The Transforming Power of Grace
Passionate and powerful, this is one of those rare Christian books that's almost impossible to put down. I was completely hooked and several chapters in before I remembered why I was reading it — to write this review.
What were they like, those first followers of Jesus? People like us, Bishop Baines explains, ordinary folk, not saints on pedestals as it's so easy to think of them:
The people who go with Jesus are not the people some of us would choose to lead our churches and become accredited evangelists. They are too messy. They fail too often. They are inconsistent. ... But they are the people whom Jesus called anyway. (p.24-25)
Jesus and People Like Us takes the relationship between Jesus and his disciples as its starting point and follows the disciples on their three year journey with Jesus into faith. You'll want a Bible handy to follow the journey yourself — and it's a journey that's well worth taking: Bishop Baines has a knack for taking the lid off the old, familiar stories and taking us back to see things from the disciples' point of view, before they'd understood who Jesus was, before they knew he would rise from the dead.
Who was this Jesus? What planet was he on? You'll share the disciples' frustrations and bafflement as they walk alongside this crazy Messiah who refused to play by the rules. What was his game, partying with sinners and social outcasts? Then — just as you think it's making some sort of sense — you'll go through the absolute despair and disaster of seeing him arrested, refusing to fight, being crucified, dead and buried... watching everything you'd hoped for fall apart.
You'll spend some time in that darkness because "Unless and until we have stayed there a while and faced the awfulness and desperation of that place, we cannot begin to understand what will follow... Here is the place where any wet-nosed theology of God making his people healthy and wealthy ultimately bites the dust." (p.99).
And with the disciples, you'll come out the other side, transformed by grace. You'll still be you, just as Peter was still Peter even after Pentecost: but somehow you'll see the world differently, with your priorities turned upside-down and back-to-front.
Baines has little time for those who want to draw lines in the sand, defining dogmas and doctrines that say who is out and who is in. That's not what grace is about. There's no denying that what we believe affects the way we behave — but behaviour is relational and it's the relationship with Jesus that's at the heart of things: "We will be judged not by whether we have protected the inheritance by burying it in the garden (away from threat or sight), but by whether we have trusted God enough to risk everything for him, even the loss or re-shaping of the story he has given us." (p.158).
Perhaps it's in that "re-shaping of the story" that grace is at its most powerful. If you're ready to see your story reshaped, read on.
Phil Groom, December 2004
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.St Andrew Press | Order from www.christianbookshops.org