God So Loved, He Gave
Article byJune 2013
Kelly M. Kapic with Justin Borger, God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Moment of Divine Generosity. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 280 pp., $19.99
Kelly Kapic's God So Loved, He Gave is a compelling presentation of the Christian Gospel with a persistent emphasis upon the magnitude of God's generosity and the consequent enormity of God's gifts. This emphasis finds expression in every stage of the unfolding Gospel drama depicted by the author.
The book begins with a chapter on God's gift of creation. Since God's act of creation is entirely free, creation highlights the divine ownership of everything--not least human beings. The beauty and gratuity of God's first gift (creation and creaturely being per se) reinforces the tragic nature of the fall, a reality explored in chapter two. The accent falls here upon the bondage to sin, self, and the Devil which resulted from the primal mutiny of God's creatures. The tragedy of the fall, in turn, reinforces the unexpected and extravagant nature of those subsequent gifts--the Son, the Spirit, and the Kingdom--bestowed by God to recover his rebellious creatures.
After noting (chapter three) prophecies and anticipations of these redemptive gifts in the time between the fall and Christ's advent, Kapic turns his attention properly (chapter four) to the principal gift by which human redemption is secured--Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. In the turn to redemption the stark difference between divine and human acts of giving becomes so apparent. Humans give gifts to celebrate life's mile markers or accomplishments, or occasionally (for some of us more often than others) to make amends for misdeeds. By contrast, God "gives a gift, the Gift," to--and in spite of--"his rebellious creation, defined by its resistance to him" (p. 69).
Chapter five explores the reality of human faith as the foremost and appropriate response to this gift. Kapic helpfully distinguishes genuine faith from both intellectual assent and "paths of self-improvement" (p. 88), while highlighting the paradoxical nature of faith as both "something we do" and something God does in us, something which is "itself...a gift from God" (p. 89). Chapters six and eight flesh out the character of salvation with attention to God's redemptive gifts of the Spirit and the Kingdom. Chapters seven and nine, corresponding to six and eight respectively, consider the experience of these further gifts on the part of believers: possessing the Spirit entails knowing oneself as God's adopted child and bearing spiritual fruits; living in the semi-realized Kingdom entails becoming "witnesses and agents of his kingdom" (p. 133) and orienting our lives towards the Kingdom virtues of justice and righteousness.
The final third of Kapic's book--subtitled "living in the gifts"--explores aspects of the (Christian) life lived in response to God's gifts. Chapter ten urges Christian giving of ourselves and our resources in imitation of God, Christ, and the apostles. Chapters eleven and twelve press upon believers the necessity and joy of performing, in the power of Christ's resurrection, good works, not as a means of securing divine favor, but in response to God's prior generosity. Kapic concludes his book by considering, in chapters thirteen and fourteen, the reality of Christian living and giving in the Church founded by Christ. Such is a global community which entails extensive opportunities for the recipients of God's marvelous gifts to offer prayerful intercession and financial assistance to fellow participants in God's gracious work.
God So Loved, He Gave is a genuine joy to read. It forcefully reminds readers--or, perhaps, informs them for the first time--that Christ's saving work and its corresponding call to faith and, ultimately, self-sacrifice flows from, and so reveals, the fundamental character of the triune God as deeply loving and profoundly generous. In that process, the book foregrounds the purely unexpected nature, from a human perspective, of God's gracious response to human sin, the giving of such a gift--namely, Himself--to recover that which was "lost" by virtue not of the Creator's negligence, but of the creature's own defiance. The book draws extensively upon biblical texts (especially the gospels), regularly pointing the reader's attention to facets of a passage which might be easily overlooked. (A good example is Kapic's account of Christ's command to "render unto Caesar" the coin which bears Caesar's image. In Kapic's reading of the text, Christ subtly but forcefully reminds his hearers that they, as creatures impressed with God's image, are responsible to render themselves entirely unto God, something which only Christ ultimately does, and that in the place of sinners. See pp. 65-67). Regular quotes from sources as diverse as the church fathers to nineteenth century existentialist philosophers, coupled with frequent analogies drawn from popular books and films, make for a winsome style that perfectly complements Kapic's important message.
Two features of the book struck me as peculiar, particularly in light of both its theme and its author's Reformed credentials. The first was the fairly scant treatment of the doctrine of election. Not many Reformed thinkers would insist that every Gospel account must contain some explicit statement to the effect that believers have been predestined, in Christ, unto the gifts of adoption and eternal life from before the creation of the world (Eph. 1.4-6). However, a fuller consideration of that reality would have been most appropriate in this work. After all, few doctrines serve quite so well as election to reinforce the purely free and gratuitous character--the giftedness, if you will--of salvation, both in its accomplishment and its application. Few doctrines serve quite so well to undercut the sneaking suspicion of every sinner that salvation comes to her because, as Maria in The Sound of Music put it, "somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good," thus turning God's gift(s) into some kind of compensation. To be sure, Kapic does nod towards predestination in his affirmation that "faith itself is a gift from God" (p. 88). But this gesture fails to flower into anything like a full-bodied account of election. Even the point about faith's origins lying in God's decision is somewhat confused by the proposed analogy of faith to love, the latter being defined as "something we experience and then respond to" (p. 90). Is faith merely some human capacity lying dormant until the divine promise prompts it into actuality? The analogy to love might suggest so.
The second feature of the book which I found peculiar was Kapic's account of the sacraments (pp. 197-99) in his broader treatment of the Church. Rather than emphasizing the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper as further gifts received from God--gifts which positively communicate grace to believers--Kapic seems to view them largely as rituals believers perform in response to God's generosity. In other words the sacraments, in Kapic's account, never seem to rise above the status of being "visible signs of invisible grace" which ultimately serve as vehicles for the remembrance of God's saving provision, renewed zeal for our own practice of hospitality, and anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. I can't help thinking that a more robustly Reformed account of the sacraments--one in which, say, the bread and wine in the Supper were seen as not only "visible signs" of Christ's body and blood but also "instruments by which the Lord distributes [Christ's body and blood] to us" (Calvin's Short Treatise on the Supper of our Lord) towards the end of greater union with our savior--would have complemented Kapic's emphasis upon divine generosity rather nicely and reinforced the present and ongoing character of God's giving to us.
Nevertheless, God So Loved, He Gave is a book I heartily recommend. It is a brilliant introduction to the Gospel, something which you might give to friends and family interested in the Christian faith. Those already familiar with the Gospel will find in it not only a valuable refresher course on the main features of the Good News, but also a powerful reminder of the important reality that our salvation flows from, and finds it roots deep within, the character of our God, who is among other things generous beyond measure.
Aaron Clay Denlinger is a Teaching Fellow in Church History at the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of Omnes in Adam ex pacto Dei (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010) and editor of Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology c.1560-c.1750 (T&T Clark, forthcoming).
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