messages of hope which are supported by a helpful discussion guide at the end of the book. The message is that the work of ministry is God’s, and just as our children are “ours” only in the sense that we steward them for God, we must accept the spiritual reality that life-transformation, salvation and spiritual growth are actually God’s territory. By grace, we kick ourselves out of the center of the universe and receive the job description that goes with true grace-oriented ministry: faithfulness and obedience.
Letting go of the goodness gospel can be summarized with two verbs that form the structure of Christine’s thesis:
- Receive: It is God’s demonstrative, ultimate, and heroic love that mends. That is, it reconciles us to God and then opens the door of my heart to receiving God’s help through His Spirit and to embracing the true freedom that releases the believer from slavery to roles or the opinions of others, to the death-sentence of comparison/competition, and from the grip of paralyzing fear.
- Respond: Eight little words light the fuse that blows up the goodness gospel once and for all: “We love Him because He first loved us.” We are the loved. When we believe that, everything in life becomes a response to His love, and it shows up, most amazingly, in our love for others. Suddenly, service is not a burdensome checklist, but a joyous offering. Our weaknesses and failures are even available for God to use, a risk unheard of under the goodness gospel, but a manifestation of God’s grace and power when offered up in response to His great love.
The stream of living water that runs through the true gospel of grace is receive, respond, repeat. Because God is not in the business of daily performance evaluations, we are free to treasure what God treasures most: faith. By faith we receive what’s been given in Christ, and we respond in worship, love, and joyful service.
This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.