Sunday, April 27, 2014

Extravagant Grace - a review (part 4)

(Just joining us? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Finally, on Matthew 11:28-30, a lengthy excerpt, but I think I need to quote all of it: 

For as long as you remain in your body of flesh, living on earth, you are called to do two things, neither of which you can do in your own strength. You are called to run the race like a champion athlete (1 Cor 9:24), and you are called to rest in Christ (Matt 11:28-30). These are not two separate but equal callings, as if we must constantly try to strive and rest at the same time. On that approach, all our striving will consume our resting and we will live our lives in a swirl of ceaseless activity, perpetual service to God, and countless self-salvation strategies. Rather, resting must be primary, for according to the author of Hebrews it is the goal of our striving.

He says, "So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." (Heb 4:9-11)

In Matthew 11 Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Rest must be the primary paradigm, for even if we strive with all our might for obedience we will always need the righteousness of Christ to stand in our place. No goodness of our own will ever be good enough; even in our best moments our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). If we are to stand before God we must be constantly hidden in the royal robes of his goodness.

We know this for sure because, although we will be busy in heaven, it is portrayed for us as the Sabbath rest that never ends. Our chief theme for all eternity will be rest and delight in our Savior, so as we seek to enjoy a foretaste of heaven on earth now our primary goal should be to understand what it means to rest and delight in the finished work of Christ. What better way to get the courage and strength to keep running the difficult race than to rest supremely in Christ even as we set about the serious work of obedience? (225-6)

As I read and re-read this passage, I’ve finally come to this question: how does Duguid believe that Jesus would define “rest” in Matthew 11? Based on the comment that “on that approach [viewing striving and resting as equal callings], all our striving will consume our resting and we will live our lives in a swirl of ceaseless activity, perpetual service to God, and countless self-salvation strategies,” it seems that she views “rest” as antithetical to “striving.” I find this curious given that her “rest” passage, Matthew 11, combines the notion of rest with taking Christ’s yoke upon us. It is precisely in the work of being yoked to Christ (we don’t need to argue that this is “striving” language, do we?) that we will find rest for weary souls. Obedience apart from Christ’s rest produces “a swirl of ceaseless activity, perpetual service to God, and countless self-salvation strategies.” As Duguid says, these are “not two separate but equal callings.” In the totally unexpected way that Christ’s brings his grace to us, obedience and rest are the same calling, and this is how Christ can say that we will only find rest for our weary souls by taking his yoke upon us.

I’ll be very honest here: it disturbs me that this book has gotten such resounding endorsements given that Duguid seems to misunderstand the relationship between obedience and rest in Christ’s economy. I spent the last several years studying the book of Romans, and so when I started finding this bifurcation throughout the book, the phrase “the obedience of faith” kept coming to mind. Paul uses this same phrase in Romans 1:5 and in Romans 16:26 (verse 27 is a doxology that closes the book). So in his greatest of theological treatises, the apostle Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith” as bookends, drawing together 11 chapters of indicative and five chapters of imperative into one inseparable phrase. True obedience only comes from faith, and truth faith always and inevitably produces obedience. Duguid’s separation of “striving” and “resting” seems to indicate that we alternate obedience and faith, and even though she returns at the end of this quoted passage to refer to “[resting] supremely in Christ even as we set about the serious work of obedience,” the fact remains that she has fundamentally separated the two from the outset.

As an aside, I think one big danger in this bifurcation is that Duguid’s core audience, those who are weary and heavy laden by guilt and by seemingly fruitless efforts at obedience, will seize upon the encouragement to rest from their striving toward holiness and let down their guard. “I’ve been working so hard to be holy, I’m now going to take my Sabbath rest and quit trying so hard for a bit.” This is when we the weary will be at our most vulnerable, because it is then that our “rest” idolatries that can be the most seductive (sloth, gluttony, addictions). I believe that a truly Gospel-centered approach to sanctification must seamlessly bring together the finished work of Christ and his ongoing work in our hearts, beginning at the deepest levels where we aren’t even aware of the depth of our sin, and showing us not only Christ’s sufficiency but also his incomparable beauty in such a way that we want for nothing else, and our behavior can’t help but follow our heart’s desires. This, my friends, is what it means to be transformed (and transfixed) by God’s extravagant grace.

Here’s the thing: I desperately need the message that is the purpose of this book, that when I am at my worst (not to mention what I perceive to be my best), God is at his best. By “at his best,” I mean the character traits that make our Yahweh God unique, above anything mankind could possibly invent, and as he revealed himself to Moses after the golden calf fiasco: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7). As I write this, I’ve just totally lost it on my husband and kids, so much that he invented an excuse to get them out of the house so that I could cool off a bit. I am in constant, desperate need of a Savior who will save me from the flames of hell, as well as the way that hell still grasps for control of my angry, selfish, self-sufficient heart. “Oh, wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7)

The heart cry of this book echoes that “Thanks be to God!” I’d love to see a re-written version in a couple of years that maintains Duguid’s trademark vulnerability, compassion and insight into life in this body of death, but with the pendulum swings modulated into a theologically balanced as well as deeply encouraging work.


Jason Webb said...

Thank you so much for your review of Extravagant Grace. I can't say how really perturbed I am that this book has received such glowing recommendations from people that I respect very much.
I have been left with my mouth flapping in the wind and dragging on the floor at some of Duigid's comments and theology (or lack thereof).
I resonate with a lot of what she is saying. And I sympathize as a pastor with the weak in my flock, but surely Duigid's Extravagant Grace is not Extravagant enough! I'm just beside myself at her deeply incoherent theology. She seems to have a one dimensional view of sanctification and of God's grace, with any number of false dichotomies that leave me wondering if she really has read and studied the Bible enough to write a book. Her theology seems to come from her experience and her mind more than all that the Bible teaches.
So much of the time it's not that I don't agree with what she is saying, but I disagree with what she is denying. It's just a complete hot mess and I find myself saying, How can Ed Welch sign onto this?
Tullian T.-I'm not surprised about. As much of a nice guy as he is, I don't think he has matured enough in his theology to be writing all the books and blogs that he has. He and Duigid and so many others, seem to have come out of a cloud of slavish fear and are now walking in the spirit of adoption, but haven't grown in that understanding enough to see that God's grace motivates us to pursue holiness. That God's grace also threatens us and warns us, and chastises us. That God in love threatens his children--because He loves them so. I think they still, in their hearts, view God legalistically and so they celebrate justification so much and can't imagine a God who as a Father could be displeased with them. God isn't really safe yet! Not safe enough for them to say he can be disappointed with us. That doesn't feel at all safe to them, but it's their immaturity in the faith not their maturity in the faith that is making them shove everything into justification and adoption.
Like you said, hopefully in 10 years she writes another book that reflects a greater maturity than this one does.
I don't get how she can say she is a maturing Christian, not a mature Christian, and is writing this book? That's like a teenager writing a book and knowing that they don't know everything they are still going to write it. If you even admit that you aren't mature, then why should I listen to you? You are either being falsely humble in saying you are maturing, but you think you really are mature or you are being stupid and writing something that you are really not capable of writing.
So I say, God bless her! God love her! God sanctify and teach her! But please don't read this book! She has no business writing it.

Molly said...

Thanks for your comment, Jason. I agree with your comments, and since I hadn't really seen a thorough review that articulated my concerns, I felt compelled to write this review - even though I have a very limited audience on my blog.

If you're interested, I also talk about the book (more of the same type of comments, really) in an interview I did on a web TV show that my husband and a really sharp theologian friend (imho) host: