I received a copy of Surprised by Grace a few weeks back from Crossway, and I was intrigued. To begin with, I’ve never heard of Tullian Tchividjian. Second, I had no clue how to pronounce his name. And third, who is that man walking down the middle of a road–doesn’t he know that’s dangerous? Is he the rebel?
In any case, Tullian Tchividjian is the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (and a grandson of Billy Graham), his name is pronounced cha-vi-jin and that man risking death on the road is probably just a back model. The rebel in the sub-title is Jonah.
Surprised by Grace begins with an extended treatment of the book of Jonah, and it ends with some discussion of what Jonah says about the Gospel. I have tried to say what I’m about to say in four other ways, but the most direct route is probably best. The first half of this book is not helpful. I guess I’ll start by stating what I didn’t like before moving on to what I liked.
Note: I’ve amended my assessment of this book, but have not amended my original review. See the update below.
What I Didn’t Like
Tchividjian opens by stating that Jonah teaches clearly, “The gospel is not just for non-Christians but also for Christians.” I agree with him. But he then goes through a study of the events in Jonah, which often reads like a collection of illustrations. The illustrations aren’t always particularly helpful. A lot of times, the chapters feel wildly unfocused–wandering from an early discussion of Jonah’s rebellion into side discussions on definitions of grace or repentance. The author says in the acknowledgements that this book came out of a series of sermons; this might explain the wandering, illustration-heavy style, but I’m not a fan of it.
What I Liked
I liked that the author included and referred to a number of artistic representations of Jonah. I haven’t seen this in many books, but I found that it was a nice way to increase our understanding of the text. As I mentioned above, I found the second half of the book to be more helpful. Some thoughts:
- I like Tchividjian’s description of the difference between Jonah’s tribal mindset, and God’s missional mindset. In one of our previous posts, we argued that there are churches who are going to die out because they are more concerned with the preservation of a culture than the proclamation of the Gospel. Tchividjian catches this theme in Jonah and writes, “The highest value of a community with a tribal mindset is self-preservation...But in a missional-minded community, the highest value isn’t self-preservation but self-sacrifice.” (p. 135)
- He does a good job of pointing out the dangers of irreligious anti-legalism as a subtle way to slide into self-righteousness and legalism all over again. (pp. 145-148) As Luther is often accused of saying, “Satan doesn’t care which side of the horse we fall off, as long as we don’t stay in the saddle.”
- Tchividjian draws a nice line down the middle of the question on worship (Is it geared towards encouraging Christians or attracting non-believers?): “The truth is that our worship services should be geared to sinners in need of God’s rescue–and that includes both Christians and non-Christians.” (p. 155)
In The End
In the end, I won’t recommend this book to many people. I don’t think it’s very helpful as far as an exposition of Jonah goes, and the helpful material near the end is limited.
I’ve revised my appraisal of this book after consideration–I find myself continuing to go back to some of the thoughts in this book for help in ministry and help in my personal spiritual development. I am now happily recommending this book to others.