A Balm to the Soul
I attended a conference last year where this offering from Barbara Duguid was being promoted. As I was perusing the tables, I picked up a copy and added it to my growing stacks of books to bring home and read. Unfortunately, it got tossed into a mounting stack of books, which, despite my best intentions, remained unread. In the meantime, several people asked me if I had read through Extravagant Grace yet, to which I replied I had not.
After a few months, I made it through Barbara’s book, and let me heartily commend it to you. This is a book which spoke to my heart from the opening pages. Oftentimes it was immensely painful, and other times it was a balm to my soul. Either way, anyone who desires a greater sense and appreciation of the grace of God should pick up a copy.
Extravagant Grace in many ways is a running, annotated dialogue through the letters of John Newton. In the acknowledgments, Barbara explains her own journey through Newton’s letters, which were commended to her through Tim and Kathy Keller years ago. One can quickly see Barbara has been deeply impacted by Newton’s letters.
The opening chapter begins with a story, which for many readers will immediately engage and convict. I was hooked from the beginning as Barbara’s insights and humble honesty pierced through my own pride and self-orientation. As she continues to write, Barbara seeks to bring grace into the conversation of progressive sanctification. She writes:
“God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect. Instead, he chose to save us and leave indwelling sin in our hearts and bodies to wage war against the new and blossoming desires to please God that accompany salvation. This is a raging battle that we often lose, and that often leaves us feeling defeated and joyless in our walk with God.”
Throughout the rest of the book, Barbara unpacks from the Bible and Newton’s letters what God is up to in allowing the believer to wrestle with indwelling sin. She writes, “…his decision to leave Christians with many struggles with sin must also somehow serve to glorify him and benefit his people. This is shocking news, isn’t it?” Such a thought is somewhat paradigm shifting! Our struggle and fight with sin, rather than producing guilt and despondency, might actually move us to rest in grace of our Savior.
In the subsequent chapters, Barbara delves into Newton’s discussion of baby Christians, maturing Christians, and grown-ups in the faith. She thoughtfully interacts with the various characteristics of each stage, and how necessary the grace of God is for each believer whatever stage he might find himself in.
Barbara’s vulnerability throughout the book is eye-opening, and encourages the reader to be similarly vulnerable about our own need of God’s grace in the midst of our anxieties, jealousies, angry moments, and failures. Her push towards the good news of the gospel as the daily bread for the believer is a welcome encouragement to the onslaught of self-help literature so prevalent today. At the end of each chapter there are several discussion questions which could prove helpful in counseling, Bible study or a small group study.
A Word of Clarification
One word of caution and clarification for the reader would be helpful. In the ongoing dialogue of grace vs. works or indicatives vs. imperatives, some might read Barbara’s book as focusing to heavily on the indicative passages of Scripture to the exclusion of the imperatives. As you read the book completely, I believe you’ll see Barbara understands the tension and recognizes the grace of God must support, sustain, and empower our obedience to the imperatives of Scripture.
“To look at all the imperatives in Scripture to pursue sanctification as if this were something in our power to achieve is a deadly mistake. No wonder there are so many miserable Christians who are discouraged by their weakness and devastated by their ongoing sin.”
Barbara is seeking, through the writings of Newton, to rightly demonstrate not only can grace help us in our struggle against sin it can also “enable us to find deep joy and peace in the righteousness of Christ.”
Pick up a copy of this book, and be refreshed by this timely reminder of God’s grace.