The old commandment presses upon us the obligation to love, but the new commandment releases us into the power of love. He commands the wind and the waves, and they are calm. He commands us to love by first loving us, and so creates the love He desires. It is of grace, because love responds only to affection and not to coercion or force. Love, by grace, must make itself desirable to our hearts by sheer miracle or our hearts will not autonomously engage with affection.
Mbird friend Jim McNeely just released his new book, The Romance of Grace, and we couldn’t be more excited! It’s a tour-de-force on the, well, romance of God’s love for sinners, presenting the basics of Christianity anew and afresh through the lens of love which, unfortunately, is pretty distinct: there’s a major lack of the erotic/romantic dimension of Christianity in contemporary books, and McNeely fills this gap perfectly.
It’s tremendously accessible – my new go-to recommendation for newcomers to theology – but it’s also remarkably profound, rewarding several readings, because the book’s every bit as much an emotional exercise as a rational one. For me, the book was theologically fascinating because I’ve rarely encountered the language of beauty and aesthetics; more importantly, though, it plunged me into a world where God’s love for sinners, and its effects on us humans, is marked out in beautiful detail.
Most of that detail comes from the book’s wonderful illustrations (hypnotherapy from the movie Office Space as a picture of the life under grace? Check.), but I was particularly taken aback by McNeely’s fresh biblical insight. There’s an early section on Jesus’ story of the “pearl of great price” that was the most helpful piece I’ve ever read on that passage. I won’t give any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that it’s one of many places in the Bible where I thought the parable was about what I’m supposed to do (classic human narcissism), and McNeely set me straight.
More than any of this though, the book’s valuable as model for how to write theology, and how to write it well. His ideas are intellectually engaging, but they all come packaged with an emotional magnetism that’s only appropriate to writing about Christianity. Part of this emotional experience is an internal dialectic the book has – that is to say, it vacillates between the two poles of Law and Gospel, moral demand and atonement for sins. Some paragraphs sound legalistic, but his seriousness for the Law only sets the stage for a stronger, heartfelt, earnest and beautifully written description of God’s unmerited grace, and this movement is wholly intentional. That is to say, McNeely doesn’t just describe the movements of Law and grace theologically, but he pulls the reader into that world and re-creates those emotional movements each chapter. Again, the ideas are fantastic, but it’s his combination of intellect and emotion that makes reading this book such a pleasure.
Exploring theology through the lens of romance, vision, aesthetics and beauty is a wonderful enterprise, as well as an (embarrassingly) new one for me. This book’s touching, mentally engaging, and immensely relevant – it’s an entirely fresh, invigorating experience of the old truths of the Gospel.
Ebook and Kindle readers can grab a copy for only $4.99 from Mbird directly by clicking here.
Or, to order a physical copy, go here.